Democrats Take to the Diamond

Practice Offers Look at Rookies

Posted May 2, 2007 at 6:45pm

After the 2004 elections, only two freshmen joined the Democratic baseball team. And, as usual, the Republicans won in 2005 and 2006.

But the squad, under second-year manager Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), has fared much better in its recruiting this season, and the infusion of young blood has Doyle thinking the Democrats may snap a six-year losing streak when they take the field June 25 for the 46th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.

“We have 23 players signed up and 10 of them are new Members, and we have high hopes for some of these young guys,” Doyle said after the Democrats held their first practice of the season yesterday at Gonzaga High School’s field in Northeast D.C.

Foremost among the newcomers is Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), the former college football star who is said to be angling to pitch.

Shuler missed the first practice so the one-time Washington Redskins quarterback could introduce Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs at an event, Doyle said. A number of other players skipped the practice to run in the ACLI Capital Challenge. But they will get plenty of time to tune up for the game: Doyle said he plans two or three workouts per week as he seeks to help his team exact revenge for a couple of embarrassing outings — a 19-11 defeat in 2005 and a 12-1 rout last year.

The Democrats trail 1-0 in the current best-of-five series and will need to show a major improvement if they hope to capture the coveted Roll Call trophy, which the Republicans have retired 10 times to the Democrats’ two.

Besides Shuler, another freshman expected to contribute and possibly pitch is Rep. Bruce Braley (Iowa), who competed on the baseball, basketball, football, golf and track teams in high school before walking on to the football team at Iowa State.

“I’ll play wherever the coach puts me, but I’d certainly like to pitch some,” said Braley, who added that the team looked “pretty impressive for the first day. There weren’t too many loud creaks when people were bending down to get the ball.”

Freshman Rep. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) also practiced yesterday — though he didn’t exactly look prepared, playing in khakis and black dress shoes.

Having room for improvement but remaining hopeful was a theme throughout the morning.

“I’m rusty, I’m rusty,” Rep. William Lacy Clay (Mo.) muttered after a batting practice session filled with swings-and-misses and pop-ups.

“I’m a little out of shape,” echoed Donnelly. “I’ve got a committee hearing today and once I sit down I may not be able to get back up.”

Donnelly throws left-handed, which in baseball precludes him from all infield positions except first base.

“I’ve always dreamed of playing shortstop,” he said, “but I’m left-handed so first base and outfield are all I’ve ever played. I used to pitch, but that was many moons ago.”

Other freshmen on the team include Rep. Christopher Murphy (Conn.) and Pennsylvania Reps. Patrick Murphy and Christopher Carney (“Our starting catcher if he’s as good as we think he is,” Doyle said).

But Doyle emphasized that nobody is guaranteed a starting role on the team. He showed that last year by selecting Rep. Joe Baca (Calif.) as his starting pitcher over Rep. Mel Watt (N.C.), who had started the previous 11 games.

“We’ll take a look at a couple new guys as pitchers, too,” Doyle said. “If I had to make a decision today, Baca would start, but it’s not cast in stone.”

Other returnees who attended yesterday’s practice included Watt and Reps. Jay Inslee (Wash.), Brian Baird (Wash.), Bart Stupak (Mich.) and Linda Sánchez (Calif.).

Sanchez will again be the only woman on the team. “I’ve been the only one for five years so it doesn’t really surprise me,” she said. “I have tried for years to recruit other women without any success.”

Sanchez had a difficult task as the 41-person Democratic freshman class included only eight women.

The Democrats may get help from Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), who played when he was in the House.

“Rumor has it Sherrod wants to play,” Doyle said. Last year’s Republican team featured two Senators, John Ensign (Nev.) and the now-retired Rick Santorum (Pa.).

“Just because the Republicans do it doesn’t mean we do it,” Doyle said of allowing a Senator to play. “We may bring Sherrod to practice and have a team vote.”

As for the Democrats’ six-year losing streak, Doyle said: “For 12 years the Republicans won elections, too. It’s a new day.”

The 46th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game will be played Monday, June 25, at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 and will be available day-of-game at the RFK box office. Information on advance ticket sales has yet to be announced.