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New Series, Same Old Story

L ast year wasn’t the best of years for Democrats. Not only did they fall at the polls in November’s midterm elections, but they also lost another baseball series to the Republicans. So when the two teams take the field for the 42nd Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, the GOP will have momentum — and, they say, a better team.

“The reality is that we have a really good lineup and play phenomenal defense,” said Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), the GOP’s man on the mound last year.

Republicans earned last year’s 9-2 win with Shimkus’ stellar pitching and the steadfast baserunning of several newcomers; the victory clinched the best-of-five series, 3-1, and snagged the Republicans another coveted Roll Call trophy.

And if past performance is a good indicator of future results, the Republicans — who have won eight trophies and lead the overall series 27-14 — have a leg up on their colleagues across the aisle.

“The Democrats may have one or two prospects, but no superstars,” said Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.). “It is going to be a status quo game.”

The Democrats, of course, see things differently and are confident they will win.

“We wish them well,” the Democratic manager, Rep. Martin Sabo (Minn.), said of the Republicans. “They’re good. I hope they enjoy the game and that they don’t mind losing.”

While the Democrats are putting the past behind them, the Republicans realize trends can change when a fresh series begins.

“They have a clean slate,” Wamp observed, surmising that a new series could give the Democrats a mental boost.

The last time Democrats dominated the diamond was in the early 1990s, when they clinched the series, 3-1, in 1994. (Their only other series win came in 1979.) But the Democrats’ luck would soon run out. The Republican Revolution later that year sent a new infusion of talent into the GOP roster, resulting in Republicans capturing the trophy in 1998 and again last year.

The history of Congressional baseball is just as storied as its players. While Roll Call and its founder, Sid Yudain, revived the tradition of Congressional base-ball and turned it into an annual event in 1962, the first organized game between Members was held in 1909, at a diamond at the corner of Ninth and S streets Northwest, not far from the old Griffith Stadium, home of the Washington Senators. Although led by Rep. John Tener (R-Pa.), an Irish immigrant who reached the major leagues as a pitcher, the Republicans fell to the the Democrats in the first interparty game, 26-16.

While Capitol Hill baseball would continue sporadically during the next few decades, the Washington Evening Star resurrected the tradition after World War II, making it into a charity event.

But a serious injury and a concerned Speaker nearly ended the tradition after the 1956 matchup, in which Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.) collided with Rep. Tom Curtis (D-Mo.) at home plate, dislocating the Show Me State Congressman’s shoulder. Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) called off the 1958 game out of safety concerns, putting the tradition on hiatus until Roll Call stepped in.

Rep. Mike Oxley (Ohio) remembers his first Congressional baseball game, sitting in Griffith Stadium while working as an intern for Rep. Jackson Betts (R-Ohio) in 1965. “I hoped that I’d be out there someday,” he said. Now the veteran player and team manager is out of the stands and leads the GOP squad as manager.

While the McCarthy-Curtis collision is one of the more storied injuries, it is not the only one. Congressional baseball is indeed dangerous and has a history of breaking bones, as well as egos.

In 1996, Rep. Tim Holden (Pa.) broke his nose, cheekbone and jaw in a collision with fellow Democratic Rep. William Jefferson (La.). In 1994, two fellow Ohioans collided as Oxley’s arm took the brunt of the impact with Rep. Sherrod Brown (D).

And an injury in 2000 kept the GOP’s star pitcher, then-Rep. Steve Largent (Okla.), off the mound. According to Wamp, that allowed the Democrats to capture their one victory in that series.

“They could probably hope for a Shimkus injury instead of a Largent injury,” Wamp said of this year’s game.

Shimkus, meanwhile, hasn’t taken any additional precautions to stay out of harm’s way before the game. “I will continue to be as reckless as I always am and hope that with God’s blessing, I’ll be injury-free,” he said before practice even started.

All in all, Members are ready to get the new series under way. “We’re anxious to get to the other side of the chalk line and have some fun,” Shimkus said.

“It’s probably the biggest event on Capitol Hill that gathers staff together at one point for some event,” said Sabo. “So I think it’s part of a rich tradition of Congress that keeps going. Members enjoy it and it does good things for the charities involved, and it’s sort of part of the institution that I think is important to keep going.”

Proceeds from the game go to the Washington Literacy Council and the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs. The Bowie Baysox, a Double A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, serve as the game’s host and steer a portion of the proceeds to recipients of their choosing. Last year’s game raised about $90,000.

The game will be played at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md. The first pitch will be thrown at 7 p.m. Tickets, which are $8, are available from Oxley’s and Sabo’s offices as well as the stadium. Free shuttle buses will be leaving for the stadium from the House side of the Capitol complex in the late afternoon.

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