Heard on the Hill

Relievers Could Be Key in Congressional Baseball Game

Meehan, Aguilar enter game a year older

Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Meehan celebrates after the Republicans’ 8-7 victory in the 55th annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park last year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As a rule, once politicians get involved in the annual Congressional Baseball Game, they keep coming back for more.

And two veteran relief pitchers, Pennsylvania Republican Patrick Meehan and California Democrat Pete Aguilar, continue to get better every year.

Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton, the GOP team manager, said Meehan was “exceptional” at a recent scrimmage. 

“He’s a year older but he certainly looks sharp on the mound,” Barton said.

[Batter Up: Republicans, Democrats Gear Up for 56th Congressional Baseball Game]

Thursday’s game at Nationals Park will be the seventh for Meehan, 61, who first entered the House in 2011.

“I am very concerned about any pre-game hype. I have had the good fortune to have been both a winning pitcher last year, a MVP in a previous year, all of which there was no hype prior to that. I think the expectation of anything other than just the best effort can create bad karma,” Meehan said, laughing. “At this point in my life, just to be able to still do it is really fun.”

Despite his busy schedule, the Pennsylvania congressman said he makes time for morning practices because of his teammates.

[GOP Scouting Report Ahead of the Congressional Baseball Game]

“The game, in some ways, is anti-climatic. It’s the weeks of practice ahead of time, we have a lot of time to be with your colleagues and just doing those things are fun,” he said. “It’s the camaraderie, it’s the tradition and it’s for a good charitable cause.”

The 115th Congress is off to a busy start and that does effect practices more than the players would like.

“This year has been very uncharacteristic,” Meehan said. “Both our schedule, weather and, frankly, I’m on the Ways and Means Committee and other things … we’ve been so busy with work that I haven’t had time to practice anywhere near as much as I did in years past.”

[Two Freshmen Standing Out on Their Congressional Baseball Teams]

Meehan played baseball in college and after that in local “sort of semi-pro leagues.”

“You go in a progression: Then you play the fastpitch softball, then you play the slow softball, then you start coaching your kids at Little League. And then you’re out altogether,” he said. “I never thought in a million years I’d play in a hardball game again.”

UNITED STATES - JUNE 11 - Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., slides safely into third base as Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., waits for the ball during the 54th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington on Thursday, June 11, 2015. The Democrats beat the Republicans 5-2. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
California Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar slides safely into third base as Indiana Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman waits for the throw during the 54th annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in 2015. The Democrats beat the Republicans, 5-2. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After losing last year, the Democrats decided to have a Plan B in the event their starting pitcher, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana, needs a break from the mound.

That’s Aguilar.

“I hope I’m playing centerfield and my hope is to never take the mound, but if Cedric needs a rest, then I’ll be ready to throw an inning or two, but hopefully, not much more,” the California Democrat said.

Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle, the Democrats’ manager, is confident in his 37-year-old reliever.

“One of the things we’ve done better this year is we realized we just can’t expect Cedric to pitch seven innings every game. Every year, he gets a year older, too,” Doyle said. “[Aguilar] is good. He’s got good control, he’s not as fast as Cedric but he can throw strikes and he’s a good athlete. Pete Aguilar can play any position, infield or outfield or pitcher.”

[Mike Doyle’s Congressional Baseball Game Scouting Report]

Last year, Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy went in when Richmond tired. But Murphy no longer serves in Congress, having lost a bid for Senate last fall.

“He couldn’t win the election so now we got to dig a little deeper in the well of pitchers. That’s me,” said Aguilar, who will be playing his third congressional game.

He didn’t get much sleep before last year’s game — like other Democrats who participated in the House sit-in over gun policy the previous night.

“It was a little rough, getting up and getting active for a 7 p.m. game after a stretch like that,” he recalled. “As Coach Doyle said, our strategy is no sit-ins on Wednesday. I think we’re ready.”

For Aguilar, getting to and from morning practices is just as fun as playing.

“There’s a group of us who leave from Navy Yard — so Marc Veasey drives and we call it the Veasey bus,” Aguilar said. “It’s Jimmy Panetta, Tom Suozzi, Hakeem Jeffries, Tony Cardenas and Marc. And then we’ll pick up Nanette Barragán sometimes. It’s a full seven-seater, so we use up every chair. Usually, when we pull up to the baseball field at 7 a.m., it looks like a clown car with a bunch of folks jumping out.”

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