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Democrats Cleaning Up the Game

Correction Appended

If Democrats are going to snap their seven-game losing streak in the Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, one thing has to change: The players can’t kick the ball around the field like they did in 2007.

To that end, manager Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.) is focusing on defense in spring practices as his team hopes to cut down on the hideous nine errors it committed in last year’s game.

Although the Democrats’ pitcher, Rep. Joe Baca (Calif.), was charged with five runs, only one of them was earned in the 5-2 defeat.

“Baca threw about as good a game as has ever been pitched. We just had one inning where we gave them a bunch of runs,” Doyle said Tuesday morning during his team’s practice near Gallaudet University in Northeast D.C. “Otherwise we beat them 2-1.”

Instead, Republicans took a 2-0 lead in the current best-of-five series. They will seek to retire the coveted Roll Call trophy for the 10th time — to the Democrats’ two — in the 47th edition of the game on July 17 at Nationals Park.

[IMGCAP(1)]The main culprit for the Democrats in 2007 was Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), whose five errors at shortstop cost the team dearly. But Doyle said Smith will remain in the starting lineup at short and that there will be few other lineup changes.

“Adam is one of our best players. He’s a great fielder, but he just had a bad game last year,” Doyle said. “The problem with this league is if you have a bad game you don’t get a second chance” because there is only one game each year.

Smith currently is out with a foot injury and has not practiced, nor has another key player, freshman Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), who came in with high expectations last year but turned in an 0-for-3 performance.

Shuler was hobbled by a foot injury in 2007, and Doyle said a recent wheelbarrow accident has the former Washington Redskins quarterback in the trainer’s room again. But he promised that Shuler would be back in the designated hitter’s spot by game day.

Shuler struck out twice last year, which Doyle attributed to the freshman trying for a longball to rev up his team.

Both teams will be revved up for a different reason this year, because the game will be played at the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark in Southeast. The game has been played at a number of stadiums in the D.C.-Baltimore area, most recently at a minor league park in Bowie, Md., before moving to RFK Stadium once the Nationals came to town in 2005.

“I played most of my career in Bowie,” Doyle said, “so to put on your hometown uniform and play in a major league park as beautiful as the Nationals’ is pretty great.”

Doyle said one reason his team struggled offensively last year, mustering only five hits, was that the Republican pitcher, Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), had them off balance because his velocity was down from his previous outings.

“Shimkus was about 10 miles per hour slower than we thought he was going to be,” Doyle said. “He was about 55 to 62,” while the Democrats had been practicing against pitches in the 65 to 70 mph range. “We were out in front of the ball, trying to kill the ball,” Doyle said.

Baca will again start on the mound for the Democrats. He said he would be more than satisfied if he can replicate last year’s performance.

“If I can throw half the game I did last year and we make defensive plays, we can win the ballgame,” Baca said.

Rep. Jim Marshall (Ga.), who contributed to the most hilarious of the defensive miscues last year when he collided with Rep. Anthony Weiner (N.Y.) while chasing a pop fly, resulting in a Weiner faceplant into the RFK turf and ensuing shiner, echoed that sentiment: “We let our pitcher down last time. If the rest of us play the way our pitcher did, we’ll win.”

So although the hitting performances of Shuler and the rest of the squad will matter, it will eventually come down to fundamentals and defense.

“A lot of our errors were throwing errors, and sometimes that’s just rushing the throw,” Doyle said. “If we make the basic fielding plays behind Joe, we’ll be fine.”

The annual contest raises money for the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington; last year’s game raised approximately $100,000.

The 47th Annual Roll Call Congressional Game will be played July 17 at Nationals Park. Tentative start time is 7:05 p.m., pending House votes. Tickets are $8 and will be available day-of-game at the Nationals box office.

Correction: June 12, 2008

The article incorrectly stated the number of coveted Roll Call trophies the Republican baseball team has retired. The Republicans have claimed nine trophies.

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