‘One night a year’: Softball game gets personal for Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Longtime announcing gig takes on a new meaning

Usually played in June, the Congressional Women’s Softball Game returns Wednesday night. Above, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Andrea Mitchell attend the game last year, held at Watkins Recreation Center in Southeast Washington. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Usually played in June, the Congressional Women’s Softball Game returns Wednesday night. Above, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Andrea Mitchell attend the game last year, held at Watkins Recreation Center in Southeast Washington. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 13, 2022 at 6:15am

Whether it’s the Congressional Women’s Softball Game, a Senate hearing or simply when someone sits down in her office, Sen. Amy Klobuchar is always ready to set the scene. 

The Minnesota Democrat and daughter of a sportswriter learned the value of a well-placed anecdote from an early age, reading the columns of her father, Jim Klobuchar, who retired from the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1995 and died last year.  

“Sports were always a big part of our life growing up, particularly the coverage of sports,” she said. “So I feel like I fulfill part of my dad’s dreams, but it’s only for one night a year.” 

Klobuchar has been an announcer for the softball game since 2011. Wednesday she will reprise that role alongside CNN’s Dana Bash and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, providing play-by-play for the contest pitting lawmakers against journalists. The event also raises money for the Young Survival Coalition, a breast cancer charity focusing on people under 40 who are battling the disease. 

For Klobuchar, the past couple of years in the announcer’s booth have had a different feel.

In February 2021, a routine mammogram led to a breast cancer diagnosis, and Klobuchar underwent surgery on her right breast and radiation treatments soon after. Today, she says her chances of developing cancer again are no greater than the average person’s.

“It’s a whole new meaning for the money we’re raising, the help we’re giving people,” Klobuchar said. “Having been one myself now, it just makes it all more meaningful.”

Mitchell, also a breast cancer survivor, said the support she received while she faced the disease was crucial. 

“I feel very, very strongly about early detection, and about support systems and being engaged in helping this sisterhood of a club that none of us wanted to be in,” she said. “Now to help younger women faced with these uncertainties is something I feel passionately about.”

The two said they enjoy their time together at the annual event, and Mitchell said they thrive on the back-and-forth banter of broadcasting a game. 

“She’s just funny and we tease each other and pretend to be very partisan about supporting the women journalists versus the women members,” she said. 

Organizers say corporate sponsorships this year have already helped match the 2021 fundraising sum of about $510,000, and they expect to raise more before the event ends.

Tickets can still be purchased for $10 in advance or in person at the game, played at Watkins Recreation Center in Southeast Washington. 

Klobuchar eats a hotdog in the booth during 2017’s game, alongside fellow announcers Dana Bash and Andrea Mitchell. The annual charity game raises money for the Young Survival Coalition. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In years past, the event has been held in June, with some exceptions. The pandemic canceled it altogether in 2020 and delayed it the following year. This time, the congressional calendar was to blame for the late start, but organizers hope to return to the summer schedule in 2023 to mark the 15th anniversary.

The first pitch on Wednesday will be thrown out by Barbara Franklin, a trailblazer who helped lead an effort to recruit more women into high-level government jobs during the Nixon administration. 

Congress’ roster remains unchanged from last year, including co-captain Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose story of surviving breast cancer at the age of 41 first inspired the game.

It will be the last year on the field for retiring Rep. Cheri Bustos, and one of the team’s coaches, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, is also heading for the exits at the end of this term. 

The final game for Bustos will be bittersweet, she said.

“I’ve gotten to know friends across the aisle by playing sports, so yeah, I’ll feel sad about it,” the Illinois Democrat said. “But like any true competitive person, I also want to win. So I’m hoping that at the end of the game, we’ll have the higher score on the scoreboard.”

A win has been hard to come by for the congressional team, which has lost five years in a row, though in 2021 it came relatively close to besting the journalists, known as the Bad News Babes.

In the early days of her once-a-year broadcasting career, Klobuchar said covering the game was a lot different — the announcers were left mostly alone, and the action could be hard to follow. 

“There were a few times from the microphone in the beginning years that we asked the crowd what the score was because it was unclear,” she said. 

But that’s not the case today. Now armed with a binder filled with information on each player, Klobuchar can rattle off a quick fact and a little context about everything, even their walkup songs. 

As a sports lover herself — she once wrote a tome about the construction of Minneapolis’ now-demolished Metrodome — her goal is to make sure the audience leaves with more information than they came with. 

“I’m always prepared, because I feel one of my roles is to explain our completely uneven playing field on which we play,” she said.

Unlike the lawmakers’ team, which has a limited talent pool that skews older, members of the press team are typically much younger and have no constitutional age requirements to get journalism jobs, she said. 

“At one point, we had several great-grandmothers on our team,” she said. “I’m not kidding.”