There’s a lot of talk among Democrats that, buoyed by a robust freshman class, this will be the year the party snaps its six-game losing streak and takes a step toward capturing the coveted Roll Call trophy when they take the field for the 46th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.
But to the Republicans practicing Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Va., it is just that — talk.
“You have to understand that it is one game, not a season,” Rep. Tom Davis (Va.) said. “We’ve got a team of veteran ballplayers that is not likely to make rookie mistakes.”
The Republicans have a core of returning players who have won the past two contests by a combined score of 31-12. They will try to increase their 1-0 lead in the current best-of-five series against a Democratic team managed by Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.).
“There’s a lot of apprehension on our team about the new Democratic talent and the managerial talent of Mr. Doyle,” the Republicans’ rookie manager, Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), said with his tongue planted in his cheek. He even joked that he had consulted with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “I haven’t been able to sleep with all the worrying, and I’ve been in Boehner’s office repeatedly strategizing.”
The Republican team has only two freshmen, Reps. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Bill Sali (Idaho). And it’s not like they had a large pool from which to recruit: There are fewer freshmen in the Republican Conference (12) than there were House Members defeated in 2006 (20).
But the only significant Republican loss was actually a Senator defeated in November, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who played third base and outfield.
“It’s a pretty cheap trick when they want to win at baseball so bad that they try to beat us in elections,” Barton said. “That’s dirty pool in my book.”
But Barton seemed satisfied with his squad.
“We really have two teams. Our second team is really good,” he said. “We have 18 to 20 guys capable of being starters” out of about 30 on the roster.
The Republicans looked significantly sharper yesterday than the Democrats did when Roll Call checked in on them at the beginning of May, though, to be fair, that was the Democrats’ first practice of the season.
Rep. Kenny Hulshof (Mo.) sprayed line drives across the diamond. He likely will start at first base — allowing Barton to breathe a sigh of relief after learning earlier this week that Hulshof would remain in Congress (and on the team) after not being selected as president of the University of Missouri.
Others who looked good at the plate were Reps. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Barton’s projected starting center fielder; Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.), who will play left; and John Shimkus (Ill.), the staff ace.
Despite Shimkus’ strong practice, the Republicans lack depth on the mound, where Shimkus and Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) are Barton’s two main options. Davis threw some batting practice yesterday and could emerge as a No. 3, Barton said.
Further complicating matters, Ensign must juggle baseball with his National Republican Senatorial Committee chairmanship duties (“You can’t make fundraising calls at 6:30 a.m.,” he said).
The others might not be needed, though, as Shimkus, a 49-year-old right-hander, pitched a complete game seven-hitter last year, allowing just an unearned run. He has thrown complete games in each of his three starts (2002 and 2003 were the others).
“Shimkus and Ensign are both in midseason form,” Barton said.
The Republican manager said he is pretty set on his starting lineup. Joining Hulshof, Flake, McCotter and Shimkus will be Reps. Gresham Barrett (S.C.) at catcher, Kevin Brady (Texas) at second, Zach Wamp (Tenn.) at shortstop, Chip Pickering (Miss.) at third, Bill Shuster (Pa.) in right and Connie Mack IV (Fla.) as designated hitter.
Even though they expressed confidence in their team, Barton and others acknowledged that the Democrats have improved.
“I think it could be just an awesome game this year,” Ensign said. “We’ll have to play well to win, but we’re not ready to hand them the title. If they’re going to beat us, they’ll have to play hard.”
The 46th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game will be played Monday, June 25, at RFK Stadium. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 and will be available the day of the game at the RFK box office and in advance from the managers’ offices starting June 11. Proceeds from the game benefit the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.