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For Summer Congressional Classic, GOP Looking for Answers

As Members of Congress begin preparing for this summer’s 51st Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, Republicans are faced with two challenges: replacing their longtime pitching ace and neutralizing a rising Democratic star.

Rep. Cedric Richmond wowed both teams with his masterful pitching performance in last year’s game.

The Louisiana Democrat, who played for Morehouse College in the 1990s, pitched a complete game one-hitter, struck out 13 and kept the Republicans hitless into the sixth inning in an easy 8-2 Democratic victory last July. Richmond also went 4-for-4 in batting on his way to the MVP award.

Overshadowed was Illinois Rep. John Shimkus, the veteran workhorse of the Republican pitching staff, whose lackluster bottom line in the box score did not mirror the stellar career he’s had on the diamond.

From 2002 to 2008, the Prairie State native’s crafty and durable pitching style translated into seven straight victories for the GOP. He also won a pair of MVP awards during that span.

However, in 2011, he was thoroughly outdueled by his upstart counterpart, giving up six runs in just two innings.  

This year, the GOP will likely have to pursue victory without Shimkus. According to his office, he will skip the summer classic June 28.

Fellow Republicans are hoping they can persuade Shimkus to change his mind and take to the mound this year.  

“I’ve assigned myself to the role of trying to encourage him to do it one more time. But there’s no doubt we hope to retain Shimkus,” said Rep. Tim Scott (S.C.), who pitched a scoreless inning last year.  

Rep. Patrick Meehan (Pa.) is hopeful that even if Shimkus shelves his cleats, he’ll take on a coaching role and continue to lend his baseball smarts to the Republican dugout.

“He’s actually a heck of a baseball leader. In many ways, he ran most of the practices and has a very great baseball instinct. I’m hoping that while he may not pitch, it may actually give him a more active role in the daily loving of the team. He’s a real baseball guy. It would be fun to have him in that role,” Meehan said.

But for now, the GOP must find a replacement for Shimkus as well as solve the Richmond riddle.

The game is still months away, but strategies on both fronts are already being devised.

To fill the Shimkus void, Republicans are eyeing a pitching-by-committee approach, which may include Scott and Meehan. Rep. Lou Barletta (Pa.) could also be a key part of the revamped staff.

“He’s got a good arm,” Meehan said of his fellow Pennsylvanian.   

Barletta, who unsuccessfully tried out for the Cincinnati Reds in his more youthful days, is humbled by the possibility of stepping in for Shimkus. Moreover, he’s committed to filling any role that will boost the GOP’s chances of victory.

“I’ll do anything I have to do to help our team win. If I get the starting nod, I’m going to go as long and as hard as I could. I’ll do anything I have to do to win this game,” Barletta said.

From Meehan’s vantage, the committee approach would be an effective way to keep Democrats’ bats off balance and possibly neutralize Richmond.

Still, Republicans have no illusions about the talent gap between their staff and the electric Richmond.

“We’ve got to get Richmond to work for the governor and get him out of Washington. He is one heck of a pitcher,” Barletta said.  

But those on the GOP side aren’t shying away from the challenge either, believing that some in-game dramatics could prove the difference.

“You gotta go into every game knowing that a couple of bounces one way or the other can make a difference,” Meehan said.

Scott is already brimming with ideas for how to simulate Richmond’s velocity in practices, which begin later this month.

“I hope a part of our plan is to bring in some college pitchers that throw heat to give us an opportunity in batting practice to get us used to the speed of Richmond so we can be competitive,” he said.

Republicans are hoping they’ll be more prepared this year for the hurler from New Orleans.

“[Richmond is] a known quantity, which is good for us this year. We had heard that he was good. We now know that he is. It gives us a chance to prepare for it,” Scott said.

Meehan was more explicit in what tactics the GOP might use to rattle Richmond.

“You might see more bunting. You might see a little more activity on the base path, if people get on. You might see people trying to go deeper into the count, all things that would be what you would do against a strong pitcher in any kind of a circumstance,” he said.  

Hoping to preserve a hint of competitive surprise, Barletta was tight-lipped about any kind of strategy that might be used against the Democratic star pitcher.

“I don’t want to let him know what our strategy is going to be. He doesn’t need the help.”

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