In the 54th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, Republicans are hoping to break their Democratic rivals’ winning streak.
The six straight losses weighed on the GOP players’ minds as they trudged to this year’s 6:30 a.m. practices. “In some form or fashion it comes up every day,” Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., said of the losing streak. He said a common refrain among players is, “We need to win one this year. We need to get back on track.”
For Republican veterans, Costello and his four fellow freshman bring a glimmer of hope to a team looking to change the tide. The 2014 GOP Most Valuable Player, Texan Kevin Brady, who has played since 1997, said the GOP team “looks as sharp as I’ve seen in a long while.”
“I think the good news for the Republicans is that we’re going to be better,” said manager Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas. “Our freshman class has got a number of players that have played baseball. And we’re a little bit younger.”
Barton, who has been involved in the game for three decades and has been the GOP manager since 2006, remembers when Republicans dominated.
“Nobody’s more frustrated than me,” Barton said. “I probably want to win more than anybody else because my history with the game goes back 30 years, and until lately almost all those were wins.”
Before the Democratic streak began in 2009, Republicans won seven in a row. What changed? “Our team got older and their team got younger,” said Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who will be playing in his 19th game. And, to make matters worse, Louisiana’s 2nd District elected a Democrat with a golden arm.
Republicans have been trying to counter Democratic pitcher Cedric L. Richmond since he first arrived in 2011. This year they might have a better shot, as Richmond’s pitching status is questionable following off-season shoulder surgery.
But Republicans aren’t taking Richmond’s recovering arm for granted. This year, Barton said they’re working on the fundamentals. He said the key is to not let Democrats have one blowout inning. In their 15-6 victory in 2014, Democrats scored eight runs in the top of the 5th inning.
Brady agreed, noting that the GOP has improved its pitching roster with freshman Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C. Pitching, he said, “has been our challenge in the past, along with too many errors. And we’re working hard to make sure we’ve got a good solid pitching lineup and that we’re backing them up”
Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, reprised his role as GOP coach to help develop those skills. He is a former professional player and also coached the Texas Christian University baseball team.
“I’m dealing with them on techniques and attitude,” Williams said. He runs the early morning practices and he’ll also be coaching third base during the game, though some players are hoping he’ll have more input into playing decisions.
“I think Roger has been leading most of the practices, and it’s the hope of most players that he gets involved and makes game-day decisions,” Shimkus said. “If he is allowed to do it, I think we’ll all be pretty happy.”
Shimkus’ comment was a nod to frustration within the Republican ranks over Barton’s managing style, which boiled over in 2014 when Time reported that GOP players were looking to oust their manager.
But Republican players said the grumblings have quieted down this year.
“I don’t think we see any frustration. We’re having good workouts. We’re having fun,” Williams said. “When you get in a sports venue and compete, sometimes emotions can grab a hold of you for a second.”
And, to be sure, managing a team of lawmakers is not an easy job.
“It’s one thing to manage the athletic ability, but you also have to manage the political egos,” Barton said. “On the Republican side, everybody that comes to practice, we try to let them play some, but we obviously are playing to win.”
“We dominated the series for about 20 years,” Barton said. “So the Democrats are in essence doing a little bit of payback to us. But it’ll turn around. I’m not guaranteeing a win this year, but I honestly do think it will be a more competitive game”
Other Republicans agreed they’d be able to put up a better fight this year.
“My guess is, it’s going to be a more competitive game,” Shimkus said. “At least I hope so. If not, we’ll adjourn and drink adult beverages and come back next year”
Watch the trailer for this year’s game: