GOP’s Baseball Hopes Hang on Elections

Posted June 30, 2010 at 6:36pm

After watching his team go down in flames on Tuesday night, Republican skipper Rep. Joe Barton (Texas) is looking for a solid November draft to fill out next year’s lineup for the annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.

“I’ve certainly encouraged” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) “to take a look at [candidates’] athletic ability and their pedigree, as well as their political pedigree,” Barton joked Wednesday after his team gave up nine runs in the final inning. “It wouldn’t break my heart if we elected a few guys that are about 6’2″, 175 pounds, in their mid-30s, who stay in shape and know how to throw and catch.”

The House Democrats’ 39-seat advantage and relative youth were on display Tuesday night, when a seventh-inning rally sealed the Republicans’ fate, 13-5. While he was proud of how his team performed, Barton attributed the loss to a breakdown of fundamentals, despite numerous practices.

“There was a lack of being able to throw the ball to first base, on occasion, and hitting the ball,” Barton said. “The game plan was sound, it was just implementation. We had the worst inning that I’ve been associated with in the 24 years I’ve been involved with the game.”

According to an unofficial box score, Republicans combined for five runs on nine hits. They committed eight errors.

“We didn’t catch and throw as well as they did,” Barton said.

Republican second baseman Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas) agreed that pickups in the November midterm elections will help the party’s chances of again winning the coveted Roll Call trophy. Democrats lead the five-game series 2-0.

“No question we could use some younger legs out there,” Brady said Wednesday.

[IMGCAP(1)]Brady and his coach also predicted that first-year catcher Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) will again be behind the plate next year. Platts struggled to throw out base runners throughout the game, a weakness Democratic coach Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.) acknowledged exploiting after the game.

“We were watching him and he wasn’t really able to get the ball down to second. He was one-hopping them,” Doyle said, adding that his players “didn’t have any opportunities early in the game to start running on him.”

Later in the game, Doyle said, “we started first-pitch running on him and we just finally broke it open.”

By the last out in Tuesday’s game, four Democratic base runners had advanced on stolen bases.

Brady predicted that the problem would be resolved before next year’s game.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen next game. Todd hasn’t really made that throw in 33 years or so on any regular basis,” Brady said. “It’s something we’re going to focus on in the off-season. He had a good first game, and I only think he’s going to get better. We’re going to shore that up for next year.”

Republican outfielder Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) also was critical of Doyle’s “liberal interpretation” of the annual game’s substitution rules, which are substantially more breezy than the typical restrictions in the national pastime.

Democrats used 33 players in their lineup, while 24 Republicans played.

“He has a fielding lineup and a batting lineup,” McCotter said.

Although his party is expected to lose seats this fall, Doyle was optimistic that his team would emerge unscathed when it resumes practice next year. He expects Rep. John Boccieri (Ohio), a former collegiate player, second baseman Rep. Frank Kratovil (Md.) and Rep. Joe Baca (Calif.) to return next year.

“The nucleus of this squad will be intact. [The Republicans are] the ones who need to get some new recruits,” Doyle said. “We went through that process for a while, but ’06 and ’08 were good to us and we got these young guns. The only concern on our side are these older players who are getting pushed out by these young guys.”

Doyle also expects that Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), who watched the game from the stands this year, will return to the mound next year. Shuler, a former NFL quarterback, recently injured his foot and was unable to relieve Baca, who went the distance Tuesday.

“He was on Jet Skis back home two weeks ago and come off the Jet Skis and banged his ankle against a stump or a rock, and his ankle was all swollen up. I was so mad,” Doyle said. “It’s going in all of their contracts next year. He was our backup pitcher and he was throwing a lot faster than Baca.”

“I’m going to put Heath Shuler in one of those Michael Jackson air bubbles so he can’t hurt himself before next year,” he joked.

Organizers said the annual Congressional baseball game raised more than $150,000 this year for the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

Rachael Bade and Jessica Estepa contributed to this report.