According to those who play, there’s no better way to unwind after a long workday than hitting one out of the park — or down the National Mall.
Lately, baseball’s return to the nation’s capital has been all the rage, so why not take the initiative and step up to the plate yourself? That’s where the Congressional Softball League, soon to begin its 34th season, comes into play.
“It’s a nice break from work to go out one night a week or so and let it all hang out,” said Anthony Reed, legislative director for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and coach and second baseman for Denny’s Grand Slams. “It’s a fun diversion and it gives you a good opportunity to meet other staffers in a different environment.”
Few can boast that they’ve taken a swing with the Washington Monument to their left and the Capitol to their right. So gather some co-workers who are interested in a little exercise, a little competition and a lot of laughs and register your team before the April 15 deadline.
As of press time, 58 teams had registered for the upcoming season. League Commissioner Gary Caruso, who also plays on the Yellow Journalists, said the number of registered teams tends to be more than 100 each year.
Most teams are not strangers to the league. Denny’s Grand Slams operated under a
different name in 1999, its first year of play. The team was named Denny’s Midnight Runners, a spoof of the ’80s band Dexy’s Midnight Runners of “Come On Eileen” fame. But Reed said that name was nixed at the start of the next season.
Denny’s Midnight Runners “didn’t have much to do with the Speaker, or softball for that matter, so I think Denny’s Grand Slams is a much better name,” he said.
As for Potomac Fever, 2004 tournament champions, coach Robert Walter said the name was inspired by what the Washington Center for Internships employees tell their interns.
“It’s something we’ve used with the interns here,” Walter said. “They catch Potomac Fever and want to stay” in the area.
Rules for the slow-pitch league call for at least eight players per team, three of them being women. But many teams’ rosters exceed that requirement to make sure players’ varying schedules don’t leave the team stranded on game day.
“There’s somewhere around 20 or so players on our team,” Reed said, adding that conflicts of schedules when Congress is in session make it “much harder to get players out there.”
Potomac Fever has about 30 players on its roster. “We try to keep it down, we don’t want people sitting on the bench too much,” Walter said. “Since we won it last year, we’ve had a lot of people asking to be on our team this year.”
Making sure there are enough players for a game is not the only scheduling issue coaches of league teams have to master. They also have to go through “the usual hell of scheduling” games, which Reed said is his least favorite part of his coaching duties.
Each team is responsible for setting up its own games, and once registration is over, the e-mails begin. Reed said his BlackBerry is flooded with game requests from the other teams in the league.
“It goes on all day long,” Reed said. “You’re trying to plug [the games] in while you’re doing work. It gets interesting.”
Since coaches set up their teams’ schedule, the number of games played in a season varies considerably. Walter said Potomac Fever played about 16 games in the regular season and 8 games in the 64-team tournament. But at times, finding a place to play proves to be difficult.
Last year, construction on the Mall depleted the number of possible playing fields for teams, who then looked to area parks and schools. But Caruso said this season might see more field options with the fences around the Washington Monument coming down in June.
“That would be the biggest question mark right now,” Caruso said of whether the National Park Service will allow teams to play games on the grounds surrounding the monument.
Having to search for a space to play will not deter some dedicated teams, however. Within the league, the level of competition varies from team to team. Walter said those on Potomac Fever like to “play teams that give us a challenge in the regular season so we’re ready for the tournament,” but they like some “fun games thrown in” as well.
And, as with any sport, there are some rivalries in the league that make for great games. Caruso said teams that make it to the final four “automatically develop some type of rivalry,” and some rivalries are “natural,” such as offices from the same state playing each other or the Democratic National Committee vs. the Republican National Committee.
Proving Caruso right, Reed said Denny’s Grand Slams look forward to playing another Illinois team, License to IL, in addition to the 1999, 2000 and 2001 champions, Suspension of the Rules.
“We beat them in the tournament twice last year,” Reed said about Suspension of the Rules. Also, in 2002, Denny’s Grand Slams upset the three-year reigning champions for the tournament title.
“We’re going to win it all this year,” Reed said. Last season the team came up short in the finals, losing 12-10 to Potomac Fever.
Walter, who said going all the way in the tournament “is never easy,” is confident that his team has a good shot at the championship again. Potomac Fever came out on top last year thanks to “confluence of luck and the team playing together for four years in a row now,” Walter said, but he did acknowledge that at any point in time, one or two runs could have knocked the team out of the tournament.
One team itching for a tournament win is Roll Call’s own EditOrioles, who went 5-8 last year.
David Meyers, Roll Call managing editor and EditOrioles coach, said this year’s team is shaping up well despite the departure of some team members.
“We may have lost a few players in the off-season, but we also have some promising rookies who, combined with the returning veterans, will make us a much stronger team this year,” Meyers said. “One of my goals for the 2005 season is to notch our first-ever tournament win.”
Caruso compared the softball tournament to the NCAA basketball tournament in that anything can happen.
Caruso said a team that plays great throughout the season can go into the tournament and the ball will “drop in two inches from every glove that you have out there out on the field and you get kind of a Cinderella team that goes through [to the end]. You can’t really go by the win-loss records.”
Maybe this is the EditOrioles’ year.
For more information and to register your team for the Congressional Softball League season, visit https://www.congsoftball.com.