After two consecutive losses to Louisiana Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, the ace of the Democrats’ pitching staff, Republicans are rebuilding. But unfortunately for the GOP, Democrats might be reloading.
Much of the potential Republican revival rides on the bat and the arm of freshman Rep. Ron DeSantis. The 34-year-old Florida native grew up playing baseball, played in the Little League World Series and went on to captain the Yale baseball team.
“I haven’t really picked up a ball or bat in 10 years,” DeSantis said in an interview this spring. But he was confident his swing would be ready for the 52nd Annual CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game. “When you play the game from the time you were 3, that muscle memory is still there.”
Republicans will need all the help they can get.
In 2011, Richmond pitched a seven-inning complete game, striking out 13 Republicans, walking five, and giving up just one hit and one earned run. He followed up his performance with another complete game last year, with 16 strikeouts and two walks, giving up four earned runs on nine hits.
But DeSantis is no stranger to tough pitching matchups.
He led his high-school team to a playoff victory over phenom (and future major leaguer) Rick Ankiel, who was 13-0 with a 0.00 earned run average before the DeSantis-led squad won.
This year, the career outfielder might be asked to move to the mound, where Republicans can optimize his youth and experience. Republican pitchers have given up 17 earned runs over the past two years, thanks in part to a dozen walks and hitting two batters.
Even though DeSantis, who will wear a Stetson University uniform from Florida’s 6th District, hasn’t pitched since he coached high-school baseball before law school, he is getting advice from the big leagues.
“Work fast and throw strikes,” said Craig Breslow, a left-handed relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, passing on the advice that their coach at Yale gave him in college. Breslow contributed $2,500 to his former teammate’s campaign last year.
“It was evident early on that RD would be successful regardless of the path he chose,” Breslow told CQ Roll Call. “How ironic it is that he is able to marry his love for baseball with his career in politics?”
DeSantis isn’t the only new member to find his two passions colliding.
Forty-two years after being drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 25th round, Roger Williams will take the field at a major-league stadium. But the 63-year-old freshman lawmaker won’t be playing. Instead, he’ll be an assistant coach to his Texas colleague, Rep. Joe L. Barton, the manager of the GOP squad.
“To win a game like this, we have to get our basics down,” said Williams, who signed his first major-league contract for $12,000 a year. “Fielders have to keep the ball in front of them. Make sure the cut-off guys are in the right place. Make sure the pitcher throws strikes, no matter who it is.”
Williams was a star outfielder for Texas Christian University and played in the minor leagues for four years before getting injured. He also coached at TCU, where the playing field bears his name, and for the minor-league San Antonio Brewers in the 1970s.
But as the Republicans get reinforcements to face Richmond, the Louisiana congressman might not be their biggest problem.
As a high-school pitcher, Florida Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy was throwing as hard as 90 miles per hour (along with a slider) and on his way to pitch at the University of Miami on a scholarship, until he broke his shoulder playing football in the final game of the season.
Murphy, now 30, tried to come back from injury but was never the same, according to the congressman.
But facing top-tier talent is very different than a lineup of aging politicians.
If Murphy, wearing an Indian River State College uniform, is able to throw in the 70s and have a breaking ball, he could pose a ridiculous one-two punch with Richmond. When he’s not on the mound, Murphy will likely play center field and hit in the middle of the lineup.
“Who would have thought, this is how you get there?” said Murphy about playing in a big-league stadium. He and DeSantis certainly won’t be the only ones fulfilling childhood dreams at the game.
Southern Californians caught a glimpse of Democrat Raul Ruiz’s baseball skills when the photo of a 10-year-old Little Leaguer flashed across the screen in one of his campaign ads last year. Ruiz grew up to be an all-league third baseman at Coachella Valley High School, and the freshman lawmaker could play a utility role for the Democratic squad this year.
“Baseball was a huge escape for me and kept me out of trouble,” Ruiz said. He hung up his cleats after high school to get ready for medical school, but he said he had a blast waking up early each morning for practice when Congress was in session to get ready for the big game.
Even though the game is special, to many of these young members the practices have meant even more. The 7 a.m. meetups have been a rare opportunity to mingle with more senior colleagues with whom the first-year members don’t share committee assignments and get to know them in a casual atmosphere.
Now that the practices are done, players young and old are standing at the intersection of excitement, anticipation, potential embarrassment and injury. Williams, for one, hopes his congressional coaching career doesn’t meet the same fate as his playing career. “I hope I’m not the first coach in the history of the game to pull a muscle,” Williams laughed.
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.