Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) is a freshman on the House floor, but on the baseball field, he’s a veteran.
At age 21, Barletta was a good enough ballplayer to snag one of 65 spots to try out for the Cincinnati Reds, the fabled Big Red Machine of the 1970s. He didn’t make it.
But scouts were sufficiently impressed, suggesting he take a shot with one of the two expansion organizations getting started at the time — the Toronto Blue Jays or the Seattle Mariners.
Instead, he went home to Hazleton, Pa., to work for his family’s construction business, and he eventually opened his own business and served as mayor of his hometown.
“That’s one of the things I regret,” Barletta said of choosing to return home rather than pursue his baseball dreams. “Life took me in a different way. But I probably wouldn’t be in Congress today if I went there.”
Although he hasn’t played baseball since his tryout with the Reds, Barletta went on to play fast-pitch softball for almost 20 years on a team that won a state championship. He said that despite the toll time might have taken on his physical abilities, one thing that hasn’t changed is his desire to win.
“The problem I’ve found is that my mind is still 21 and my body’s 55, so it’s very easy to pull a muscle and get hurt,” he said. “But the competitive drive that I had, that’s here today, so [the game is] going to be a lot of fun.”
As a child, Barletta idolized Mickey Mantle and tried to model himself after the Yankee legend. Like Mantle, Barletta became a switch-hitter and played center field; like Mantle, he wore No. 7. He’ll again play center field for the GOP, and team coach Rep. Joe Barton (Texas) expects him to also spell Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.) on the mound.
“He’s good, but he’s a little banged up,” Barton said of Barletta, who has been practicing with a pulled muscle. “He’s a left-hander, and he’s got good movement on his curveball.”
Barletta said he hopes to get the chance to pitch and is working on his control and a few different pitches in preparation. Despite the pulled muscles, Barletta said there’s nowhere else he would rather be.
“There’s not a better way to start the day than putting on a baseball glove at 7 o’clock in the morning. I’m getting one more shot at my dream,” he said before heading up to bat at one practice.
“I don’t want it to end,” he added. “I wish we could play all year.”