They look like your typical active Washingtonians as they hit the field for practice, right down to the spandex leggings. But these are no ordinary league players — they’re the powerful women of the congressional softball team.
The fielder in the University of Miami hat? That’s Donna Shalala. She may be new to Congress, but the 78-year-old is no rookie. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner once coached her little league team.
The one in the hot pink socks and helmet? That’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who founded the charity game back in 2009 and has been playing ever since.
Neon colors aside, they blend in pretty well. All that sun protection — oversized sunglasses, brims pulled way down — helps to keep things low-key. Everyone still remembers what happened back in 2017, when a gunman stormed a group of Republican congressmen practicing baseball.
For now, on this spring day in D.C., Wasserman Schultz is less worried about the past and more focused on winning. “It’s a real thing — you come to practice, you get better,” she says.
The big game is scheduled for June 19, and the opposing team — made up of female members of the media — has trounced them three years straight.
Wasserman Shultz is a breast cancer survivor, and that’s the point of the annual event: to raise money for the Young Survival Coalition. The cause is so important that even presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand makes time to keep her eye on the ball while her sights are set on the White House.
“I love softball season because you get to fight to end cancer, but also get to know your teammates and the press corps, and it’s fun,” the senator says.
The lawmakers’ team may have lost its MVP, Republican Mia Love, to an election defeat, but the midterms also brought them a handful of new players. While this year’s roster hasn’t officially been released, I spotted at least three freshmen in the outfield — Shalala, Deb Haaland and Kim Schrier.
Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito has been on the members team since its inception and has seen her teammates’ passion evolve over the past decade. She admitted the earliest seasons weren’t as vigorous. “We didn’t practice as hard, and we didn’t take it as seriously, but … we realized we could win on defense even if we don’t run as fast or maybe hit as hard,” she says. “There’s no shortage of competitive juices here.”
Capito, who is one of just four Republicans set to take the field next month, says she enjoys the practices because “it’s just a good way to start the day.” She thinks “Gillibrand’s gonna hit a home run this year.” (I’m pretty sure she’s talking strictly about softball, rather than the much larger “run” Gillibrand is gearing up for.)
As supportive as Capito is of her teammates, she’s not above dishing out a few fighting words for the opposing team. “The press always has the sleepers — the young sleepers,” she jokes. “We can get them because we can outthink them.”
Your move, press team.
From the archives: Softball players honor cancer survivors