Anyone who’s been around Capitol Hill long enough knows that even though everyone agrees Congressional baseball is for a good cause, the game is still a continuation of politics by other means.
And that holds true not just on the field but also in the stands, where, just like in the House and Senate chambers, picking sides starts when you pick your seat.
Ever since the game’s early days, right field and left field have taken on double meaning as Republican fans annually gather along the first-base line and Democratic fans form up along the third-base stripe.
And like some sort of wild bipartisan campaign rally, supporters bring along their own signage, T-shirts — and even paint their chests to support their favorite Member (or boss). Offices have even been known to hold sign-making parties in the days leading up to the annual contest.
Some memorable signs from recent years have included “Welcome to the Right Swing Conspiracy,” “Red Alert” (for red-haired GOP Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida) and a notable “We Can Do It” sign, which was based on the famous World War II-era “Rosie the Riveter” placard that became a symbol for empowered women. The baseball version of that sign had Democratic Rep. Linda Sánchez’s (Calif.) head pasted onto Rosie’s body.
In the past, some Members have had particularly strong followings, including Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who always received a roar of approval when at bat, regardless of whether he got a hit or struck out. A Sessions spokeswoman recently admitted that the Congressman’s large internship program was one of Sessions’ secrets to ensuring he has a rowdy turnout.
“He always enjoys having a cheering section,” the spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Zach Wamp (Tenn.) — another Republican who annually brings out a loyal following — said that in his Congressional office, attendance at the game isn’t mandatory, “but I make sure we buy a whole lot of tickets and make them available so no one who wants to come has to pay.”
One contingent of Congressional baseball fans that can become a very vocal fan base if won over by either team are the 300 to 400 high school students from the National Young Leaders Conference who attend the game each year and purposely sit in the “neutral” territory directly behind home plate.
Carmen McClaskey, the director of the national program for high-achievers, said she brings her students to the game because it allows the kids to see Members not just as figureheads but also as real people outside the office.
McClaskey added that the program “is totally nonpartisan. That’s why we usually sit in the middle. ... We don’t particularly root for one side. Whoever makes a good play, we’ll cheer for.”
But one veteran of the game, Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), who caught for the Democrats before becoming their manager last year, said: “I’ve always thought we’ve had the vast majority of those kids rooting for us.”
But no Congressional baseball game is ever complete without fans trading verbal barbs across the home plate “aisle” while Members act as unofficial cheerleaders, making use of that age-old political skill of whipping a crowd into a frenzy. (Few who attended the 2005 game will forget then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] and a crew of female Democratic Members climbing onto the roof of their team’s dugout to try to rally their losing squad with a bit of hip shaking and fist pumping).
In recent years, a few memorable cheers and jeers have stood out.
At one point during that same 2005 game, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) appeared on the RFK video screen giving two thumbs up to the Republicans’ winning performance. At that point, Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) led the Democratic cheering section in a chant ridiculing the Texas Republican’s relationship with disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is now in jail after being convicted of bribery and conspiracy.
Chants of “A-bra-moff! A-bra-moff! A-bra-moff!” shook the left side of the stadium that evening.
In 2006, a group of Republicans tried to razz Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) with chants of “Cold hard cash! Cold hard cash!” in reference to the $90,000 in alleged bribe money that the FBI had found in the Congressman’s freezer earlier that year.
Back in 1999, during Rep. Chip Pickering’s (R-Miss.) at-bats, Democratic fans could be heard chanting “Daddy’s boy,” referring to his father, Charles, who earlier that year was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee for an appointment to a federal appellate court.
“It’s all in good fun,” Doyle said of the various chants that come out during the night at the ballpark. “I think both sides have a good time with it and of course as we get later into the game and the fans consume more beer it seems to get more rowdy.”
Doyle noted that Democrats will be missing one of their favorite targets this year with Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) no longer in the Senate.
“They won’t be able to chant ‘Casey’ as they did last year,” Doyle said, referring to Sen. Bob Casey (D), who challenged and eventually defeated Santorum in the 2006 elections. “I don’t know who the new target will be this year.”
But regardless, Doyle said, “the evening gets pretty humorous, depending on who’s at bat.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.