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Need a Last-Minute Ball Field? In Your Dreams

As spring turns to summer, one question undoubtedly will be asked inside Congressional offices more than any other: “Who’s grabbing the field?—

Summertime is softball season around the Capitol, which means legions of staffers will begin flooding the Mall, West Potomac Park and Anacostia in search of a suitable piece of real estate for a makeshift softball diamond. The choicest plots are nearest to the Dome, although they become scarce just after lunch on game days.

Many Congressional offices dispatch interns and low-level aides to squat on the Mall by 2 p.m. or earlier, while others obtain permits for fields across the Anacostia River and elsewhere, where fields can remain vacant until game time. Patrick Mullane, a coach for Rep. Tom Petri’s (R-Wis.) office team, said his squad lost its permit for an Anacostia field and this year will be joining the masses fanning out toward the Washington Monument.

But there’s just one catch.

“We’re in a tough spot because the Petri office does not allow the use of interns for such things. Most offices consider that a legitimate use — it’s considered paying your dues,— Mullane said. “But it’s a tight-knit rural district, and some might take offense that their son or daughter is spending four hours out on the Mall getting a tan and not exactly getting their money’s worth, considering they’re paying to get college credit.—

“You get some pretty upset parents, so [we’re] erring on the side of caution,— he added.

Mullane blames the Mall’s crowded confines on the area’s popular kickball leagues that have sprung up in recent years. He called the Mall “a disaster— and said “softball teams just can’t bank on having the Mall to themselves.—

“If you don’t get out to the Mall by 2 p.m., you’re done,— he said.

Larry MacDonald, a coach for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Cap City Brewing Flyers, said an intern scarcity in his lineup may lead to some tense moments on game days. He has tried to get a permit, but to no avail.

“We really don’t have interns, so we’re kind of at a disadvantage compared to folks on the Hill; if the other team has an intern, we’ll take advantage of that,— he said. “I think we’re going to have to send someone out early to hold the field.—

Without interns in the past, MacDonald said he’s even gotten in on the act, trekking down to the Mall himself to procure a field. His squad has also been known to tag-team a choice location, sending players down in shifts to hold a field beginning in the early afternoon.

“Especially when some of these events are going on out on the Mall, we’ll send someone out at 2 or 3 o’clock,— MacDonald said. “They’ll sit out there for an hour, and we’ll send someone else out to finish up.—

“I’ve taken my laptop out there and done work,— he added. “It’s pretty boring, but it’s all for fun.—

Dave Natonski, a coach for the Lounging Johnsons, said his teammates, alumni from then-Reps. Nancy Johnson’s (R-Conn.) and Christopher Shays’ (R-Conn.) offices, are planning to avoid the often-frustrating Mall ritual altogether this year by playing in a choice — but undisclosed — location.

“In the past, with a myriad of interns, we’ve been able to send someone out to the Mall early to reserve a field,— Natonski said. “Without as many interns this year with so many of us in freshman offices, there are still a few good fields around the city that don’t require someone to come out so early.

“But their location is off the record,— he added.

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