The free agent is one of the most coveted spots in baseball. Teams spend tens of millions of dollars in search of that big-game pitcher or middle-of-the-order batter who will propel them from mediocrity to contention, from a division title to a World Series championship.
[IMGCAP(1)]Free agents in Hill softball may not come with the price tag, but they serve the same purpose, from upgrading a position to reaching the requisite number of players on the field.
Softball teams draw the bulk of their players from the offices they’re based in, but this does not preclude them from bringing friends along. Jacob Sciandra, the coach of Capitol Punishment, said the team has expanded from a close-knit group of co-workers to a larger pool of players.
“We have a really large bench, and a lot of them come for the social aspect,— he said. “The team has kind of evolved into a social outlet.—
House League Commissioner Anthony Reed said there are “no strict rules— about who can play for a team. Teams competing in the postseason tournament must submit rosters beforehand, but anyone whose name is on the roster is eligible to play.
For some teams, free agents take on a larger role. The message boards on the House League Web site feature entreaties from various teams seeking additional players.
A recurring theme is the struggle to fill the minimum of three female players mandated by the rules of all three leagues. Rachel Buske, coach of JACK Softball, said that of the 60 players who expressed an initial interest in playing, she is usually able to recruit at most 15, which naturally diminishes the number of available female players.
“People are just super busy at work, so we normally by default play with three women,— she said. “Even someone who’s not that good at softball or who’s never played before and is coming out to make friends is better than just taking an automatic out.—
Buske said she has filled the gap by finding players through Craigslist, one of whom became a team fixture before the arrival of his first child forced him to take a leave of absence. Other Craigslist recruits attend intermittently.
Patrick Mullane, coach of Big Riggin’, said he posted on the House softball message boards in search of a backup middle infielder, but to no avail. He said it was difficult to find a player with the necessary talent and passion.
“Most every team will admit that finding people who are suicidal enough to get in front of a 100-mph ground ball on these horrible fields is pretty hard,— he said.
Since then, Mullane has employed “friends of friends— to plug holes in his lineup, and he said that the newcomers have fit in “seamlessly— despite not working in the same Congressional office as many of their teammates.
Prospective free agents can encounter similar obstacles in locating a team. Whether players are motivated by a love of the game or the desire to relax and make some new friends in an unfamiliar city, the message boards are replete with posts — such as one titled “28 year old Jose Reyes type looking for team— — that speak to a common desire.
Kelly Hoffman, who recently graduated from college and has found a job working on the Hill, said she saw softball as “a really good way to meet people.— A day after posting, she received a response from the captain of the Spin Offs, who was looking to bolster the female contingent of his roster. Though the team largely comprises Federal Aviation Administration employees, Hoffman said she had no trouble fitting in.
“Everyone is very open,— she said. “A lot of them have worked on the Hill before, so they’re very nice.—
Patrick Lahr, on the other hand, had to work just a little harder to get settled on a team. Lahr, whose post on the message boards describes him as a “free agent journeyman— capable of playing four different positions, recently moved to Washington from Mansfield, Pa. He played baseball in high school and later softball, and he was not ready to hang it up.
Lahr said his initial online posting yielded no responses. So he got resourceful. He said that one day, exiting the Capitol South Metro, he noticed a man walking by with a glove. “Outgoing guy that I am,— Lahr said, he inquired about whether the man’s team could use some extra help.
“They took me right in,— Lahr said, who has been a member of JACK Softball since May. “It was like they knew me forever.—