Its that time of year again, when few things sound as appealing as a hot dog, a cold beer and a day at the ballpark. Since this is D.C., why not throw in a few Members of Congress for good measure?
House Members, and even a Senator or two, will don their favorite uniforms and take to the field at the new Nationals Park tonight as Republicans and Democrats battle it out in the 47th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game. The Democrats, managed for the third consecutive year by Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle, will be fighting for their first win since 2000. If they fail, the Republicans, who have won 32 of the 46 games, will have swept the current series and their manager, Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), will have earned a new item to display in his office.
I dont have any problem with the way the trend has gone the last 10 or 15 years, Barton said with a laugh. If we can win one more ... we retire the coveted Roll Call trophy and well take it on a victory tour like they do the Stanley Cup in hockey.
Last years game was a painful one for the majority party, as they fell in a 5-2 loss caused primarily by their own errors. The Democrats were hoping that the 2006 midterm elections would break their losing streak, but a catastrophic third inning of five errors and four GOP runs squashed any hope of a win.
We could have won the game last year. We actually played a great game, Doyle said. I thought [California Rep.] Joe Baca pitched a better game than Ive seen in 12 years. I really thought we were going to win, but we had one disastrous inning. I dont know what you do about it. You play once a year, and its hard.
Last year, the Democrats welcomed a Heisman Trophy runner-up, Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), to their lineup, but even his presence wasnt enough to take home a win as the rookie struggled, striking out twice in his three at-bats. Doyle thinks this year will be better since the bulk of the team played together last year.
This is different. 06 brought us an influx of a lot of players. Were a much better team than we were before 06, Doyle said. With a year under their belt, I think there is a chance for a win.
The Democrats are no strangers to losing in the annual Congressional game. The last time the team retired a trophy was in 1994,
just before the Republicans took over Congress and expanded their pool of players. Overall, the Republicans have won nine of the best-of-five series to the Democrats two. But if you go back far enough, there was a time when the Democrats fielded the dominant team. In fact, they won the first Member game ever played way back in 1909. Then-Rep. John Tener (R-Pa.), an Irish immigrant and retired major league ballplayer, organized a game at American Park in Northwest D.C. Tener, who pitched during his
days in the pros, agreed to play shortstop and saw his team get crushed, 26-16.
The teams continued to meet informally on the field for many years after that. In 1946, shortly after World War II, the Evening Star newspaper stepped in as the games sponsor, making it a more official affair. The game was played for 12 years before then-Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) canceled it, citing a rash of injuries among the participants.
Four years passed without Members meeting on the field. Then, in 1962, Roll Call founder Sid Yudain stepped up to the plate and breathed new life into one of Congress and Americas favorite pastimes. The first Roll Call-sponsored game went three innings and was played at the D.C. Stadium. The tradition has continued every summer since then.
Aside from being fun for Members, the annual game has become a thrill for local charities. The event usually raises about $100,000 for nonprofits in Washington. This year will be no different, with both the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington benefiting from the event.
Going into tonights game, Doyle is hoping that the Democrats can pull off a win and keep the trophy out of the GOPs hands.
This team theyve had is pretty much the team theyve had for 10 years, and theyre good athletes, he said. The only benefit for us is that theyre 10 years older and hopefully age is starting to creep up.
Barton, who credits his lucky potbelly for the teams winning streak, admits that the team is aging but says their work is still top-notch.
The effort is major-league, but the athletic ability as I told [Virginia GOP Rep.] Virgil Goode ... at practice, I dont care how good you are, Virgil, youre not as good at 60 as you were at 30, he said.
Perhaps just as thrilling as the prospect of a win is the fact that the teams will be meeting on the field at the new Nationals Park. For the past three years, the game had been played at RFK Stadium, where the Washington Nationals played following their move from Montreal (where they were known as the Expos). But this year they unveiled a new park, and the Congressional game is following them to Southeast D.C.
To play in the Nationals stadium is really a kick. Every kids dream is to play in a major-league ballpark, Doyle said. Its like a bunch of little kids when you step out on the field. Its going to be great.