Everyone in Washington, D.C., has been buzzing about whether the Republicans are going to regain Congressional control — by picking up a win in the 49th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, that is.
"My overall strategy is to see if the umps have any financial issues we can help with," said Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), the veteran GOP manager. "If that doesn't work, I'm just going to get my Republicans in good shape to seal a victory on the field."
For one remarkable night a year, Nationals Park is home to the Capitol Hill showdown, where Republican and Democratic Members of Congress take their hardball skills off the floor and onto the field. The purpose of the Congressional contest is twofold: Proceeds go to charity, and bragging rights go to the winners.
And last year, it was the Democrats who lifted the coveted Roll Call trophy, much like they lifted themselves up from a heart-wrenching, eight-year losing streak. But can they do it again?
"I think we're going to score a lot of runs this year, but we just need to make sure that the Republicans don't score, too," said Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), who's skippering the Democratic team again this year. "When this isn't your full-time job and you only play once a year, errors are going to happen!"
The Democrats have been heralded for having a youthful and geographical advantage — and tonight is no exception. With key Democratic gains in athletic powerhouse states such as New York, Colorado and North Carolina, the past couple election cycles have proved to be crucial for Doyle's touted lineup.
Returning to the mound this year will be Rep. Joe Baca (Calif.), who pitched the entire game last year and had five strikeouts. Doyle joked that "no one really knows how old Joe is," but he has great control of the ball and the impressive ability to throw strikes, which can be tremendously difficult while standing in front of thousands of people inside a Major League Baseball stadium.
Catching for Baca is Rep. John Boccieri (Ohio), who has been hailed as one of the best athletes on the Democratic team because he played ball in college and the minor leagues. Other key players returning to the field this year are Rep. Frank Kratovil (Md.) at second base, Rep. Mark Schauer (Mich.) in center field and Rep. Tim Bishop (N.Y.) at third base.
"We're basically fielding the same team from last year," Doyle said. "I've learned a long time ago that you don't tinker with success. We had a winning game plan last year and will have a similar one this year."
The GOP squad, on the other hand, has suffered significant losses in the past two election cycles. Republican stars of the past — including former Reps. Chip Pickering (Miss.), Steve Pearce (N.M.) and Mike Oxley (Ohio) — have hung up their Congressional titles and baseball jerseys alike. The team will also be losing Reps. Gresham Barrett (S.C.) and Adam Putnam (Fla.), whose talent was crucial to previous Republican wins.
Barton, however, contended that it's not always about having a star-studded team; it's about knowing how to manipulate your talent, which can only come from years of experience. "Other than my managerial duties, our major strengths are a veteran infield with some solid batters," he added.
Returning to Nationals Park this year on the GOP roster are Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) at third base, Rep. Tom Rooney (Fla.) at first base and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) in left field.
The shining beacon of hope for the Republicans seems to stem from their pitching lineup, which features veteran pitcher Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), who had six strikeouts last year. Barton said they've also been working on developing additional pitching with freshman Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) to give them an upper hand in this year's showdown.
But the Democrats, not to be outdone, began hitting the fields long before the Republicans even started to mobilize for their practices. Doyle said they've had practices every morning since the beginning of May.
"Toward the end I think I'm going to be easing up a little bit — because you can overwork a team," Doyle said, laughing.
The Republicans started their practices a few weeks ago, but despite the heavy odds stacked against them, they have made it their mission to stay positive about the game.
"We haven't been practicing as long as the Democrats, but we've been out there for a few weeks," Barton said. "All the guys have been showing up to practice and working hard. We all just get along and have fun."
"The Democrats hit us on the floor every day," he added. "So I would ask that they have a little mercy on us on the field."