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Suzuki’s MAGA hat and Doolittle’s principles can teach politicians about guts

Lord, I love baseball. I love every cliché — how time begins on Opening Day; how the game is designed to break your heart; how it teaches failure over and over again; how the best players in the world fail to get a hit two out of three times. And then, in those rare moments when everything comes together, it produces a miracle.

I love politics, too, for many of the same reasons. And, let’s face it: in both endeavors, the score is toted up and there’s a clear winner and a clear loser. The deeply public nature of the success and the failure is both inspiring and intimidating.

I find a lot of political folks love baseball. When I hosted “Crossfire,” my right-wing counterpart, Bob Novak, would spend an hour telling me my political views were baloney, then speed off in his Corvette — to the baseball stadium, where his season tickets were a row in front of mine. I can still see Novak, God rest his soul, with his lovely wife Geraldine, keeping score, as I sat with my sons, keeping my own scorebook.

George Will rarely misses a game. Al Hunt is a regular. James Carville and Tim Russert used to sit together — and then Tim would go back to relentlessly grilling Democrats (and Republicans) on TV, while James would go back to defending Democrats just as vociferously.

The 2019 World Series was, for me, a dream come true. My beloved Houston Astros won the American League pennant, and my also-beloved Washington Nationals won the National League. I attended one game in Houston and one in Washington. I was honestly torn. I’ve been a Nats fan since the day they arrived in 2005, and have raised my boys as rabid Nats fans.

But I was an Astros fan decades ago, and you never leave the team you grew up with. My sons had none of my ambivalence. One of them came to Game Two in Houston wearing full Nats gear. When Kurt Suzuki, the Nats’ catcher, hit a home run, he began to cheer, then self-censored a bit, perhaps out of respect for the multitude of Astros fans surrounding us.

A good ol’ boy sitting behind us leaned forward, and in an accent unmistakably Texan, said, “Listen, son. We don’t want no shy fans here. Your team scores, you go ahead and cheer. No one’s gonna mess with you. I got yer back.”

That’s baseball at its best. But in this bitterly divided time, politics even intrudes on baseball. When that same Kurt Suzuki wore a MAGA hat at the White House, many Washingtonians who had cheered him days ago howled. Not me. Suzuki is from Hawaii — a state which Trump lost by over 30% — and he plays baseball in Washington: a city which Trump lost by a margin of 91% to 4%.

So for Suzuki to wear a MAGA hat, well, that takes guts. I know. I grew up a progressive Democrat in a county in which right-winger Tom DeLay was our congressman.

On the other side of the political divide stands Suzuki’s fellow National, Sean Doolittle. Doolittle so disapproves of Trump that he refused to attend the team’s victory celebration at the White House.

“There’s a lot of things, policies that I disagree with, but at the end of the day, it has more to do with the divisive rhetoric and the enabling of conspiracy theories and widening the divide in this country,” Doolittle told The Washington Post.

At the end of the day, as much as I wanted to be there with my teammates and share that experience with my teammates, I can’t do it. I just can’t do it.”

Doolittle, who played college ball at the University of Virginia, was openly critical of President Trump’s response to the racist violence in Charlottesville. He has a brother-in-law with autism, and decries Trump’s mocking of a reporter’s physical challenge. Turning down what may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go to the White House: that takes guts.

And here’s where baseball is so much better than politics.

When liberal Sean Doolittle pitches, MAGA-loving Kurt Suzuki catches him. The relationship between a pitcher and a catcher must be seamless. If they get their signals wrong — get “crossed up” as they ball players say — someone’s gonna get hurt. So when they step inside those white lines to earn their living playing a kids’ game, Suzuki and Doolittle have to put aside whatever political differences they may have and work together in perfect harmony for the good of the team.

I think a lot of politicians could learn from these two ballplayers.

An earlier version of this commentary incorrectly described the timing of Nats games attended by Tim Russert and James Carville. The games were not during the Clinton administration but afterward.