A Whole New Ballgame for Democrats

Posted June 18, 2009 at 2:26pm

In the end, the Congressional baseball gods — and the weather — sided with the Democrats.

For the first time since 2000, the blue team on Wednesday hoisted the coveted Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game trophy, the 15th Democratic win in the game’s 48-year history.

The 15-10 slugfest at Nationals Stadium featured a few outstanding defensive plays, a lot of walks and an exuberant crowd.

After flipping 51 Congressional seats since 2006, Democrats had their sights set high in this year’s preseason. A number of recent high-profile Republican retirements, too, appeared to give Democrats the edge in this year’s game, as did the résumé of freshman Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio), his team’s catcher and a former collegiate baseball standout.

By Wednesday morning, the weather seemed to be the major hurdle standing in the way of a Democratic victory. Early in the day, the forecast was calling for a high probability of rain. Nationals officials were threatening to cancel the game if the rain clouds didn’t part by 7:05 p.m.

But they did.

Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) threw out the first pitch for the home team at roughly 7:25 p.m., while John Shimkus (R-Ill.) got the starting nod for the GOP.

Both teams were scoreless through one inning. Most of the action early in the game appeared to be happening in the stands, where signs were seen proclaiming, “There’s No Bailouts in Baseball— and “ESPN: Enough Spending People’s Money.—

All on the Republican side. Obviously.

Other GOP signs included: “Now Serving Choke: Official Drink of the Democrats— and “No, You Can’t— — an obvious play on President Barack Obama’s campaign slogan.

One Republican fan was seen holding a sign with Shimkus’ face affixed to the Incredible Hulk’s body. And the Land of Lincoln lawmaker did not disappoint, throwing more than 50 pitches during the first two innings.

But Shimkus yielded first, giving up six runs in the second inning as a brief light rain began to fall — ultimately the evening’s only visible precipitation.

The GOP hurler started off the inning by walking Reps. Brian Baird (Wash.) and Christopher Murphy (Conn.), who both scored on a double by Rep. Tim Bishop (N.Y.).

Both teams grumbled early in the game about the home-plate umpire’s generous strike zone, complaints that continued throughout the game.

The GOP battled back in the top of the third inning, tying it up at 6. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) led off the inning with a base hit, followed by a walk to Rep. Sam Graves (Mo.) and a long hit to the outfield by the GOP second baseman, Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas). Rep. Gresham Barrett (S.C.) hit a three-run triple to the gap in left before later scoring what was then the tying run.

With the game tied at 6, Republican manager Rep. Joe Barton (Texas) replaced Shimkus on the mound with Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.) in the bottom of the third.

The Sunshine State lawmaker proceeded to give up five walks, two base hits, a wild pitch, nine runs and, ultimately, the Democrats’ first win in nearly a decade. Graves ended the inning with a dazzling catch in center field after Shimkus had returned to the mound in relief.

After the fourth inning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited her troops in the trenches, rallying her team at edge of the dugout.

Republicans mounted a valiant comeback attempt in the seventh and final inning, but scored only three runs before freshman Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) ended the game looking at a called third strike.

With a win on Wednesday night, Democrats take the first game of a five-game series.

Democratic first baseman Bart Stupak (Mich.) turned in the defensive play of the game, catching a foul pop as he tumbled over the dugout railing in the fourth inning.

At the end of the game, Baca was named Most Valuable Player by his teammates, who also honored Stupak and Bishop for their contributions to the Democrats’ victory. Barrett, who hit a three-run triple in the third inning, was named MVP by the Republican side.

And while Democrats took the trophy on Wednesday night, the Republican faithful appeared to win the Bud Bowl. According to one beer salesman’s tally, Republicans far and away drank more Anheuser-Busch products than their Democratic counterparts, who preferred Miller Lite.

“Man, the Republicans love the Bud Light,— a salesman said.

Republican skipper Barton congratulated the Democrats in a speech on the House floor on Thursday, joking that Democrats “played very well, they played as a team — and they even played by the rules.—

“But don’t get accustomed to it because we’ll be back,— Barton said.

Elizabeth Jordan, Jeremy B. White and Alexander Comisar contributed to this report.