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A Salute to the Skipper

Former Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) is proud of many things from his Congressional career, but two of his “proudest achievements” are sitting in his garage, waiting to be displayed in his office.

Those achievements are two coveted Roll Call trophies.

“That’s a real honor,” Oxley said of being only the second manager in the history of the Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game to retire multiple trophies. (The annual game is considered part of a best-of-five series; after winning a game, the manager holds the trophy for a year and then permanently keeps it after winning the series.) “Coveted Roll Call trophy is one word, as we say.”

Now, a year after cementing his 7-1 record, Oxley gets another coveted honor bestowed on him: induction into the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame.

Oxley was involved in Congressional baseball since he first came to Capitol Hill. He wore a Cincinnati Reds uniform every year but one, when he donned a Detroit Tigers uniform (he’s a big fan). “I was being politically correct wearing an Ohio uniform all those years,” he said, adding that he did get some grief from those in his home state for never wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform.

Oxley played on the GOP team for 16 years, filling every position at some point except pitcher and catcher — “I never aspired to be catcher” — most often manning first base. He then coached a couple of years before becoming manager.

“I just outlived everybody,” Oxley said with a laugh. “It was kind of a seniority kind of deal.”

Despite his eight successful years as manager, Oxley admitted that he “preferred playing by a lot.” But he considers himself lucky in that as manager he had “a core group of people who have played year in and year out.”

In fact, Oxley attributes his managerial success to that core group.

“I was lucky because I had good pitching. Steve Largent was my meal ticket, he made me look like a genius,” Oxley said. “[John] Shimkus came along [and pitched]. Who knew, he had been a catcher. I’ve been blessed with good pitching and pretty good talent, actually.”

And considering that the Congressional game is played only once a year, Oxley learned early on that “cohesion and experience are particularly helpful in a one-game season.”

Oxley pointed out that on his team, he’s had some Senators in the mix, not to mention some women, over the years.

“I’ve had Senators like [John] Ensign and [Rick] Santorum who really contributed. I can’t remember the last time the Dems had Senators on their team,” Oxley said. “I think [Ileana] Ros-Lehtinen was the first woman to play in the game. Shelley Moore Capito is probably the best [female] athlete, I think she was the first female to get an RBI in the history of the game. I was blessed with talent, not just from the House but from two Senators and a few women.”

And after going through a lengthy list of key players, Oxley, in a friendly dig at Democrats, said the GOP team has “some guys who don’t start who could easily start for the Dems.”

Oxley’s Congressional baseball career ended on a high note. The GOP team “walked away with” the 45th annual game with a 12-1 win.

“We call ’em laughers,” Oxley said of games like last year’s in which a team wins by such a large margin. “The best thing about it was I was able to get everyone in the game, everyone got a chance to hit and most got to play in the field. Those are great for the manager — they keep everyone happy.”

Even Oxley got to step up to the plate, but not by his own choosing.

“It was not exactly my idea,” Oxley said of being coaxed up to bat in last year’s game. “[Joe] Barton and a bunch of those guys pushed me out there. I thought I had a hit and Adam Smith robbed me and threw me out. Ten years ago I would have beaten that out, that’s what I told Adam.”

Coming off the blowout win of 2006, there are a couple of differences for the Republican team. One is that Oxley is gone, with Barton taking the reins as manager. Another is that the GOP is now in the minority. But Oxley said that’s irrelevant.

“We’ll see” if it makes a difference, he said. “We won a lot of games before we were in the minority. We’ve got a veteran team. Dems got some new players, which they badly needed. We’ll see how it plays out on the field.”

A few weeks ago, Oxley said Barton gave him a call and they “talked about strategy and the importance of practice. ... We had a good conversation.”

Back when Oxley first started, the game was played at Four Mile Run (which is where those 6:30 a.m. practices are now held), and it then moved to Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md. Then, in 2005, the Congressional game hit the big leagues when it returned to RFK Stadium for the first time since 1972.

“There’s nothing like playing in a major league stadium,” Oxley said. “RFK is great, it’s a great location for the Hill, it’s easier for everyone to get to the game.”

Oxley has business in Los Angeles the weekend before this year’s game, but he’s already got a plan to ensure that he’s in the stands for the first pitch.

“I’m getting the earliest flight out of L.A. to get back in time for the game,” Oxley said. “There’s nothing like sitting in the stands, drinking a beer and second-guessing the team.”

While he said he’ll miss everything from the early morning practices to the camaraderie and history of the game, overall he’s just glad he got to experience it.

The Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game has “become an even richer tradition than it was in the past and it continues to grow in stature,” Oxley said. “To retire as a winning manager is particularly gratifying — the two trophies were icing on the cake.”

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