Boyhood baseball hero, college baseball star and coach, U.S. Rep. Roger Williams came home Saturday with a place in American history.
No matter what else Williams, 67, does in public office, the Fort Worth native is now remembered as a survivor injured escaping a gunman’s attack on practice for the Congressional Baseball Game.
“I was hitting ground balls to our third baseman,” he began retelling the story Saturday, sounding like dozens of Williams’ stories from West Side Little League or the Atlanta Braves camp or his days as coach of the TCU Horned Frogs.
“ … We heard this ‘pop,’ which most of us thought was a car backfiring,” he went on to the media gathered in the Fort Worth Club for Williams’ return.
“We heard this ‘pop-pop-pop,’ and somebody yelled, ‘He’s got a gun!’ ”
Williams retold how he dived into the first-base dugout and took cover with about 10 members of Congress and guests, including Rep. Joe Barton’s 10-year-old son, Jack.
Williams suffered a leg injury in the escape and arrived Saturday in an ankle boot and on crutches, although he didn’t use them to stand on the podium.
He described attacker James “Tom” Hodgkinson, a licensed gun permitee in Illinois, as “an angry fella who wanted to do some damage.”
First reports described Hodgkinson asking if the baseball players were “Democrats or Republicans” and campaigning in 2016 for Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, in Democratic primaries. Hodgkinson carried a “hit list” of three Freedom Caucus Republicans, The New York Times reported.
But Hodgkinson, described by a foster daughter as an angry alcoholic, railed on social media against both Republicans and also Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He had a car decal for a controversial right-wing shock-talk St. Louis radio host.
This person has a genuine mental illness, to get up one day and think, ‘I’m going to kill some congressmen.’
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin
“He had rifles — he had guns, pistols — all we had were bats and balls,” Williams said.
“ … I’m not sure if he’s Republican or Democrat. I think this person has a genuine mental illness, to get up one day and think, ‘I’m going to kill some congressmen.’ ”
Williams praised U.S. Capitol Police special agents for returning fire: “If they had not been there, I’m not sure every one of us might not have been killed.”
And he praised the courage of injured staffer Zack Barth of Houston, who dived into the dugout shot and bleeding.
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, a Fort Worth native, represents District 25, from Burleson south past Austin.
Williams’ voice cracked when he talked about coming home,
“You realize that life is short, that you’re not in control — you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
I asked if he’d run for Congress again.
He glanced away and seemed to think for a second.
“Yes — yes, I will,” he said.