It might have been the first and only time fans at Nationals Park in Southeast D.C. chanted about a trade measure and a president (who was not one of the running mascots) gave them a thumbs up.
President Barack Obama’s surprise appearance at the 54th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game Thursday night shocked and excited fans, as well as the Democratic and Republican members of Congress who were playing in the yearly partisan face off. Democrats ultimately scored their seventh victory in a row, besting their GOP opponents 5-2.
For some Democrats, even the unanticipated arrival of the head of their party didn’t take their focus off the game.
“Listen, I love the president. And I’m always happy when he comes. But it was kind of like a circus for a while with him out here,” the Democrats’ manager, Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, told Roll Call with a laugh after the game.
“And when you’re trying to manage a team and there’s a circus going on around you it’s tough,” Doyle said. “But I’m just thinking, we’ve got to get some runs here you know. No, it was great to see him come. A president shows up to see your ball game, that’s pretty good stuff.”
Highlights from the 54th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game
Doyle noted that the game was much tighter than in recent years, and pointed to the curve balls coming from GOP freshman Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C. Walker pitched until the bottom of the sixth inning, battling Democratic ace pitcher Cedric L. Richmond, D-La.
“These are some wonderful people. I loved competing with Cedric Richmond,” Walker said. “He and I went head-to-head for the first time. [I] learned a couple things out there and hope we’ll be able to transition it to a win next year.”
Walker was awarded his team’s Most Valuable Player award at the charity game’s after-party.
GOP manager Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas said Walker did a great job pitching, as did veteran Illinois Rep. John Shimkus, who came in as a reliever. But he acknowledged the loss was partly self-inflicted by fielding errors.
“Well, we shut them down a little bit, but we gave them runs that they didn’t earn,” Barton said. “If we had gotten ahead I think it would have mentally affected [the Democrats.] … But it was a much more competitive game.”
Republicans had a rough start, making a series of errors in the bottom of the first inning that gave Democrats their first two runs. But the GOP battled back in the top of the second, scoring a run. The score remained at 2-1 until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Democrats scored again, and they proceeded to score two more in the bottom of the sixth.
Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., the only female player, stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, eliciting a roar from the crowd that rivaled the cheers for Obama. Sánchez delivered, firing a shot down the first base line and advancing the runner to third.
Republicans had a brief moment of hope in their last at-bat at the top of the seventh, when freshman Rep. Ryan A. Costello, R-Pa., hit the ball deep into center field to bring in a run. But the momentum ultimately did not shift in the GOP’s favor.
The game ended with a high fly ball to second base, landing in the glove of Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., the 2014 Democratic MVP. Ruiz was spotted video-chatting with his wife and one of his twin daughters after the game, who congratulated him on the win.
“I’m keeping that ball,” Ruiz said, later adding, “Playing in a professional ball park is like a dream come true. We’re all kids out on the field.”
Democrats named three MVPs Thursday: Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, one of just four senators who played in the game this year, Richmond and Sánchez.
Although the players appreciate that the game allows them to interact with their colleagues outside the Capitol, they couldn’t escape the business of Congress Thursday night.
An hour before players took to the field to warm up, House members faced a nail-biting procedural vote to pave the way for a Friday floor vote on two trade measures. And even a baseball game in the stifling D.C. humidity couldn’t quell thoughts of the impending trade vote.
“T-P-A! T-P-A!,” fans on the Republican side of the ballpark shouted as Obama made his way around the field in the fourth inning, referring to the trade measure that aligned the White House and GOP leadership. Obama smiled, turned around, and gave the fans a thumbs up.
Though most fans didn’t realize Obama was in the Democratic dugout until the fourth inning, Democratic players noticed him in the bottom of the third, while Richmond was at the plate.
“A really big distraction,” Richmond said of Obama’s appearance. “I blame my first strikeout in six years because the president walked through the gate and distracted me.” He jokingly added, “I’ll do like my friends and blame it on the Democrat.” (The pitcher has been heavily courted on trade.)
Richmond’s shoulder was wrapped in ice following his seven-inning stint on the pitcher’s mound since he is still recovering from a November shoulder surgery. He said he was in pain, but hoped to be back “100 percent” next year.
“The guys kind of depend on you,” Richmond said. “And even though I didn’t really have it, I thought I could finesse my way out. And they were playing really good defense.”
Republicans acknowledged they will have to step up their defensive game next year, but seemed optimistic the contest was much closer than last year’s 15-6 defeat.
“I think we played really well,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind. “Just came up short. We’ll get it next year.”
Stutzman added, “I’m a Cubs fan so …” his voice trailing off in a moment of silent acknowledgment of the Chicago team that hasn’t won a World Series in more than a century. “Wait ’til next year.”