RNC Star Preps for Another Winning Season
It was raining. In fact, it was pouring, and the 2009 softball matchup between the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee wasn’t a snore. Amid a thunderstorm delay and a midgame sandstorm, at the bottom of the seventh inning, things couldn’t have been tighter.
With players on second and third, it all rode on the back of RNC senior applications developer Jeremy Kenney to eliminate the DNC’s 4-3 advantage. He came to the plate, swung, connected with the pitch and was off with a line drive across first base.
In his dash to second base, Kenney ran so fast that he didn’t even realize that he’d allowed for the game-ending runs, thereby securing the RNC’s fourth consecutive win against the DNC at 5-4.
“Even though we had won the last couple of years, we thought we were going to lose the game,” said Deepak Ramnath, RNC targeting coordinator and team coach. “After we scored, we rushed Jeremy on second base. He didn’t even realize it because he’s very concentrated on the game. He gives everything his full effort.”
Fast is a fitting description for Kenney, 39, but so is modest. Almost a year out, he’s reticent to talk up the big win: “It was cool, but it was a team thing. I didn’t win it. I was just up there,” he said.
Kenney’s speed makes sense when you dig a little into his past. Nearly two decades ago, running was part of his education. As an undergraduate at Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, Kenney ran track for four years as a walk-on NCAA sprinter.
It’s a part of his past the Kenney doesn’t readily bring up — few of his co-workers and former softball teammates seemed to be aware of his sprinting days.
From 1989 to 1993, running track meant grueling three-hour workouts outside and in the gym every day except Sunday.
For Kenney, sprinting without scholarship dollars behind his back came down to one thing: winning. “Competition was probably the biggie, to win,” he said. “That was my whole thing.”
And win he did. While at Western Maryland, Kenney specialized in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, and his best sprint times came in at 10.8 and 22.0 seconds, respectively. Each year Kenney ran, the Green Terrors qualified and ran in the Mid-Atlantic Conference championships in the 100, 200, 4×100 and 4×400. As an upperclassman, Kenney co-captained the men’s track team.
“I didn’t even know he sprinted in college,” Ramnath said. “He’s a pretty humble guy, but I’m not surprised that he was because he’s a really good athlete and is so fast.”
Also while he was in college, Kenney played softball casually with his Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers against other campus fraternities. “It was kind of a lot of beer with the softball,” he said. “It was a bunch of guys hanging out.”
Fast-forward to the 2010 season of the Congressional Softball League, and things are a bit more high-stakes, especially with the RNC team hoping to extend its streak to five consecutive wins against the DNC.
This will be Kenney’s second full season with the RNC team. With his athletic background, a 20-yard dash to catch a pop fly is no problem for him.
But it would take a number of years in the work world for Kenney to gain a genuine affinity for Washington’s quintessential sport. After a one-year stint at T. Rowe Price and graduate studies at the University of Baltimore, Kenney arrived in Washington in 1998 for a gig as a junior analyst supervisor at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Softball quickly became a way for him to gain friends in a new city. “I began [at the NRSC] in a July and didn’t know a soul,” Kenney said. “I just kind of figured that would be a good way to meet my co-workers.”
As the years went by, the game slowly became more competitive, and increasingly Kenney was part of winning games. “I thought, Oh wow, this is cool,'” Kenney said.
Kenney even rose to coach the NRSC team during the 2000 season.
By the time he arrived at the RNC in 2001 — the same year he received a Master of Public Education from the University of Baltimore — Kenney was a known, desirable player. Friends recruited him to play for both then-Sen. Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) team and the notorious Scared Hitless powerhouse.
“He could round the bases pretty quick,” said Phil Childress, a teammate on both the NRSC and Scared Hitless teams. “His modesty kind of shows in his playing style. He never made me feel small or like a loser. He never gets arrogant about what a great athlete he is.”
“I had forgotten that he was an NCAA athlete. It’s just not something he brings up,” said Childress, now vice president of communications at Warfield & Walsh.
Robert Duncan, a former teammate at the NRSC, recruited Kenney to the Frist team in the early 2000s. “He’s super-enthusiastic about any sport because he’s been an athlete, whether it’s running or being on the softball field,” said Duncan, now a senior Senate Cloakroom assistant. “That’s why we wanted him to come play on the Frist team. Jeremy would show up every game.
“He’s so fast that when he hits a little single he can stretch it into a double. He’s competitive on the field — on and off the field. At the NRSC, he used to go around the day of a game and ask if everyone was ready.
“I didn’t know at first that he was a college athlete. As I got to know him a little better” — Duncan and Kenney roomed together while working at the NRSC — “it became evident, but it’s not something he mentions. For this town, he’s a pretty low-key guy.”
Finally, after several years of bouncing around different Capitol Hill teams, Kenney decided to give the RNC team his full-time dedication last year. The RNC team averages 20 weekly players, which provides Kenney with plenty of field time, in addition to the chance to compete against the DNC.
This year, the RNC team is embarking on a quest for an undefeated season. And they’re off to a good start: Wednesday, Kenney scored the game-winning hit against the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. Barring a tournament close to midterm elections, the RNC team hopes to go all the way in the league championships.
“It’s kind of not OK to come in second place, even though that probably sounds pretty horrible to say. It’s OK to, but it’s not what you want,” Kenney said.
This year’s big RNC-DNC matchup — and the fight for possession of the Big Stick Trophy — is scheduled for June 7 at Guy Mason Field, 3600 Calvert St. NW. If DNC Chairman Tim Kaine, who made an appearance last year, and RNC Chairman Michael Steele decide to show, they won’t be the only ones to watch on the field: Keep an eye on Kenney.