Softball Is All for Fun, but Winning’s Nice, Too
Returning Champs Gear Up for New Season
When a Little League coach tells his team of pint-sized players that the first rule of baseball is to have fun, he might as well be talking to the adults playing in the Capitol Hill softball leagues. Those Little Leaguers might put a lot more effort into their game preparation, though.
Each of three leagues — the Congressional Softball League, U.S. House Softball League and U.S. Senate Softball League — crowns a champion at season’s end, and each of the 2008 champs put fun and friendship ahead of winning. They just happen to be really good.
The teams don’t practice much, if at all, prior to opening day, and they don’t actively recruit new players with experience in high school or college. Each is made up of a loosely associated group of friends who use the games to — you guessed it — have fun.
In 2008, Well Swung (just one of the many cleverly named teams) won the Senate league and subsequently defeated the House champion Blue Pups, 17-6, to win the King of the Hill trophy. (The Congressional league does not play for the trophy; the House league is an offshoot of the Congressional league as the respective commissioners do not see eye to eye.) Ironically, the Senate champs formed their team last year when a group of former House players came together.
“Mostly we recruited one another because we were all friends playing for these different House teams,— said co-captain Jason Blazakis. “We thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to get together and play on the same team for one of us?’—
Blazakis, who has been playing softball in Hill leagues for more than a decade and now works at the State Department, said the team participates in a preseason tournament and has a few informal practices before the first game. In fact, they don’t even have much of a strategy for the new season.
“Whatever formula we had last year worked, and hopefully we’ll just re-implement what we did last year,— Blazakis said.
To be successful they’ll have to fend off more than 100 teams, including a pair they consider their rivals: the RBI’s of TX and Hawk & Dove.
Unlike Well Swung, the Blue Pups have been around for a decade. The team originally had a roster of staffers working for Blue Dog Democrats, but few players still work for those Members. Softball games give the group an excuse to get together once a week, according to coach Chris Huckleberry.
“More than anything, it’s a team of friends,— he said. “We’ve all been friends for a really long time.—
The Blue Pups’ primary rivals are Potomac Fever — whom they defeated in last year’s House championship game — and the bronze medalist Insliders, according to Huckleberry, who added that his teammates have friends on both teams.
Huckleberry said that while the Blue Pups do have a few players with high school experience, they haven’t recruited more experienced or younger players — but maybe they should.
“We have the same tired old guys,— he said, laughing.
Meanwhile, No Talent AZ Clowns, the 2007 and 2008 winner of the Congressional Softball League, has been around even longer than the Blue Pups, according to team member Mark Delich. He said the team, which used to be affiliated with Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain’s office, has existed under various names for more than 20 years but this will be the sixth season in this iteration. He said players are “starting to get old,— so they take care to warm up before games and schedule just a couple practices before the season starts.
“Because we play 20-something games [before the end-of-season tournament], a lot of those act as practices,— said Delich, who worked for McCain on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and is now policy director at the Reform Institute.
Delich said about 15 core players have stuck with the team over the past five years, and each season they gain and lose a couple of players.
Ultimately, Delich said, it’s about hanging out with friends and having fun. And that’s enough to make any Little League coach happy.