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The spirit of the game

June 17, 2017
Associated Press

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. (AP) — Congressmen came to Jefferson High School's Sager Field for a baseball game in the late-1980s.

A team made up of both Republicans and Democrats played a charity ballgame against a team of coaches and teachers to benefit the local Veterans Administration Medical Center.

"It was a mixture," said former Democratic Congressman Harley O. "Buckey" Staggers Jr. of Keyser. "We had 10 or 11 guys.

"There was much more bipartaniship; it wasn't as nasty as it is today."

Staggers, who served five terms in the House of Representatives from 1983 until 1993, was joined in the game played in Shenandoah Junction by, among others, Dan Coats, the current director of National Intelligence for the Trump Administration, and Texas Rep. Joe Barton, who is managing the Republicans in the annual Congressional Baseball Game.

The game, which has been played almost annually since its inception in 1909, went on Thursday at Nationals Park in Washington despite the shooting rampage that took place Wednesday morning at a Republican team practice.

"It's such a tragedy, what happened," Staggers said.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., was shot, as were three others, plus the alleged assailant, who died, during a morning practice at a ballfield in Alexandria, Virginia.

"I remember getting up for those early practices before we went to work," said Staggers, who played outfield in many of the games during his term in office. "It was actual baseball, not just softball.

"People commented that they were impressed that we could actually go out and play."

The first time he played, Staggers said, a congressman from Oklahoma told him, "'This isn't about doing good; don't embarrass yourself — don't fall down when you're running the bases.'"

Jefferson baseball coach John Lowery, who hosted the game against the elected officials, said his high school team has played ballgames in the past at the facility in Virginia where the shooting took place.

Lowery played first base for the home team in the game against the congressmen.

The game memories of both Staggers and Lowery have faded a bit.

Lowery said Ben Merica, a longtime coach of many sports at Hedgesville High School, pitched for the home club.

"He could still pitch pretty good," Lowery said. "They asked if he could back off (the speed) a little."

Staggers chuckled and said, "That's probably true."

Lowery also remembered Mark Palmer, one of the all-time great basketball players at Shepherd, smacking a home run over the fence in center field.

"One guy wore a Minnesota Twins uniform," Lowery said. "I think that was to identify with constituents."

Staggers said the congressional sergeant at arms, who was in attendance at the local game, was unarmed.

Staggers said he enjoyed the camaraderie of the games with "people from across the aisle," although back then, he said there was more of a regional outlook among representatives from like states, "rather than party."

The former congressman really enjoyed the baseball game, too.

"We had a lot of fun," Staggers said.

The series is tied 39-39-1 between the two parties in the Congressional Baseball Game.

"That sounds like some of their votes," Lowery joked, laughing.

 
 
 

 

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