June in D.C. for congressional staffers means creeping humidity and long working hours. For some it also means reliving their Little League days.
The Senate and House softball leagues are staples of summer on Capitol Hill. Members and staffers say they play for the fun of it, to meet new people, and to foster relationships both within and outside their offices.
Bill Christian has been involved with the Senate Softball League since he came to Capitol Hill in 1987 to work for Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. He is now the legislative director for Texas Rep. Randy Weber.
What has kept him playing all these years?
“First and foremost, softball is fun,” said Christian, who serves as the league’s treasurer and a division commissioner. But it’s also an icebreaker in “a hyperpartisan work environment, or at least the perception of one.”
Staffers had been playing informal games for decades before a Senate league organized in the 1980s, with the House teams following suit in 2006.
Now the leagues kick off each May and wrap up in September. There are 49 teams in the Senate league and 82 in the House, and they play on the National Mall, in West Potomac Park or at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.
The National Park Service in November proposed to ban play on the Mall from Third Street to 17th Street to protect fresh turf put down on that stretch, prompting an outcry from the Hill.
Not much has changed since then. NPS is still in the planning stages, an agency spokesman said, and play continues on the Mall’s designated athletic fields and requires a permit as before.
At the end of the season, the 44 top teams compete in a daylong tournament, with the winners of each league advancing to the King of the Hill game to determine, well, the king of the Hill.
Christian’s team, the RBIs of Texas, are the reigning champions after they beat their House rival, Texas Republic, last year.
Wally Hsueh, Sen. Steve Daines’ deputy chief of staff, has been playing since he was an intern 25 years ago. He now encourages interns and job-seekers to join a team as an opportunity to network.
“Senate softball is just a great way to look forward to a weekly summer escape from the office to spend with your colleagues to enjoy some laughs and team building,” he said.
He plays for the Great Daines, alongside interns in their 20s and someone in his mid-70s.
“It [allows] us to socialize and have that ‘grudge match’ with certain Senate offices,” he said. “Softball also builds bipartisan relationships on the field, which allows us to further our bipartisan policy objectives in the Senate.”
Watch: A Little Early Morning Congressional Softball Trash Talk
Silke Mounts, a systems administrator for Sen. Patty Murray, is the coach of the Slammin’ Salmon, the Washington delegation team.
“We are a team that mostly plays for fun. The competition part is not the most important to us,” Mounts said. “I think it brings a good nonpartisan fun to the Hill, and builds relationships outside of the office and job titles.”
It’s always a high-stakes game when a team from one state’s delegation faces off against another state’s.
Daniel Hillenbrand, legislative assistant to Sen. James M. Inhofe, is on the Oklahoma delegation team, the Oklahomeruns.
“We have a pretty active sideline that gets into the spirit of the game and cheers for folks at bat,” he said.
He has played in the league for five years, and the friendships keep him coming back for more.
“[It’s] an opportunity to build camaraderie and have fun,” he said. “It helps foster relationships beyond the folks that you see on a daily basis, and it gives people an excuse to enjoy themselves outdoors.”
Brian Looser, legislative director for Rep. John Shimkus, is the president of the House league. He plays for No Glove, No Love, which is made up of friends from different offices.
Both current and former staffers are welcome to play in either league.
For Kelli Ripp, a former legislative assistant in the House who is now a senior legislative analyst at the lobbying firm Invariant, softball was a way she met people in D.C.
“Softball … gave me a group of friends that I still maintain today,” she said. She is on the Licensed to IL team, which she coached in 2015 and 2016.
“People in this town are generally competitive by nature, so channeling that to something fun like a softball game helps us all get to know one another on a human level rather than as Republicans or Democrats,” she said. “Networking is what drives this city, but I personally have always found it easier to connect with people outside of sometimes stiff work environments.”