‘Play like a girl’ is no insult in congresswomen, press charity game

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, has been a regular player in the annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game, a charity game against the press. (Photo by Meghan Finnerty/Cronkite News)

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, at bat in her first Congressional Women’s Softball Game, which she finished with three hits. (Photo by Meghan Finnerty/Cronkite News)

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, said the charity softball game put her in touch with lawmakers from across the aisle she had not met before. (Photo by Meghan Finnerty/Cronkite News)

The Congressional Women’s Softball Game has pitted women in Congress against women reporters in the Washington press corps since 2010. (Photo by Meghan FInnerty/Cronkite News)

Members of the women’s press team, the Bad News Babes, celebrate their victory in the 2016 charity softball game against congresswomen. (Photo by Meghan Finnerty/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Under a gray evening sky on a baseball field in Southeast Washington, two teams of women grabbed their gloves, shagged fly balls and took their turns at the plate.

It could have been any rec league softball game – but this one had the Speaker of the House glad-handing players and earpiece-wearing police officers calmly eyeballing a crowd filled with politicians and press.

“Well, tonight is the congressional women’s softball game,” said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, one of the players on the congressional women’s team. “Every year we have a bipartisan, bicameral team of women of Congress and the Senate who beat the press.”

Which is mostly true – except for the beating part.

The Congressional Women’s Softball Game has been played every year since 2009, and the journalists have played since 2010, but the press and the politicians had split the series, 3-3, before Wednesday night’s game.

It’s one event in Washington where partisan labels are put aside. The congressional team included eight Republicans and nine Democrats in their pink jerseys, facing off against the Bad News Babes, a team of women who cover Capitol Hill for a mix of print, online and broadcast news outlets.

It’s also one of the few events where there are hugs all around afterward. In a break from typical Washington behavior, the teams often cheered a good play by the other side and any trash-talking came from the stands that were packed with cheering, sign-waving family members and what appeared to be Hill staffers.

-Cronkite News video by Meghan Finnerty

The charity game raises money for the Young Survival Coalition, which helps women under age 40 who are being treated for breast cancer and supports early cancer detection programs. Players said they enjoy the chance to support a good cause, but lawmakers in particular said they relish the opportunity to get to know their colleagues in a casual setting.

“Some of them I didn’t know” before the team started practicing for Wednesday’s game, said Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, of her teammates from across the aisle.

Partisanship was set aside, but politics was never far. McSally wore the number A-10 on her jersey, for the fighter jet based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base that she and others have been fighting to keep in the Pentagon’s budget.

McSally played well for a rookie, with three base hits as the starting left fielder. Sinema was in center for part of the game but said that “what I really do is run, that?s what Im good at.”

The average age for the lamwakers’ was announced as 50, but these women could play ball – and this being Washington, they were playing to win.

The congresswomen led through most of the game, but the Bad News Babes mounted a five-run rally in the bottom of the sixth, ultimately winning the game 8-4. McSally said she took comfort in the fact that the game raised a record $215,000 for the coalition, according to announcers at the event.

“You know you always want to win, but it was really for a great cause, good camaraderie,” McSally said, “and we always get next year.”