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GOP Trio Bids Game Farewell

As a high schooler, Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) sat down with his father to discuss baseball — more specifically, whether the promising young first baseman should take an academic scholarship at one college or an athletic scholarship at another.

“It was one of those [discussions] where the dad does all the talking and the son does the listening,” Hulshof said. “I hung up the cleats.”

Now, Hulshof and two of his Republican colleagues are hanging up their cleats again, taking their last strides through the halls of the Capitol and around the base paths during the 47th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.

Hulshof, who is running for governor in the Show Me State, will say his goodbyes along with retiring Reps. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.).

In interviews with Roll Call, the three Members, who have played in more than 20 games combined, recalled their fondest memories of the annual contest, which Davis said was the high point of the Congressional calendar — even if the seven-term Member is not very good.

“Generally they don’t put me in until they get a pretty good lead; it’s typically five runs until they feel pretty safe putting me in,” Davis joked. “I may be 59, but I hit like a 57-year-old.”

Davis played his first Congressional baseball game in Bowie, Md., the former home of the annual contest — and the site of the retiring outfielder’s greatest moment on the diamond. During one of those games (the years sometimes run together), a Democratic lawmaker smacked a long fly ball toward left fielder Davis, who said he occasionally “pray[s] the ball won’t come to me.”

“I kept backing up and backing up and I caught it,” Davis said. “I felt pretty good about that.”

Davis, who said he is excited about playing in the new Nationals Park this year, called the game “a different kind of pressure.”

“But you love it,” he said. “You know how to handle the pressure of a tough press conference or a committee hearing, but this is a different kind of pressure on the field.”

Hulshof actually was preparing for yet another type of pressure when he first witnessed Republicans and Democrats battling for the coveted Roll Call trophy in 1997.

Along with Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), now-Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and now-retired Rep. Mike Pappas (R-N.J.), Hulshof was part of an a cappella group that sang the national anthem at that year’s game.

Hulshof realized then, however, that he had signed up for the wrong extracurricular activity.

“All of the sudden I realized that you’re playing in a professional ballpark and how competitive the game is,” Hulshof recalled. “I had in my mind that it was different than what it was.”

“The next year, on the first day of practice I was there,” he added. “It’s a chance to relive your past.”

And should he take up residence in the governor’s mansion, Hulshof said an annual contest similar to Roll Call’s game may soon follow.

“This isn’t a campaign promise … but it would be great to start some type of tradition like that in Jefferson City if I get the opportunity,” he said.

All three retiring Members said the Roll Call game provides a healthy distraction from their day-to-day legislative responsibilities and an opportunity to strengthen relationships within their ranks and with their 9-to-5 political adversaries.

“We get so intensely focused on what happens on the floor of the House or in our committees,” Hulshof said. “It allows you to be partisan, but not in a legislative sense.”

Pickering agreed and added that it also builds camaraderie within Member offices, which pack the stands each summer for the annual Roll Call game. The veteran GOP third baseman and catcher, who played his first Congressional baseball game more than a decade ago, emphasized that the staffers in the stands really enhance the overall experience.

“Both on the Republican and Democratic sides it creates a lot of friendships,” Pickering said. “The heckling and fun of the stands is also part of the fun of the game.”

Pickering, who is playing for the 12th time tonight, said his fondest memory comes from his first game in 1997.

“Rep. Tim Holden [D-Pa.] hit a shot down third base,” Pickering recalled. “I dove to my backhand, caught it and threw over to first to get an out.”

The lawmaker’s most notorious moment on the Congressional diamond, however, is one he’d rather forget.

“One year I hit one to the warning track,” Pickering said. “I thought it went over and I went into a home run jog and only made it to second.”

“I was harassed for the rest of my career,” he added.

And looking to next season, Pickering said the real test for his GOP teammates will be whether their new minority status bleeds into the Conference’s lineup.

“When Republicans took the majority in 1995, it took a year for the new talent to dominate on the diamond,” he said. “The average age of the team was probably late 30s. Now we’re all approaching 50.”

“We’ve gone from a young team to an old team during my time,” he added. “The test will be if the old group of veterans continue to outplay the Democrats as they get fresh new talent on the other side.”

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