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Baseball Caucus Members Are Bonding Off the Diamond

Two members who called the shots during the 2013 Congressional Baseball Game hope the sportsmanship they witnessed in June at Nationals Park can seep into more relationships around Capitol Hill.

Republican coach Roger Williams of Texas and Democratic manager Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania are forming the first-ever Congressional Baseball Caucus “with the idea being to take the edge off the tension that we have every day” by talking sports, sharing baseball stories and maybe having “hot dogs and apple pie,” Williams said.

The freshman member of Congress, who played for three years in the Atlanta Braves’ farm system, pitched the idea to Doyle, currently serving his 10th term, after reflecting on how baseball lightened the mood of the body even in the midst of budget bickering and assorted scandals.

“Before, during and after the game here we were, both sides, talking and laughing and joking and high-fiving,” Williams told CQ Roll Call, which has sponsored the game since 1962. “You don’t see that on the House floor. We don’t see it in the press. We don’t see it in our districts. … Many of my friends on the Democratic side, what brought us together is not politics, it’s baseball.”

Doyle agreed. The 23 Democrats and 38 Republicans on the roster for the 2013 Congressional Baseball Game “developed a little bit of a camaraderie through the game,” he said in a recent interview.

“It raises money for charity and it’s a fun, competitive thing that we do every year,” Doyle said. “From the standpoint of building personal relationships across the aisle … any vehicle that helps us do that so that we can start actually doing things together instead of this gridlock we’re stuck in is attractive to me.”

Many members are on board with the idea, according to Williams. The group, approved by the House Administration Committee on Oct. 24, already has commitments from many of the members who were on the diamond in June and some of the players who compete in the annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game.

It’s no surprise that Williams has found a way to insert baseball into Congress. The sport has been a huge part of his life. Raised in Fort Worth, Texas, he played at Texas Christian University and pursued a professional career until an injury dashed that dream in 1974. He returned to TCU to coach the Horned Frogs for three years. The diamond where the team now plays carries his name.

Today he cheers for the Atlanta Braves, the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros.

During baseball season, Williams found “20 or 30 seconds of common ground” with members on the opposite side of the aisle when they paused in the halls to ask, “Hey, how’s your team doing?” or “Did you see that play last night?”

“It’s one of those areas that we do have common ground,” he said. “It’s not political.”

During the 19 years Doyle has been affiliated with the sporting tradition — 12 as a player, then seven as a manager — he’s developed a tight bond with the GOP team manager, Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas. Both sit on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but it’s baseball that’s helped build what Doyle calls “a good relationship.”

“When you know somebody personally and know a little bit about them and their family, I think it leads to a little more civility,” Doyle said. “I think we could use a little more civility in the House, so I’m for anything that helps do that.”

When asked, Doyle can tick off a list of bipartisan bonds formed through the game — and the position each of those friends plays on the field.

Second baseman Kevin Brady of Texas, shortstop Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, and John Shimkus of Illinois, “who was their second baseman and now their pitcher recently.” Doyle also has lots of fun with fellow Pennsylvanian Bill Shuster, whom he can chide about the Democrats’ five-year winning streak.

The men behind the caucus don’t expect to do any heavy lifting during their monthly meetings, but “who knows,” Williams said. “We might get into a baseball caucus meeting and find out that we’ve got some common ground on an issue, and maybe be able to do something in that venue we couldn’t maybe do on the House floor.”

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