Thousands roar as the announcer calls a name, the organist plays “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and a picture of the next batter flashes across the center-field scoreboard.
Just another night at Nationals Park — except the men on the field usually are in the spotlight while debating the national budget, not playing the national pastime.
When Democrats and Republicans face off in the Congressional Baseball Game on Thursday, the nation’s elected representatives will raise revenue to promote social welfare — without taxing or spending. The annual charity event last year attracted more than 7,000 fans and raised nearly $200,000 for the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.
Both teams have practiced regularly in preparation for the game, and each has experienced baseball players. Most notably, Rep. Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania Republican, tried out for the Cincinnati Reds in 1977, and Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, Louisiana Democrat, was an outfielder and pitcher for Morehouse College.
For everyone involved, the opportunity to play in a major league stadium is a major part of the excitement.
“That’s a thrill when you think about it, how many kids growing up dream about playing in the big leagues,” said Rep. Michael F. Doyle of Pennsylvania, the Democrats’ manager. “Now, this isn’t exactly playing in the big leagues, but not many people get a chance to actually play a game of baseball in a major league ballpark, where your name and picture comes up on the big screen out in center field, and they’re announcing your name, and there’s thousands of fans in the audience. That’s the stuff of dreams.”
The congressional tradition was established in 1909 but discontinued in 1958. House Speaker John McCormack revived it in 1962. The Republicans hold a 38-34-1 series lead, but the Democrats have won the past two games.
Republican manager Joe Barton of Texas said his team’s desire for victory was much stronger when he first became involved with the game in the 1980s. The Democrats had dominated the House of Representatives for so long that the Republicans were eager to have their revenge on the baseball diamond.
“The intensity to win the game is probably not as strong [now],” Mr. Barton said. “We still want to win, but we focus more on raising money for charity on both sides than we did in the ‘80s when the Democrats had a monopoly on the House majority for so long.”
Mr. Doyle begs to differ. He says both sides are eager to claim bragging rights.
“We want to win the game. I can’t ever remember a year where we didn’t fervently want to win,” Mr. Doyle said. “Most of us didn’t get [to Congress] being satisfied with not winning. It’s sort of in our nature to want to win a contest.”
Unlike a nine-inning major league game, the Congressional Baseball Game will last seven innings, and the teams will not have consistent uniforms.
“Everybody wears a uniform of their own choosing,” Mr. Barton said. “Some wear their hometown high school uniforms, some wear college uniforms, some wear minor league, some wear major league.”
Mr. Barton will wear a Texas Rangers jersey because the team plays in his congressional district. Mr. Doyle, a longtime Pirates fan, will sport a Pittsburgh jersey.
Several weeks ago, a team of congresswomen from both sides of the aisle faced members of the media in the third annual Congressional Softball Game. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat, and Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican, co-founded the event to raise money for the Young Survival Coalition, which supports young women with breast cancer.
“Breast cancer is not a partisan issue,” said Ms. Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee Chairwoman who has successfully battled the disease. “It doesn’t discriminate between Democrats and Republicans.”
The congressional team held 20 practices leading up to the game, and members were required to attend at least seven in order to participate. The training sessions gave the women time to build relationships independent of politics.
“There’s absolutely no doubt — the relationships and the friendships that all of us have built really transcend everything,” Ms. Emerson said. “It really changes the way that you work with people, and I think people who may have been a little bit more partisan for whatever reason certainly did not get at all partisan with any of their fellow players.
“We started out as a bunch of players and became a team at the end. We really have worked over the past three seasons to do that, and I have to say, it’s remarkable.”
Ms. Wasserman Schultz had the game-winning RBI for the congresswomen, who defeated the media team 5-4.
“Softball’s a team sport,” she said. “The members’ team was so determined to win. We really played together well, we supported each other. It was a team effort. But being the only breast cancer survivor, having been diagnosed at 41, on the team, to be able to drive in the winning run and win the game this year was incredibly special.”