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Natitude? Annual Matchup Brings the Congresstude

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Republican team manager Barton, right, talking with Democratic team manager Doyle at a previous game, is putting his hopes on freshman DeSantis.

Natitude has hit Washingtonians hard with the kickoff of the Major League Baseball season and fans rooting for the Nationals to bring home World Series rings. But everyone knows the one championship you can count on at Nationals Park is on June 13, when Democrats and Republicans face off for the 52nd Annual CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.

With less than two months to go until the big matchup, both teams have begun gearing up for the game. The Democrats dusted off their bats and oiled up their mitts this week, and they will continue to practice every morning the House is in session. The Republican squad held an organizational meeting this week and will begin practice on April 24.

Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton, manager of the Republican team, is excited to welcome back veteran players from the House, including longtime pitcher John Shimkus of Illinois and Kevin Brady of Texas, as well as a crop of athletic senators, including Rand Paul of Kentucky, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Yet after being defeated handily over the past four years by their across-the-aisle foes, including last year’s 18-5 rout, Barton and his team are placing their hopes for victory in 2013 with freshman Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

DeSantis, 34, who spent six years in the Navy as a military prosecutor, was the captain of Yale University’s varsity baseball team his senior year.

Republicans are hoping DeSantis’ talent can help counteract that of Democratic star Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana, whose pitching skills and hitting prowess (he almost hit a home run in a major league stadium last year) have helped carry the Democrats to lopsided victories over the past two years.

The Democrats’ team manager, Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, said that although he hasn’t seen DeSantis in action, he hopes the freshman member’s talent will help elevate the level of play on the field.

“One of their real gaping holes in the past few years has been at the pitching position. They’ve struggled to find a person who can go seven innings for them,” Doyle said. “So [DeSantis] will be great because he’ll help make it a competitive game. We welcome that.”

DeSantis, who was an outfielder at Yale, is modest about his talent, saying the “bar must be pretty low” if he’s considered the Republicans’ star.

But he added that he’s excited to help out the team, wherever they need him on the field.

“Guys have already come up to me and told me they’re glad I’m here, so I’ve already made some friends because of it,” DeSantis said. “I didn’t realize it was this big of a deal ... with the whole Nationals stadium and that they practice for essentially two months before the game. I’m glad they take it seriously.”

Doyle said that in addition to Richmond’s continued role on the team, the Democrats are looking forward to a few new freshman members with impressive athletic résumés.

He said Rep. Patrick Murphy of Florida was displaying fast pitching speeds and good batting skills at practice on Wednesday.

“Pat Murphy is that same kind of ballplayer,” Doyle said, comparing Murphy’s talent to that of Richmond’s. “He is going to make a real name for himself in this year’s game.”

Doyle added that Rep. Jared Huffman of California, an All-American volleyball player who was a member of the World Champion USA Volleyball Team in 1987, and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, who played on the University of Maryland’s men’s soccer team, have also displayed talent on the field.

Although both teams are in it to win it, they are also excited that their performances help raise money for charity.

The game’s proceeds are donated to two charities — the Washington Literacy Center and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

Last year’s game raised more than $160,000 for the organizations.

“As a small community-based organization trying to meet a critical need in the community, the Washington Literacy Center values being part of the annual Congressional Baseball Game,” said Executive Director Terry Algire, whose organization helps adults in the District learn to read to better their long-term education and career goals. “The Congressional Baseball Game creates incredible community awareness about the literacy challenge and our efforts to address that challenge.”

Tim Phillips of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington is also thrilled to be part of the game again this year.

“The members of Congress participating in the game means a great deal, to not only me but to our organization and the youth we serve,” Phillips said. “The game has been exciting every year that I have been involved.”

The game will start at 7:05 p.m. on June 13. Tickets are $10 and can be ordered online at congressionalbaseball.org.

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