Members’ Ballgame Moves to Nats’ Park

Posted April 25, 2008 at 6:16pm

While new baseball stadiums generally spark greater fan interest, they rarely generate more enthusiasm among the players who hit the field. For at least one night in Washington, that will change.

The Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game will — pending approval from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — complete a return from its suburban wanderings on July 17, when Democrats and Republicans renew their 47-year-old hardball rivalry at Nationals Park.

“The Members are excited,” said Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), the Democratic manager, who added that he received quick responses to his notice informing players that the game would move to the new Southeast D.C. home of the Washington Nationals. “I think everyone’s looking forward to playing at the stadium.”

Doyle’s Republican counterpart, Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), confirmed similar enthusiasm on his side.

“[Virginia Rep.] Tom Davis, one of my players, who’s retiring, apparently bought season tickets out of this own pocket,” Barton said. “He’s already told me what a great place it is.”

The first Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game was played in District Stadium in 1962 (renamed RFK in 1969) and remained there through 1972. After leaving RFK, the game spent time at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Four Mile Run Park in Alexandria, Va., and Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md.

In 2005, the Montreal Expos moved to D.C., became the Washington Nationals and took up temporary residence at RFK. The Congressional game moved there the same summer but now leaves behind the cavernous, multipurpose stadium for a new, fan-friendly landmark along South Capitol Street.

The new stadium, and new organizational structure, may help boost the game’s fundraising prowess.

Each year, proceeds from the game (raised through corporate sponsorships and ticket sales) go to the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington’s Metropolitan Police Clubhouses. Last year’s game raised about $100,000 despite tighter ethics rules that restricted Members’s abilities to solicit sponsorships.

This year, a new organization is being set up to oversee the game and its fundraising with the goals of easing the process and taking in more money for the charities.

Doyle will convene the Democrats’ first practice during the week before the Memorial Day recess to help players get loose, try out for new positions and, in some cases, shed some extra pounds. Despite what feels like an eternal losing streak, Doyle remains optimistic about his team’s chances. “We had one bad inning in an otherwise competitive game,” he said, referring to last year’s 5-2 loss. The Democrats were leading that game 1-0 until the third inning, when their five errors contributed to four GOP runs.

“If we can just avoid that one terrible inning,” he said.

Doyle’s optimism is further boosted by his familiarity with the opposition.

“We know what to expect from them. These are guys we’ve been playing against for a long time,” Doyle said, adding that much of the GOP core was elected in 1994 and “is getting a little long in the tooth.”

Barton, who plans to begin his practices in June, agreed that age may be an issue for his team, which is one win away from retiring the coveted Roll Call trophy. (Republicans lead the current best-of-five series 2-0 and have won 32 of the 46 annual contests.)

“The Democrats keep going out and recruiting theses young flatbellies. Soon or later, youth does count,” Barton said. “I’m hoping to coax one more year out of them.”

Nevertheless, Barton believes he’s got some talent on his squad — at least when comparing his team’s record to that of stadium’s full-time residents.

“Given how the Nationals are doing, some of our players might get picked up by them,” he said.