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Coach Barton: ‘Don’t Screw This Up’

Veteran Infield Leads GOP in Pursuit of Trophy

When your team has won seven games in a row and 10 of its last 11, there’s no reason to make changes.

That’s the philosophy guiding Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), who will manage the Republican team in this summer’s 47th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.

“The message I told the team when we met a couple weeks ago was, ‘Don’t screw this up,’” Barton said Wednesday at his team’s first practice. “‘Whatever it is … we’re good to go one more time.’”

Barton had high turnout as more than 20 players showed up for the workout, held at Four Mile Run Park in Alexandria, Va. The Republicans lead the current best-of-five series 2-0 and will look to retire their 11th coveted Roll Call trophy.

The GOP will rely on the same formula it used in last year’s 5-2 victory — strong pitching by Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.) and a leakproof veteran infield defense anchored by Reps. Zach Wamp (Tenn.) at shortstop and Chip Pickering (Miss.) at third base.

Wamp went 2-for-3 last year and handled seven fielding opportunities flawlessly after an error on the first play of the game.

“The infield’s pretty well been the same as long as those guys have been in Congress,” Barton said, also referring to first baseman Rep. Kenny Hulshof (Mo.) and second baseman Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas). The infielders all were elected in 1996 with the exception of Wamp, in 1994.

“We do have a decade together … and we know each other pretty well,” Wamp said. “But this game is always about who makes the fewest errors and who puts the ball in play.”

Republicans made only two errors in 2007 to the Democrats’ nine, and Shimkus allowed just five hits and two walks in a complete-game, 93-pitch performance. The 50-year-old right-hander is slated to start again for the GOP.

“Just keep the ball down and keep the ball in front of us,” Shimkus said when asked his plan for extending the winning streak. “This is not a difficult game. Even if you muff it, just keep the ball in front of you.”

Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), the Democrats’ manager, suggested Tuesday that part of the reason his squad struggled against Shimkus was that the pitcher had lost some oomph from his fastball and had the Democrats off balance.

“Let Michael Doyle use whatever excuse Michael Doyle wants to use,” Shimkus responded with a smile.

If Shimkus falters on the mound, Barton is likely to turn to John Ensign (Nev.), the only Senator to suit up for either team this year, or Rep. Tom Davis (Va.). But given that Shimkus has gone the distance in each of his three previous starts, it seems unlikely Barton will go to the bullpen.

“Shimkus is just a real competitor,” Barton said. “He’s a West Point graduate, and he really focuses well.”

Rounding out the Republican starters in the outfield are likely to be Reps. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Bill Shuster (Pa.).

The only projected newcomer to this year’s team is Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), who won a special election last month and worked out at second base.

“Hey, this is our new guy! This is one of our few guys that’s won an election this year!” Barton jokingly scolded his batting-practice pitcher, who brushed Scalise off the plate.

In a nod to two veterans, Barton named Pickering and Hulshof as co-captains after Wednesday’s practice, honoring his only outgoing starters. (Pickering is retiring and Hulshof is running for governor.)

“This has been one of my most enjoyable experiences in Congress,” Pickering said. “To go out in a big stadium the last year will be a great way to go out.”

The 47th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball 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. Proceeds from the game benefit the Washington Literacy Council and Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

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