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Protesters prepare for Congressional Baseball Game as Dems seek redemption

‘We will shut it down,’ climate group says

Rep. Roger Williams holds a trophy after coaching the GOP team to a win in the 2023 Congressional Baseball Game. “Why would an environmentalist not like a baseball game?” he replied when asked about climate protesters who plan to disrupt this year’s game.
Rep. Roger Williams holds a trophy after coaching the GOP team to a win in the 2023 Congressional Baseball Game. “Why would an environmentalist not like a baseball game?” he replied when asked about climate protesters who plan to disrupt this year’s game. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As climate protesters vow to blockade and shut down the Congressional Baseball Game on Wednesday night, at least one lawmaker said he wasn’t worried.

Rep. Roger Williams coached the Republican team to victory last year and is hoping for a repeat. Asked whether the protest was on his radar, the Texan said, “It’s on the stupid radar. I mean, why would an environmentalist not like a baseball game? Baseball is played on grass and dirt. What’s wrong with that?”

The annual game, which raises money for local charities, pits Republican and Democratic members of Congress against one another at Nationals Park. 

“The Congressional Baseball Game is a useful symbolic target,” said Evan Drukker-Schardl, an organizer with a group called Climate Defiance, which formed in 2023 and wants to end government support for fossil fuels. “Congress is literally playing games while subsidizing the fossil fuel engine industry.”

Climate Defiance has been planning the action for months, announcing in April, “We will shut it down.” Drukker-Schardl said he expects hundreds of protesters to attend, although he wouldn’t elaborate on what exactly they would do. It’s the same group, composed largely of college students and recent graduates, that interrupted the Congressional Women’s Softball Game last year for more than 10 minutes, to the annoyance of players and commentators.

“It’s a tight-knit club in Washington, and the people left out are all of us who are facing global catastrophe,” Drukker-Schardl said. “It’s unconscionable that most members of Congress are focused more on enriching their corporate lobbyist friends than they are on saving us from rising sea levels and rising temperatures and cataclysmic storms.”

A different collection of activists targeted the baseball game in 2022, with some unfurling banners and dropping leaflets in the stands. A few were arrested outside Nationals Park as they tried to stop fans from entering.  

A Capitol Police spokesperson said the department is aware of the protest planned for this year and is partnering with the Metropolitan Police and Washington Nationals security for the game. The summer tradition has drawn more scrutiny since 2017, when a gunman opened fire on Republicans who had gathered for an early morning practice.  

Ryan Thompson, president of Congressional Sports for Charity, said he’s confident the game will go off without a hitch and more than $2 million has already been raised, up from around $1.8 million last year. The foundation provides grants to local groups that serve families and children, such as the Washington Literacy Center. 

“We live in a free country, and they have every right to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Thompson said of the protesters. “But the Capitol Police and federal law enforcement are definitely tracking any threats to the game. It’s a high-profile event … so they’re hyper-diligent.”

Some lawmakers preparing for the game said they were sympathetic to Climate Defiance’s cause but objected to its methods.

“They’re trying to elevate an issue, but it’s really not the right venue or forum to do it, to be honest. This is a charity game. It’s a family event. We are trying to do something good for the community,” said California Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, a coach for the Democratic team. 

Sánchez said she believes more should be done to combat global warming. 

“I just don’t think that disrupting the game really endears people to the issue that these protesters are very passionate about,” Sánchez said.

Four in a row?

Sánchez and the Democrats have more than protests to worry about — they’re trying to save face after three straight losses. Although she didn’t make any grand predictions, Sánchez, who grew up playing fastpitch softball in Anaheim and is a Dodgers fan, said the team is looking better this time around.

“Last year was kind of a rebuilding year. We had a lot of new freshmen members that came out for the team, and I didn’t know exactly where their skill sets were,” Sánchez said. “So now having seen them for one game, we had a better idea of where to place people. And they’re looking pretty good.”

She said to look out for Reps. Jimmy Panetta and Kevin Mullin, both from California, in the outfield. Reps. Pete Aguilar, another Californian and chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and Morgan McGarvey of Kentucky are solid utility players, and Chris Deluzio of Pennsylvania can both pitch and hit. And the team has Rep. Greg Casar, the Texan who took the title of “fastest man in Congress” at this year’s ACLI challenge.

“He’s going to be pinch running, so we expect a lot of stolen bases this year,” Sánchez said. 

And they’ll need it. 

The Democrats got blanked in 2022 but rebounded slightly last year, scoring six runs.  Unfortunately for them, the Republicans’ bats were hotter and the GOP topped them easily, notching 16 runs along the way.

Much of that offensive firepower came from Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt, who played his first Congressional Baseball Game last year. Schmitt hit a triple in the third inning of last year’s game that drove in three runs and broke the contest open.

This year, he says he’s back and better than ever.

“I’ve been working out more,” said Schmitt, the former Missouri attorney general who played football and baseball in college. “I’ve dropped a few pounds to get in fighting shape.”

Both teams have been practicing in the early mornings for months when Congress is in session. According to Williams, a former college and minor league baseball player and former college coach, the team has been working out from 5:30 to 7:15 a.m. most days of the week.

“Frankly, I run it like we’d run spring training or any other professional major league workout,” Williams said. “And our guys have gotten to where they know what to do without even being told.”

For Williams, winning the Congressional Baseball Game is all about the basics. On defense, that means keeping the ball in front and hitting the cutoff man. At bat it means putting the ball in play. And on the mound, throwing strikes.

Like Sánchez, he refrained from making any predictions. But he sounded confident.

“We were really good last year,” Williams said. “We’re better this year.”

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