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DeSantis’ background is evolving as he preps presidential run

Apparently time makes people fonder of his baseball impact

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, on Aug. 19, 2022.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, on Aug. 19, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

From his childhood upbringing to his baseball prowess, some revisionist history has accompanied Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on his climb up the political ladder. 

As the former Florida congressman prepares for a potential presidential run, DeSantis appears to be changing how he talks about his background — and some of his former colleagues seem to remember him having a different impact on the baseball field than what stats show.

Childhood memories

“I was geographically raised in Tampa Bay,” DeSantis wrote in “The Courage to Be Free,” his recent memoir, “but culturally my upbringing reflected the working-class communities in western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio — from weekly church attendance to the expectation that one would earn his keep. This made me God-fearing, hard-working and America-loving.”

According to NBC News, DeSantis has family roots in the Youngstown area in eastern Ohio near the Pennsylvania border. His grandfather worked in local politics, and there was the “blossoming romance of his parents on the campus of Youngstown State University.”

In more than 20 years of covering candidates, I’ve never seen a candidate make the distinction between “geographically raised” and “culturally” raised. It’s also different from how DeSantis himself used to talk about his own background. 

I interviewed DeSantis on May 15, 2012, when he was first running for Congress in Florida’s 6th District, and there was no mention of where he was “culturally” raised. He talked about his father installing Nielsen rating boxes into televisions and his mom being a nurse, but I didn’t write down any references to the Midwest. DeSantis’ official bio didn’t mention Ohio or Pennsylvania either.

“Born in Jacksonville, FL, Ron DeSantis is a proud Floridian of humble beginnings who knows the value of hard work,” according to the candidate biography one-pager he brought with him. “To put himself through college, he swept floors, collected trash, moved furniture, parked cars, served as an electrician’s assistant, coached baseball clinics, and set up hospitality tents, earning a reputation as the most employable student at Yale University.”

Candidate DeSantis sits for an interview at the Roll Call office in 2012. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

During the 2012 interview, he told a story about being sent home from a job site as an electrician’s assistant because he didn’t have Occupational Safety and Health Administration-approved boots, and not being sure how he’d pay for the necessary footwear making $6 an hour. That’s the type of story I’d expect from a presidential contender rather than getting creative with how he was raised.

It’s no surprise that DeSantis is trying to broaden his appeal for a national run, and he’ll probably try to use any criticism of his effort to recharacterize his background as attacks from a woke mob. 

Ron at the bat

More than 10 years ago, I’m pretty sure I was one of the only Washington reporters who paid much attention to DeSantis. He was running in a sleepy Republican primary for an open seat created by a combination of redistricting and GOP Rep. John Mica’s decision to run in the new 7th District.

DeSantis, a former captain of the Yale baseball team, was also an excuse for me to cover two of my favorite things: baseball and politics. I wrote about DeSantis as the antidote to Democrats’ star player, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana, ahead of the 2013 annual Congressional Baseball Game in Roll Call.

But I was surprised by how DeSantis’ impact on the field was described in a recent Politico profile of his time on Capitol Hill. 

“More than anything, DeSantis — a former Little League champion and captain of Yale’s baseball team — was probably best known in the House for being a standout on Republicans’ congressional baseball squad,” according to the story.

“We’re these fat, old guys with bad backs trying to get the ball out of the infield, and he would just take this beautiful little swing and it would go over the fence, and we’d all go crazy,” former Florida Rep. Tom Rooney told Politico. 

That must have happened on the practice field, because it didn’t happen in a game. 

DeSantis played in two congressional baseball games during his six years in Congress. He got two hits in six at-bats — both singles, according to stats compiled by Nathaniel Rakich of FiveThirtyEight. 

It was a remarkably underwhelming performance for DeSantis, in contrast to the lofty expectations based on his relative youth and previous experience.

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