The cold reality of the midterm elections could force Republicans into a completely different roster for next year’s Congressional Baseball Game. Due to retirements and competitive re-election races, over a third of the 36-member GOP team may not be returning in 2019, including more than half of last year’s starting lineup.
Three of the Republicans’ first six batters from 2017 are playing in their last game because they aren’t seeking re-election, including leadoff hitter Ryan A. Costello of Pennsylvania.
“I think I might swing a little bit harder,” the congressman joked about playing in his fourth, and potentially final, game. While he’s struggled at the plate (1-6 with 3 stolen bases), the 41-year-old Costello has been an important defensive piece at shortstop. “I’ve learned a great deal about preparing for the game; a lot more stretching and getting my body ready, and not doing things in practice that would cause further injury.”
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Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake has been a mainstay in centerfield and hit second last year. He’s been one of the Republicans’ best hitters, batting .318 with a double, triple, three runs scored and three RBIs.
And Florida Rep. Tom Rooney plays first base and hit sixth. Last year’s cleanup hitter, Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis would also be playing in his final game because he’s running for governor, but he’s not on this year’s roster.
Republicans could lose two more starters in the November elections. Rep. Mike Bishop is in a competitive race for re-election in Michigan’s 8th District, and Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the GOP catcher who has hit .375 in five games, is vulnerable in the 13th District.
And those aren’t the only losses to next year’s GOP roster.
Republicans will also be losing longtime coach Joe L. Barton of Texas, Dennis A. Ross of Florida and Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, who aren’t seeking re-election to their House seats, and Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico, who is running for governor. Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder and Michigan Rep. Fred Upton are in competitive re-election races as well.
Another trio of GOP members are playing in what could be their first and last congressional game. Reps. Jason Lewis of Minnesota’s 2nd, Mia Love of Utah’s 4th, and Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd were new additions to the roster but are all at risk of losing in November. Poliquin coached baseball for more than a decade and has been whipping the GOP infield into shape at practice, according to Costello.
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Democrats avoiding disaster
Turnover in the Democratic lineup isn’t likely to be as dramatic, but they’re losing one of their best hitters.
Colorado Rep. Jared Polis definitely won’t be returning next year since he is running for governor. In eight games, he’s hit .429 with 5 runs scored and 13 RBIs, the most by any player from either party going back to 2006.
Democrats could also lose their starting first baseman, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who is in a Toss-up race for re-election. Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen isn’t seeking another term, but he wasn’t a key player for the team last year.
Considering the battle for the House majority is largely being played out in GOP territory (68 vulnerable Republican seats compared to nine Democratic ones), the rest of the Democratic roster doesn’t look particularly vulnerable in November.
Watch: Richmond Talks Trash Ahead of Congressional Baseball Game
With the prospect of significant gains in the House, Democrats could be adding some talent to their roster next year to go along with their star player, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond. The Louisiana congressman is 6-0 in the seven games he’s pitched with a 2.38 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 47 innings pitched. But Republicans won the game in 2016, 8-7, so Richmond (who also has an incredible on-base-percentage of .750) can’t do it alone.
The Democratic Party could take over at least 20 Republican seats and need to fill more than a dozen safe Democratic open seats with new members, all opportunities to bring in new players. Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval, 35, is an underdog in Ohio’s 1st District, but could become an asset for Democrats. Texas Democrat Colin Allred, also 35, played linebacker in the NFL and is running for the 32nd District.
While Republicans could lose more than a dozen players, reinforcements might be on the way.
Anthony Gonzalez, a 33-year-old former wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts, is the favorite in Ohio’s 16th District. He hasn’t played organized baseball in at least 15 years, but he’s young and fast. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds at the NFL combine and was on a high school state championship relay team.
The last time Republicans had a former NFL wide receiver, they dominated the Congressional Baseball Game. Former Seattle Seahawks Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent was 5-1 as the GOP pitcher with six complete games and a 2.44 ERA when he served Oklahoma in the House in the 1990s.
No matter which Republicans get elected in November and possibly face off against Richmond next year, Costello had some advice.
“He’s going to put the ball over the plate, so trust your swing,” the Pennsylvania lawmaker advised. “Lean into the ball because if you make solid contact, you can hit it pretty darn hard.”
Stopping Richmond at the plate? Well, that’s another story.
Nathaniel Rakich contributed stats for this report.