Roll Call Baseball Back at RFK

Posted March 25, 2005 at 6:15pm

After more than three decades away from Washington, D.C., Congressional baseball will make its return June 23, when Republicans and Democrats take the field at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium for the 44th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.

Having spent the past nine years at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md., the game is following Major League Baseball’s lead in returning to the nation’s capital.

“We thank the Bowie Baysox for all they have done to make the game a success. But with RFK so close to the Capitol, it will be more convenient for Congressional Members, for staff and fans to attend the game, and for everyone to support the charities,” Rep. Martin Sabo (Minn.), manager of the Democratic team, said in a statement.

While the move was made official last week, the idea had been making the rounds since MLB announced the Montreal Expos would relocate to D.C. this year and be renamed the Washington Nationals.

“It’s probably something everyone started thinking about once the stadium became available and [we knew it] would be made ready for baseball play,” said Tim Johnson, spokesman for Rep. Mike Oxley (Ohio), the GOP manager. A number of factors contributed to the decision-making process being drawn out, as organizers had to find an open day at the stadium — used not only by the Nationals but also by Major League Soccer’s D.C. United — that would be compatible with the legislative calendar.

Each year, the game raises nearly $100,000 for area charities, including the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington’s Metropolitan Police Clubhouses, through ticket sales and corporate sponsorships.

“This game is a way for Members of Congress to give back to the Washington, D.C. community by raising money for local charities. We hope to make this an even bigger event for Capitol Hill, the D.C. community, and our charities,” Oxley said in a statement. “For the first time in more than 30 years, there will be Senators playing baseball in Washington — and House Members, too.”

By moving to RFK, the game’s organizers hope to increase contributions, according to Johnson. And there have already been signs of growth.

“We’ve already had indications of at least two new super-sponsors,” Oxley said, referring to the designation for the game’s top donors.

While the game cannot be expected to fill the 45,000-seat stadium, it does provide more room for growth than Prince George’s Stadium, which seats 10,000 people. And the game will likely follow the Nationals when they are scheduled to move into a new stadium along South Capitol Street in three years.

While some basic information is known — tickets will be available through the coaches’ offices and at the stadium on game day — many details still need to be worked out. For example, what role might the Nationals play at the game?

June 23 is an off day for the team, and they will open a home series the next day, so it is possible the players will be in town for the Congressional game.

“We have talked with the Nationals about getting some of their players to the game. “They hope to make the game a success any way possible,” said Johnson, who made similar comments about the D.C. Sports Commission and Aramark, which runs the stadium’s concessions.

A Nationals official did not return a call seeking comment.

The first Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game was played in District Stadium in 1962 (renamed RFK in 1969) and remained there through 1972. During those 11 years, Republicans won nearly every game, losing only the 1963 contest, when the Democrats shut them out 11-0.

Of course, Republicans have resumed their domination of the annual face-off since then, winning a total of 29 games to the Democrats’ 13 after the game moved from RFK to Memorial Stadium (former home of the Baltimore Orioles), then Four Mile Run Park in Alexandria, Va., and finally to Bowie in 1995.

The GOP leads the current best-of-five series 2-0, so a win this year would allow Oxley to retire yet another coveted Roll Call trophy.

Oxley’s team has had some good news and some bad news during the off-season. In November, former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.), a one-time standout on the team, was elected to the Senate, paving the way for his return to the game.

“Mr. Thune wants to play,” according to Johnson. “Mr. Oxley wants to have the Big Unit back.”

The former pitcher/outfielder’s return is a boon to the team because the ace, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), may not be able to take the mound this year.

Shimkus had heart surgery March 21 to repair a genetic heart condition known as severe mitral valve regurgitation.

He is spending the recess recuperating at his home in Collinsville, Ill., but his office put out a statement that read, in part: “The Congressman is hoping to be able to pitch, as he has for the last four years, in the annual [Congressional] baseball game scheduled for June 23.”

As for the Democrats, they need to find a way to stop the GOP juggernaut. “We’ve got some big surprises for them this year,” Sabo said recently.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), for one, is certainly happy about the move. Brady didn’t have much luck during the final two games in Bowie, dislocating his shoulder in 2003 and straining his right calf muscle last year.

“Moving the game to RFK is great news,” Brady said. “It puts us within five minutes of an emergency room.”