WASHINGTON — On a recent crisp blue-skied morning, Steve Scalise was in a jovial mood on the baseball field: Lots of backslapping. A little smack-talking. His distinctive chuckle cutting across the field in exuberant bursts.

The Louisiana Republican — the party’s second-in-command in the U.S. House —stepped up to the plate and took a few swings. He was wielding the Louisiana-made Marucci bat he’ll use when his GOP team faces their Democratic rivals in the annual Congressional Baseball Game on Wednesday at the ballpark that is home to the major league Washington Nationals.

“Just being able to move around a lot more than last year,” Scalise, 54, said with a broad smile and a slight twist to demonstrate his mobility, which is improving but is still noticeably limited.

This time last year, Scalise was one year into his recovery from near-fatal injuries he sustained when a gunman opened fire on Republicans as they practiced for the 2017 charity game — a chaotic interruption of what had been a rollicking, early-morning gathering not unlike this one: blue sky, sun peeking slightly over the trees, gentle breeze.

Doctors said Scalise, the most gravely injured in the June 14 attack, was in "imminent risk of death" when he arrived at a Washington hospital with massive blood loss and significant damage to bones and internal organs when the bullet ripped across his hip.

He underwent multiple surgeries and was discharged from the hospital six weeks later but remained in an intensive in-patient rehabilitation facility for several months, re-learning how to walk and recovering from his injuries.

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He had a triumphant return to Nationals Park last summer. Taking up his familiar post at second base, he fielded the ball hit on the first pitch of the game and threw to first to take out the Democrats’ batter.

President Donald Trump, a close ally of Scalise, has on multiple occasions described the scene, which he watched on TV, as being movie-like.

Scalise didn’t play beyond those first few minutes last year, as he was still relying heavily on the use of crutches to stand.

The crutches weren’t on the field at Friday’s practice, thanks to his improving ability to get around without them.

And the running part is being taken care of for him. When Scalise takes the field Wednesday, he’ll have a secret weapon he giddily refers to as “Swamp Rabbit”: U.S. Rep. William Timmons, of South Carolina, who is his pinch runner for the game.

“He is super fast,” Scalise said.

The nickname feels appropriate for a speedy stand-in for a congressman from the Louisiana bayous. But it’s entirely coincidental. Timmons, who is 35 and took office in January, owns a crossfit gym back home in Greenville. Its name: Swamp Rabbit Crossfit.

“I wear a lot of branded clothes with the name,” Timmons said of Scalise taking to the nickname. “I’ll take it.”

A former George Washington University tennis player, Timmons said he has enjoyed joining the Republicans on the baseball field during their frequent practices ahead of the game.

“It’s tough to make relationships up here. Everyone’s so busy,” he said.

Coming onto the team just two years after the shooting, Timmons said he can feel the bond the members share and that the team is still healing from that day.

“It’s just a miracle that everyone survived,” he said. “(Scalise’s) incredible grit and determination — he still has an injury, but you wouldn’t know how severely hurt he was.”

“His attitude is just incredible. Inspiring,” he said.

In addition to Scalise, three other people were shot on the field during the 2017 practice, including lobbyist Matt Mika.

“He took it pretty hard out there two years ago, but he came back stronger,” Scalise said, gesturing in Mika’s direction at practice.

“I’m here,” Mika said.

“Yes, we are,” Scalise said.

Mika said he thinks the Republican team is in good shape heading into this year’s match-up against the Democrats, who have won nine of the last 10 games in the series (thanks in good part to Scalise's close friend, Rep. Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans, the only Democrat in the Louisiana delegation.)

“We’re past the shooting incident and now we just play baseball,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, of Texas, one of Scalise’s housemates in Washington, said he’s also feeling confident about the GOP’s chances.

“We’re going to make this a competitive game,” said Brady. “We have fresh faces and good talent.”

Most of all, he said he’s glad to have Scalise on the field with him.

“You can’t have the Congressional Baseball Game without Steve Scalise,” he said. “It’s just not the same.”

Email Elizabeth Crisp at ecrisp@theadvocate.com and follow on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.