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Congressional ballgame brings sides together

Annual contest will go on to support charities
MLB.com @RichardJustice

Last month while spending a day at the Baseball Hall of Fame, I took a photo of Doubleday Field and emailed it to my friend, Rep. Kevin Brady, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and enthusiastic member of the Republican Congressional Baseball Team.

"Hope you're having a good day," I wrote. "Here's mine."

Last month while spending a day at the Baseball Hall of Fame, I took a photo of Doubleday Field and emailed it to my friend, Rep. Kevin Brady, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and enthusiastic member of the Republican Congressional Baseball Team.

"Hope you're having a good day," I wrote. "Here's mine."

Five minutes later, he replied: "Yours is better than mine. I'm dealing with a thousand pages of tax code."

When I saw him a couple of weeks later, he spoke first of the Congressional Baseball Game, which will be played at 7 p.m. ET tonight at Nationals Park.

He loves it for a hundred different reasons. First, he loves the game itself. He has been relegated to DH duty the last couple of years, but that's OK, too.

Whenever I see him, he reminds me that Commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball have been supporters of the game in all sorts of ways.

"MLB and the Nationals have been great to us," he said. "Supportive in every way."

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Republicans and Democrats have been playing this game for 108 years, and it's one of the last bastions of bipartisanship in Washington. Both sides, Republicans and Democrats, play hard and laugh and trash talk one another.

When it's over, they do something they enjoy just as much: They present a check to an assortment of charities, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

• Donate to Congressional charities through Facebook

Through the years, the game has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, every last dollar helping make a difference in people's lives.

For the last couple of years, the Congressmen have been attempting to schedule a road trip to Cooperstown to play a game to raise money for the Hall of Fame and Doubleday Field. To take the show on the road was an especially exciting thought.

Republicans vs. Democrats?

"We're going to play the Cadets," Kevin said.

West Point Cadets?

Seriously, Kevin?

"Well, some Cadets closer to our age," he said. "You know, some old guys like us."

Kevin Brady has for the past 20 years represented a district that includes my adopted hometown of The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb 30 miles north of Houston.

The Woodlands High School has a coach named Ron Eastman, who is in charge of a powerhouse program that has produced, among others: Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks, Jameson Taillon of the Pirates and Brett Eibner of the Dodgers.

Rays reliever Austin Pruitt also is from The Woodlands, having played at College Park High School and down the freeway at the University of Houston.

When Kevin Brady returns home during Congressional breaks, the first thing he wants to know is about the Astros.

"OK, fill me in," he'll say. "Tell me this is the year."

He's no casual fan, either. He'll want to know about Dallas Keuchel or Jose Altuve or whatever player has caught his eye.

Regardless of whether you're Democrat or Republican, Kevin Brady is one of those people you admire because he is thoughtful, smart and involved in government because he has this relentless belief that he can make our country a better place.

Plenty of his friends in The Woodlands thought first of Kevin on Wednesday morning when we learned that a gunman had opened fire on a GOP baseball practice in Alexandria, Va.

Kevin is fine, but one of his three Washington roommates, Rep. Steve Scalise, was among those injured. He was reported to be in critical condition late Wednesday.

Regardless, Congressional leaders announced on Wednesday that the game would be played as scheduled. For one thing, the charities need the money the game raises. For another, we absorb these acts of awfulness as best we can and then we continue to live our lives.

Kevin is no stranger to gun violence. When he was 12, his father, William, an attorney, was killed in a courtroom shooting in Rapid City, S.D. Kevin's mom, Nancy, raised five children on her own, and Kevin will tell you his mother will forever be his inspiration for his life of service. He was a four-star athlete at Rapid City Central High and paid his way through the University of South Dakota by working in construction, meat-packing plants, etc.

He played baseball in college, too, and loves the sport now almost as much as he did back then. It's one of the things that adds balance. I'm fairly certain he's rooting for an Astros-Nationals World Series.

He'll play at Nationals Park on Thursday for reasons that have nothing to do with baseball. In some ways, the game has always been about something bigger. This year, it's about something way bigger.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice

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