When freshman Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) makes his debut in the 42nd Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, the stands of Prince George’s Stadium will contain at least a dozen die-hard fans of the Grand Canyon State Congressman.
Renzi — who admits he has a fondness for the 18th letter of the alphabet — is the father of 12 children, all of whom sport names that begin with “R.”
“I’m bringing them all to yell and scream and throw hot dogs at the opposition,” Renzi quipped, noting that he has more than enough offspring to start a team of his own.
“I’d call them Renzi’s Rangers or Ragin’ Renzis or something like that,” he mused.
Renzi is among a handful of new recruits on both sides of the aisle hoping to secure jobs with their respective teams. But the Arizonan, who admits he’s been hitting the batting cages near his Burke, Va., home, may have a slight advantage over the competition.
No stranger to the rigors of athletic competition, Renzi, a standout linebacker in college, led the Northern Arizona University football team to its only Big Sky championship. In 1998, he was inducted into NAU’s Hall of Fame.
While sharing some similarities with the Republicans’ former ace, ex-Rep. Steve Largent (Okla.), Renzi rejects suggestions he can fill the shoes of the former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver and NFL Hall of Famer.
“Who even says I’m going to pitch?” asked Renzi, adding that he’s “mainly an outfielder.”
Other first-time Republican recruits also appear to be looking to their children for a leg up.
South Carolina Rep. Gresham Barrett (R), who played catcher while a student at The Citadel in the early 1980s, is a former coach of the Barrett’s Furniture Pony League baseball team in Westminster; his oldest son, Jeb, currently plays for the family-run squad.
“I have to borrow some pants and some cleats from my son,” said Barrett, who conceded it’s been a while since he’s stepped up to the plate. “Believe it or not, my 13-year-old is almost as big as I am.”
Meanwhile, another rookie, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), points to his 5-year-old daughter, Emilia, as something of an inspiration.
“She’s got a killer instinct,” he said. “We caught her sharpening her spikes for T-ball.”
Rep. Mike Oxley (Ohio), the Republican manager, already sees some benefits from the latest crop of newbies. Acquiring Barrett as catcher will give the GOP some added flexibility on the field, he said.
“I can use [Reps. John] Shimkus [Ill.] and [Richard] Pombo [Calif.] and [Chip] Pickering [Miss.] and him, so I’ve got four catchers — which is about three and a half more than the Democrats have,” crowed Oxley, who is infamous for his aggressive early-morning practices.
Meanwhile, after losing Reps. David Bonior (D-Mich.), who left Congress in 2002 to unsuccessfully seek the Democratic nomination for governor, and Ronnie Shows (D-Miss.), who lost a Member-vs.-Member showdown in the 2002 cycle with fellow ballplayer Pickering in Mississippi’s 3rd district, the graying Democratic roster is due for an injection of youth.
Enter 29-year-old Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, the youngest Democratic Member of the 108th Congress.
“We have some older guys so I’m going to have to compensate for them,” Ryan said, quickly confessing, “It’s scary ... I haven’t picked a bat up in probably 10 years.”
Ryan will be joined by a fellow Congressional neophyte, Rep. Jim Marshall (D) of Georgia, who at 55 returns to the field to fulfill a childhood dream.
“His formal baseball career ended when he tried out for the baseball team at Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School in Arlington, [Va.],” said Marshall Communications Director Doug Moore. “The reason for this is Jim weighed 90 pounds and that high school had the number one team in the country.”
“He hopes his debut in the Congressional league is more auspicious than his high school debut,” added Moore, who said the Congressman was in great shape.
Despite the confirmed exit of three Members — Reps. Ron Lewis (Ky.), Heather Wilson (N.M) and ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer (Colo.) — from the team, the GOP management exhibits little concern that the outcome of the contest is in doubt.
The Democrats “have not elected a lot of new people and their people tend to be a little bit older when they get elected,” observed the GOP’s coach, Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), whose fastball once earned him the moniker “Smokin’ Joe.” In fact, Republican talent runs so deep “we’ve probably got two teams, maybe even three ... that are capable of starting.”
Given the intense competition, Republicans aiming to make it into the first tier will have to muster all their powers of persuasion, Barton said.
“We [Barton and Oxley] can be bribed. ... It has been known that a box of doughnuts goes a long way.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes within reason,” shot back McCotter, upon hearing the terms of admission into the starting lineup.
Though Democrats confront thinning ranks and aging members, their manager, Rep. Martin Sabo (Minn.), said this doesn’t translate into a guaranteed edge for either Ryan or Marshall when it comes to cracking the top nine.
“We’ve got a good, solid starting lineup. They’ll have to be very impressive to beat someone who’s currently starting.”
“The odds are on our side,” Sabo added, referring to the possibility of a Democratic upset.
Still, rookie Ryan is not taking any chances.
“I’ll probably have some Catholic medals in my pockets from different saints for good luck,” he admitted.