After two cancellations due to a soggy field, two-thirds of the Republican baseball team showed up for the squad’s first practice of 2005 on Thursday. Of course, when you’ve got victory in your sights, every practice counts.
“Not a bad turnout, considering the practice was voluntary,” said Tim Johnson, spokesman for the Republican manager, Rep. Mike Oxley (Ohio). Oxley, of course, expects big things from his team because with a win June 23 at the 44th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game he will retire his second coveted Roll Call trophy.
The manager is maximizing available practice time compared to the Democrats, whose manager, Rep. Martin Sabo (Minn.), scheduled the team’s first practice for Wednesday, June 8.
Facing perfect baseball weather — blue skies and cool, crisp air — for the first time all week, the GOP got things going with Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) pitching batting practice. With their normal starter, Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), on the bench recovering from heart surgery, the Republicans have been forced to find a replacement.
It will not be easy. Shimkus has started the last three years for the squad; all three games have ended in Republican victories. “We lost our ace,” Oxley admitted. “We’ve got to find a replacement or a group of replacements.”
The GOP likely face a pitcher-by-committee situation, with a number of hurlers
going several innings each to fill out the seven-frame game. The Republicans surely hope to avoid the same fate that befell them the last time they tried such an arrangement; when then-Rep. Steve Largent (Okla.) was forced out of the role of starting pitcher because of an elbow surgery in 2000, the team sent six different pitchers to the mound in a game that saw them take a 13-8 loss.
If his performance at batting practice is any indication, Ensign is a sure bet to appear at some point in the game.
“Hopefully we won’t get rained out any more and we’ll get a chance to see what these guys can do from the mound,” Oxley opined. Other options to take the mound include Reps. Gresham Barrett (N.C.) and Zack Wamp (Tenn.).
One option at pitcher who will likely not be available for the Republicans is Sen. John Thune (S.D.). Although he has pitched for the squad in the past (he showed good stuff in that aforementioned Largent-less loss) the former House Member does not appear to be in the lineup this year.
“I’d like to get Thune back,” Oxley said, and not just as a possible pitcher. “The ‘Big Unit’ covers a lot of ground out in center.” For his part, Thune’s representatives say he is probably not playing this year, citing a “strained calf” and “spending so much time on BRAC” as reasons for his absence.
“I’m talking to his agent,” Oxley confided, adding that Thune is a “good competitor, and we’ll be able to get a good arrangement to entice him on to the field.”
A newcomer to the Congressional baseball game, freshman Rep. Connie Mack (Fla.) wowed his colleagues by spraying balls to all parts of the field. There were murmurs of approval at the display.
“It’s got to be at least 10 years since I’ve swung a bat,” Mack said. “It felt great.” Mack played in high school, and in his time as a baseball player he has logged time at shortstop, catcher and left field. Plus he’s got baseball in his blood. Mack’s great-grandfather managed the Philadelphia A’s to five World Series championships during his 50 years leading the team.
If Mack gets a start, there might be a whiff of controversy among the Republicans. As he was putting on a show at the plate, bystanders were heard to mutter that it was a good thing the roster was determined “by seniority.”
Voting records could also come into play. When NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young was in town recently, Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) asked the San Francisco 49er great to discuss the bill he has sponsored that would soften parts of his manager’s signature legislation, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. “When [Young] mentioned it to Oxley,” Flake said, he replied, “‘Flake? You mean my former left fielder?’”
Oxley got out in front of these rumors, saying that the folks perpetuating them are misinformed. “Well, they lie,” the Republican manager said in an attempt to set the record straight. “It’s strictly a meritocracy.”
If playing time is based strictly on merit, one Republican sure to get a start is Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), a stalwart of the Republican squad. The only question is how long that start will last. Brady has been unlucky the last two years, suffering a calf injury last year and a dislocated and broken shoulder the year before that, both coming in the first inning.
“It feels great, 100 percent,” Brady said when asked about his leg. He gave the same answer when asked about his shoulder. After the game last year, Brady said that the only thing that might keep him out of this year’s game is his wife.
“She’s still rolling her eyes,” Brady said, “but she and our two little boys are coming up for the game. So apparently, she’s still game for it.”
The 44th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game will be played June 23 at RFK Stadium. Tickets cost $8 and will be available in the coaches’ offices in the coming weeks. Proceeds of the game benefit the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington.