Senate Teams Step Up to The Plate

Posted May 25, 2005 at 4:59pm

Joe Lillis may spend his days in the Longworth House Office Building as legislative director for Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), but come the summer months, he spends about one night a week with the Senate — the U.S. Senate Softball League, that is.

Following a two-year stint working for Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), Lillis switched chambers and took a job with then-Rep. Mac Collins (R-Ga.). Once on the House side, Lillis looked into the Congressional Softball League but said he “thought the Senate league was very well run, so I put our team in that one.”

This season — which for many teams is beginning this week — is Lillis’ third as part of the Georgia Satellites, named for the southern rock band. In addition to playing left field, he also coaches the team, which is made up of about 35 bipartisan House and Senate staffers. Lillis said that many players are needed to meet the league requirement of nine players in the field, three of those being women.

“With Capitol Hill and our lifestyles and such, we’re always busy,” Lillis said, adding that a full roster also allows for enough players despite last-minute scheduling conflicts.

“A lot of it has to do with the business of the Senate that day,” said Sonja Hoover, office manager for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and head commissioner for the league. She added that it’s best to schedule games when it is “less likely for the Member to have votes.”

In addition to the nine-player minimum with at least three of those being women, another rule is that players cannot play on another team in the league. Hoover said it is fine for players to participate in other leagues, but they can play on only one Senate league team.

The league, formed in 1967, is “structured randomness,” Hoover said. The teams are split up into eight divisions, each having either 10 or 11 teams. This year there are 86 registered teams, which is up from 72 teams last year. Hoover said she puts the teams into their divisions anonymously, however, the tournament teams from the previous year are spread out “straight across the board.”

The top four teams from each division play in a one-day tournament, which is usually held the Saturday after Labor Day. While teams may have a higher number of players on the roster during the season, Hoover said by tournament time there might only be 20.

The registration fee of $125 per team at the start of the season pays for tournament costs, umpires, softballs for the tournament and parties throughout the season, Hoover said.

Before the season kicks off, there is a coaches meeting to announce what teams are in which divisions; the meeting also gives coaches the opportunity to set up game schedules while they are all together. Depending on which division they are in, all teams will play at least nine or 10 games, with the option of scheduling scrimmages against teams in other divisions.

A recent scrimmage for Lillis and his team occurred last week to determine the “bragging rights for the best team in Georgia,” he said. Lillis’ team set up a game against those in Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R-Ga.) office, who just formed their team for the Senate league this year.

“We were saying, ‘Why are you guys having your own team?’ and they said they had enough players,” Lillis said. “We said, ‘OK, well, we have to challenge you to a scrimmage for the title of the best team in Georgia.’”

The bragging rights went to the Georgia Satellites, who won 12-7.

This week marks the start of the season for both Lillis’ and Hoover’s teams. Neither team leader had a solid prediction on how the season will play out.

“We went to the tournament last year, won the first game and then lost,” Lillis said. “There are some really good teams out there.”

Hoover, who pitches for Harkin’s Heroes in addition to her commissioner duties, said her team, which has a significant number of returning players, is “mediocre.”

“We utilize the interns a lot,” Hoover said. “It’s a nice way for our staff to bond with our interns.”

Lillis said the Georgia Satellites lost some of its key players this year, but he was able to recruit enough people to round out the roster.

“The key is female players, they’re really the linchpin of your team,” Lillis said. “You’ll have some teams with all these great guys, but the women are the ones that really carry the team.”

For more information on the league, visit www.usssl.org.