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The Republicans boast a strong mix of seasoned athletes and younger talent. Reps. Jack Kingston (Ga.), Sam Graves (Mo.) and Flake have all played for at least 10 years, and Barton has been in the game for 24 years.
But the GOP lost some core players during the past few years, including former Reps. Kenny Hulshof (Mo.), Zach Wamp (Tenn.) and Chip Pickering (Miss.), and have had to shuffle their lineup.
Flake, who last played baseball in Little League before joining Congress, used to play outfield and has now moved to third base. Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.) will have a few relief pitchers this year from the freshman class.
“Our primary strength this year is going to be a lot of new people and the fact that we have some new players that can help relieve Shimkus in pitching,” Barton said. The manager hopes to play Barletta and Rep. Joe Walsh (Ill.), both of whom are left-handed, as relief pitchers on game day.
But for all the changes to the lineup during the years, there are a few aspects of the game that stay constant.
“Some things never change — errors, pulled muscles, hospital visits. Those things happen every game, just about,” Flake said.
As Barletta put it, “It’s hard to take it easy on the field because, unfortunately, my mind is 21 but my body is 51.”
Barletta, who once tried out for the Cincinnati Reds, was one of many players during a recent morning practice who had injured himself: He limped up to the plate for his time at bat with a pulled hamstring. But despite the potential for injury and the hourlong 7 a.m. practices, Barton said at least half of the team shows up three days each week for training.
After three weeks of practicing, Barton said the team is working into a rhythm and now has to focus on their fielding work.
“The key to the game, when we actually play it, is fielding. You catch the ball and throw it to first base, you’re going to be in the game, and so we spend a lot of time just on fielding and practicing in the outfield, throwing into the infield — just some of the basic stuff,” he said.
Shuster, who plays right field, said he sees communication as one of the most important aspects of game play, and the communication the Congressmen foster on the field translates to their experience on the House floor.
“[The other players] are on different committee assignments that I don’t interact with often, but because we play ball, we ride out together. If something’s going on in a committee that they’re on and I’m not on, I’ll go to them and ask them about it, or I’ll go to them to try to go work some legislation through,” he said.
It’s clear that on the ball field, any differences these men might have disappear — they’re all just players. Everyone is an equal-opportunity heckler, and every guy at bat gets razzed just as much as the next.
But when game day comes around, you can be sure they’ll get serious.