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Congressional Softball League’s Season Is Under Way

When Ron Anderson considers what it will take to get his team into the finals of the Congressional Softball League tournament this summer, two aspects jumps to the top of his list.

“Good women are the key to … winning championships,” says Anderson, who quickly adds, “and good defense.”

As the league’s 32nd season gets under way this month, Anderson’s team, Suspension of the Rules, along with 175 others, will take to fields around the District of Columbia in hopes of winding up in the late-summer 64-team tournament. Each team in the league, which is divided into both on- and off-Capitol Hill divisions, must have at least 10 players, including three women.

The slow-pitch league is home to both competitive teams as well as the more easy-going variety, noted League Commissioner Gary Caruso. “We’re not an equal league. Some people play for seriousness and other people play for fun.”

While the tournament usually features both styles of play, he adds, “Teams that can play rather consistently and not make many errors really move along.”

Teams are responsible for scheduling their own regular season games, fostering rivalries like the annual faceoff between the Republican National Committee (whose team is simply RNC) and the Democratic National Committee’s Vote Quimby! team.

Though some teams may play up to 30 games, other teams play as few as 10.

“The more you play, the better you get,” asserts Caruso, who also serves as manager for the Yellow Journalists. But he acknowledges that “some of those teams who have very good talent can play less games and move along and win the tournament.”

The league ranks teams using a computerized scoring system. Points are awarded or deducted on a sliding scale depending on an opposing team’s ranking, and whether a win/loss is the result of a forfeit.

“If you win by forfeit, it shouldn’t be as weighty as if you actually played a game and won,” Caruso said.

The teams — which have included Members of Congress and even then-President Jimmy Carter — typically play on the Mall or in local parks.

“We’ve started to get squeezed out a little bit on space, with kickball leagues and soccer and construction down on the Mall,” Caruso said.

To help with the space crunch, Caruso reminds managers that teams should call forfeit if an opponent doesn’t show up 15 minutes after a game’s scheduled starting time, and that reserving fields with orange traffic cones, which aren’t recognized by the National Park Service, can tie up open playing space.

Returning to play this season is the league’s 2002 champion, Denny’s Grand Slam, sponsored by Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) office.

Despite losing in the third round last year, Anderson is hopeful Suspension of the Rules, which snagged the league title in 1999, 2000 and 2001, will end up back on top.

“We think we’ve got the core nucleus of the team coming back,” said Anderson, an aide to Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.). “We can reclaim our mantle, reclaim our throne.”

Players for Uncle John’s Band, sponsored this season by Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), will also clean off their cleats.

“We had the same team we had last year and expect that we’ll be able to do well,” said team manager Andy Buczek.

The team had its best post-season last year, making it to the tournament’s championship game.

Buczek attributes the team’s success in part to the variety of players it draws. “We have a good mix of folks ranging from folks who just got to Capitol Hill and people who have worked on Capitol Hill 15 or 20 years,” he said.

The Narcotics Committee Roaches, one of the league’s oldest teams, also draws on longtime players for its success.

Still, one of the most difficult aspects of the game is just getting players out to the field, notes longtime Roaches manager Michael Bohtelo.

“Here we are in our 40s, and some of us in our 50s, getting our professional schedules to allow us to play the games,” Bohtelo said. “Between our families and our careers it’s difficult.”

The team, though, has made it to the final four of the tournament on numerous occasions, including a trip in the 2002 season.

“On our team, we try to play to have fun and if we do what we did last year, it’s a bonus,” said Bohtelo, a computer information technology manager.

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Roll Call also fields a team in the league.

While the EditOrioles posted a sorry record in 2002, winning only two games, the team remains hopeful about the new season.

“I admit we aren’t the best team in the league, but we have fun out there,” said Managing Editor David Meyers, who serves as the team’s manager. “Besides, our record in recent years reflects our belief that the pen is mightier than the sword, or, in this case, bat.”