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Rays playoff baseball can’t stop GOP protests over impeachment inquiry

Republicans protesting Charlie Crist’s support of the impeachment inquiry will gather outside his district office, just as the congressman throws out today’s first pitch.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is scheduled to throw out the first pitch of today’s Tampa Bay Rays playoff game, the first one in St. Petersburg in six years.

Just don’t tell Republicans.

President Donald Trump’s campaign committee will be hosting a “Stop the Madness” event meant to emphasize GOP opposition to the impeachment inquiry currently roiling Washington. It’s scheduled for 1 p.m. outside Crist’s district office in St. Petersburg.

Crist and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, take the mound at 1:05 p.m. for the game’s ceremonial first pitch.

“Kind of incredible, isn’t it?” Crist said when asked about the scheduling of the protest during the Rays game against the Houston Astros.

Even though he won’t be at the impeachment protest, Crist said he supports anyone’s right to protest outside his office.

“People have the right to their freedom of speech,” Crist said. “That’s in our Constitution.”

He’ll miss his colleague, firebrand Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s biggest defenders. The event will call on Crist to drop the impeachment inquiry. Why Crist? It’s part of a national campaign, including spending $2 million on TV and digital ads that targets more than 60 “vulnerable” Democrats from purple districts who had vowed to cooperate with Trump, according to the Republican National Committee. (UPDATE: Less than an hour before the event was to begin, GOP organizers sent an email informing reporters that Gaetz would not be attending. “Due to a miscommunication on the (Republican National Committee’s) part, Congressman Gaetz will no longer be attending today. The event has shifted to a training and rally supporting the President.” -- Trump Victory Spokesperson Danielle Alvarez)

Crist, like Castor, was not officially in support of a formal impeachment process — until the summary of a July 25 telephone chat between Trump and the Ukraine president became available.

“Once that transcript came out, we knew what the words were between the presidents, that was disturbing enough" to warrant an impeachment inquiry, Crist said. He’s said he remains in full support of the inquiry.

Crist said his office will remain open. Gaetz and company will be greeted by Democratic activists. They’ll get there an hour earlier than the Republican protest.

“Rep. Matt Gaetz is trying to stop the impeachment inquiry because it is revealing damning evidence of Trump’s violations of American laws and grave betrayals of his oath of office,” said Lisa Perry, co-director of Common Ground Florida, in a statement.

Crist will miss what happens when the two sides come together. For now, he’s thinking about that pitch.

“Hopefully, it will get somewhere near the plate,” he joked.