Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., was brought onboard the Republican congressional baseball team under false pretenses, and a boatload of great expectations, thanks to a mischievous House colleague.
“Flake debuts amid much clamor about his throwing arm (he reportedly has a 93-mile-per-hour fastball),” read the program for the 40th Annual CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, held June 21, 2001, at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md.
There was little truth to it, according to Flake, and it was all the fault of ex-Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., who at the time was one of the GOP’s baseball superstars (and is also an NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver from his time with the Seattle Seahawks).
“Steve Largent came out and campaigned for me,” the Arizona Republican said of his 2000 House race, the one that launched his congressional career. And when Largent returned to Washington, he recounted to his colleagues that “‘This Flake guy has a 90-mile-per-hour fastball.’ Just lied through his teeth,” Flake said.
In truth, before the 2001 game, the last time Flake had played organized baseball was Little League back home in Snowflake, Ariz. “I didn’t play in high school,” he added, saying that he played football and basketball and during the spring season ran track. After Little League, it was mainly church softball where he put bat to ball. Then he was elected to the House, and Largent sought to “psyche everyone out” about the freshman’s abilities, Flake said.
But even with a less-than-Stephen-Strasburg arm, Flake has proved himself a valuable part of the GOP squad. He started out as a reserve in left field in his first game before going on to start in left field, center field and eventually his spot at the hot corner, third base.
Along the way, he made adjustments to his swing to become a more reliable hitter.
“I never had good power,” he said, so he consulted a friend of a friend who was plugged in to the Los Angeles Angels, who at the time spent spring training in Mesa, located in Flake’s House district. He listened, and he ended up switching sides of the plate.
“I didn’t swing a lot of bats, but I chopped a lot of wood, and I always did it left-handed,” he said of growing up on the Flake ranch in Snowflake. Not that the change produced Bryce Harper-worthy results. “You’re less bad left-handed,” his swing doctor told him.
When Flake takes the field, he’ll be one of the few who have made the transition from House to Senate on the diamond, joining fellow freshman Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn. Asked why so few senators play, Flake laughed. “Well, we’re a little older. Something about being able to run around the bases,” adding, “that’s only part of it.” Perhaps they’ve been scared off by the thought of facing 93 mph fastballs and a guy who learned to hit by swinging an ax.
The 52nd Annual CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game is Thursday at 7:05 p.m. at Nationals Park. Tickets can be purchased at congressionalbaseball.org.