At least two Members will be taking their final cuts at tonight’s game, ending careers that spanned two decades, dozens of teammates — and numerous injuries.
Although many more Members’ lineup spots will be tested in the November midterms, retirements will mean this is the last summer classic for Democratic Reps. Brian Baird (Wash.) and Bart Stupak (Mich.), two perennial standouts of the annual contest.
Ahead of tonight’s game, Baird said he’s walking away with no shortage of memories. The Evergreen State lawmaker was on the winning side of last year’s 15-10 matchup, a contest that drew more than 4,000 fans and raised $140,000 for the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.
“There’s really a lot of nostalgia. It has been one of the more enjoyable things I’ve been able to do during my time in Congress,” the six-term Member said in an interview. “It’s been one of the best sources of bipartisan friendships. I will miss it a lot.”
“When you really hit a baseball, it’s really an extraordinary feeling,” he added. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that again. It’s been a really special thing to be a part of that ballgame.”
Baird said he once fractured his ribs during a practice leading up to the Roll Call contest and ended up breaking them on game day.
He also had generous words for his fellow Congressional short-timers and expressed optimism that his party will outdistance its GOP opponents tonight, a victory that would put the Democrats up 2-0 in a best-of-five series for the coveted Roll Call trophy.
“People are hitting better this year than they have before,” he said. “We have the usual challenges with throwing, fielding and catching, but guys have been coming out pretty reliably.”
He added: “I feel optimistic.”
Stupak, another veteran Democratic player, will also retire in January. A former state police officer, Stupak has had 14 knee operations, two since he decided to play Congressional baseball. The former junior college player said he was initially hesitant to lace up his spikes after he was elected in 1992, but he was nudged by his then-home-state colleague, former Rep. David Bonior (D).
“I was always a good athlete, and it wasn’t that I didn’t want to play, it’s just that I was so fearful of injury to my legs,” Stupak said. “I’m glad I was able to stay this long playing.”
“I truly enjoy being with Members of both teams, and there’s nothing better than being out there at 7 o’clock in the morning on a not overly humid day playing baseball,” he added. “Guys are out there ribbing each other, giving each other a bad time and building relationships with Members — that’s why many, many people enjoy this.”
Veteran Republican team members Reps. Zach Wamp (Tenn.), Gresham Barrett (S.C.) and Adam Putnam (Fla.) are also retiring from Congress this year, but they were not on their team’s lineup as of press time. All three have been running for statewide office back home.
Democratic pitcher Rep. Joe Baca (Calif.) said the GOP trio’s absence will be felt tonight, particularly the efforts of “Mr. Hustle,” his nickname for Wamp.
“A great shortstop,” Baca said. “The guy’s got the ability.”
The departure of Barrett, the Republican catcher, will also complicate the Republicans’ prospects this year, Baca said.
“He’s going to be a loss, and the Republicans are going to miss him an awful lot. It’s a catcher that can often make a pitcher. All the pitcher has to do is hit the spot, but the catcher is the one to make a lot of the calls.”
“Gresham had that knowledge, and it’s important,” he continued. “That’s probably what has made [Rep.] John Shimkus [R-Ill.] more effective … I’m sad to see him go.”
Putnam’s curtain call will have less of an effect on the game’s outcome, Baca said. Known primarily for his speed on the base paths, the Sunshine State lawmaker in 2009 walked five and gave up six earned runs in one inning pitched.
“Putnam? Let’s just say they’re losing his speed,” Baca said. “I can’t say too much about his baseball capabilities, but Putnam can at least run the bases. He’s got the young legs.”