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softball034 062613 1 600x395 Softball, Sunshine and Sisters: Why I Play
Bellantoni greets fellow Bad News Babe Abby Livingston at the 2013 game. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

About 75 minutes into the morning, I took a softball to my left shin.

The purple welt that formed soon after served as a nice distraction from the bruise about 2 inches above it, the result of a stray toss at a scrimmage last weekend.

It was my third consecutive day with less than five hours of sleep, after an intense and unpredictable week in the political news business. I’d started out on the field at 7 a.m., groggy and grouchy, mentally ticking off everything on the to-do list and preparing for a television hit in a few hours.

My leg hurt, but I was pleased I’d been a swift backup for the other outfielder, and that I’d gotten the ball into the shortstop’s glove.

As I walked into CNN later, someone remarked, “You sure look happy for getting up at 5:30 a.m.”

And this is why I play.

I have several goals for Wednesday’s Congressional Women’s Softball Game, which pits lady journalists against female members of Congress.

Most importantly, I joined the press team known as the Bad News Babes in 2013 — and I show up at twice-weekly morning practices and weekend trips to the batting cages — because I believe in the cause. Proceeds benefit the Young Survival Coalition, which works to promote breast cancer awareness and help young women stricken by the disease.

As I wrote in an email to friends urging them to buy tickets or donate:

I play in honor of women I love and in hopes of one day beating cancer.

I play because of my mom Cassandra, now nine years in remission from breast cancer but still fighting lasting effects of chemo and radiation.

I play because of my friend Wafa’a, who died in 2006 after a long battle with lymphoma. She was only 26, and I wish she’d had a group like the YSC that could guide a young woman facing such scary circumstances.

I think about them on the field, and each of us knows someone touched by this monster of a disease. This is why I play.

Six years running, the game has raised half a million dollars for YSC. This year’s game has raised at least $150,000. Lawmakers bring more fundraising attention to the cause — the 2013 game saw double the proceeds from the year before, including an anonymous $5,000 donation that rolled in right around the time House leaders Speaker John A. Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi showed up.

Believe me, I also want to win. We’re the defending champions after an intense 11-8 victory in 2013, and by all indications and a few mornings of spying, the members are looking good out there this year. Maybe even a little intimidating.

The injury Friday morning was hardly the first — a few weeks ago, my face looked like Jay Leno’s after I got cracked on the chin. And last year, I ended up getting a concussion check in the emergency room after taking one to the forehead.

I’m not athletic. I hadn’t so much as picked up a bat since sophomore year of P.E. class in high school, and I never played organized sports.

Sometimes I even get right and left field confused.

I’m possibly not the worst player on the team, but I can confidently say I won’t be MVP. (Last year, I kept it dignified, scoring a run and walking one inning and I advanced a runner in the final inning, even though I was tagged out at first base.)

I want to succeed Wednesday not just to avoid embarrassment in front of the 1,000 Hill staffers, journalists and Kirsten Gillibrand fans watching from the bleachers.

I love how it makes me feel, and I have a whole new respect for athletes. Nationals rock star Bryce Harper said this spring he views his body as his temple.

“This is what I have to do every single day. I come in, and I have to feel good,” he said. “If you’re going out and drinking and partying, you’re not going to feel good the next day. I want to get my eight hours and be able to eat good meals and not be sluggish or anything like that.”

Since joining the Bad News Babes, I’ve never felt healthier. I am in decent shape and have taken up running over the past few years, but I think there’s just something about being out on the field that turns your metabolism up.

Being on the team is a great excuse to soak up sunshine at least twice a week. I’m able to put down the iPhone and just run around and enjoy every moment of fresh air. This is why I play.

photo 294x445 Softball, Sunshine and Sisters: Why I Play
Bellantoni practicing the tough look. (Courtesy Jeff Malet Photography)

And I don’t want to let the girls down. The other day, I managed to snag a terrific outfield hit. The Babes shouted and cheered when I stopped to point at the ball resting neatly in the middle of my glove. Sure, it was a great catch, but they were excited because I didn’t drop it.

My teammates bring me so much joy, and I think we all know we would be there for each other in a jam.

We’re all political junkies, but day in and day out, these girls remind me there is more to Washington than politics. During warm-ups we do gossip about journalism, but talk more about our families. We encourage each other professionally, but we also swap recipes and fitness tips.

On any given day, the team might be engaged in an epic email thread, anything from scheduling a trip to the cages to congratulating an engagement. We invite each other to parties, offer kudos for strong stories and wish each other happy birthday. We even note when we have cute bachelor relatives coming into town.

Women in this town aren’t always so welcoming or generous.

I’m lucky to have counted Lynn Sweet as a friend long before we traded batting stance advice. But before taking the field, I’d never met Lisa Desjardins, someone I now consider to be a dear friend I trust with my secrets. I was excited to recently toast Caitlin Huey-Burns and her soon-to-be-husband. And even though I’m Abby Livingston’s boss, she’s clearly the one in charge when I struggle to understand just what the heck a force-out is.

I play because it gives me time with women in my profession I respect, on and off the field.

And there has been a certain amount of bonding with the other side as well, in between all the heckling.

Is Debbie Wasserman Schultz more likely to return my call now than she was two years ago? Sure, and so is Kelly Ayotte. But certainly neither has called me with any scoops. In fact, Wasserman Schultz’s relationship with me seems limited to trash talk on Instagram.

Will we win? I’m not so sure this year. It’s going to be a good game no matter what.

I hope you can see for yourself at Watkins Elementary in Southeast D.C. on Wednesday night. Because whether you’re jeering or cheering, rooting to #beatcongress or #beatthepress, we can all add #beatcancer as a common goal.

And see you from right field.

I think.

Related stories:

Fantasy Softball: Make Your Picks Now!

Congressional Women’s Softball Batting Practices Get Wild at New York Times, Huffington Post

Bad News Babes Win Softball Title for Second Consecutive Year

When Politics and Softball Collide . . .

Congressional Women’s Softball Rosters

Congressional Softball a Strong Tradition

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