From the Hill to the mound: Playing ball is break from political brawl

(Video by Simon Williams/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – For a guy who just popped up for the final out of a spirited one-run baseball game, Rep. Greg Stanton was surprisingly upbeat Wednesday night.

“We’re doing this interview right after the game and we lost, and I’m a competitive guy,” Stanton said, putting on a mock-gruff face and voice. “Man, I’m a bit torqued about losing that game!”

Then, laughing, Stanton said how he really felt about the just-ended game at Nationals Park.

“We have many congressional traditions, but the Congressional Baseball Game – Republican versus Democrat – for fun, it is a fun game and competition,” the Phoenix Democrat said, just minutes after the game where Republicans pulled out an 13-12 victory.

Stanton and fellow Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix were Arizona’s representatives for the annual charity fundraiser that senators and House members played before an announced crowd of 14,348.

This year’s game came during a particularly intense week on Capitol Hill. The House was still voting on the debt ceiling an hour before first pitch, and members arrived in various stages of dress: some in full uniform, others with a jersey over slacks and dress shoes, a change of clothes bagged and in hand.

Wednesday’s game was followed by all-day votes Thursday on measures to fund the government and keep it open through Dec. 3, and on a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that is a priority for the Biden administration.

But for almost three hours Wednesday, the game was a brief respite from contentious D.C. politics, with only mild boos from each side’s section of the stands when an opposing player did something notable.

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., got a near standing ovation every time he made a play – and a sympathetic “aw…” when one of his throws from third went wide left.

Republicans stand for the Star-Spangled Banner before the game. Their jerseys had a shoulder patch reading "6/14/17" - the date a gunman opened fire on a GOP practice for the game. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)
Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, says the Congressional Baseball Game is one of his favorite events in Washington. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)
A Republican member of Congress takes his warm-up swings. While many Democrats wore jerseys from their local teams, the GOP went with one uniform. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)
Unlike most baseball games, fans at the Congressional Baseball Game in Washington are as likely to be waving campaign signs as team gear. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, congratulates a fellow Democratic player Wednesday night during the regular Congressional Baseball Game. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)
Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, strokes a double in the middle innings of the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington.(Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)
Republican batting helmets wait their players. The Rawlings helmets conveniently already had an "R" on the front for the Republican team. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)
Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., threw well over 100 pitches through six innings of the Congressional Baseball Game, in addition to hitting a home run at Nationals Park. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)
It's not every game where the president drops in, but President Joe Biden, in blue, spent time with both teams at the game, here in the Republican dugout. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)
Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, walks down the third base line at Nationals Park, where Republicans edged Democrats 13-12 in the regular Congressional Baseball Game. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)

A fourth-inning home run by the GOP pitcher, Rep. Greg Steube, R-Florida, earned him a celebration with teammates at home plate, after his shot careened off the top of the wall in left field and bounced in front of left fielder Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif. Steube was motioning for a home run call by the time he rounded second base.

Republicans wore red, name-and-number jerseys with the party logo on front and a left shoulder patch with the date 6/14/17 – the day a gunman opened fire on a GOP practice, severely wounding Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who also played in Wednesday’s game.

Democrats stuck with tradition, with each member wearing a unique uniform, much like the MLB All-Star Game of years past. Some dressed in MLB uniform of their favorite team or pro player, like Rep. Nanette Barragán D-Calif., who sported full Los Angeles Dodgers garb. Others wore the uniform of schools or colleges in their districts: Gallego wore a Laveen Little League uniform, while Stanton sported Mesa Community College gear.

“We have the best community college system in America, and I have one of the best community colleges in my district, so I wanted to honor the young players on the team and the school,” he said.

Related story

“And they gave me a couple uniforms and I told them I’d wear both,” said Stanton, who switched from a red Mesa CC Thunderbirds jersey in his first at-bat to a white one in his second at-bat.

Stanton, playing in his second Congressional Baseball Game, went one-for-two with a double on the night, while Gallego cheered from the bench.

The night was not devoid of political reminders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was on the phone from the Democratic dugout most of the night.

President Joe Biden arrived with much fanfare, stopping play in the top of the second inning and eventually spending time in each team’s dugout. Even he held his left hand up to his ear on occasion to block out fan noise and hear the other end of a phone call.

It was the 84th meeting of the teams in a game that started in 1909 and has been held more or less annually – with exceptions for war and pandemics. Charities include the Washington Literacy Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Nationals Philanthropies and the U.S. Capitol Police Memorial Fund, according to the game’s website, and Roll Call reported that this year’s game raised $1.2 million.

Wednesday’s win was just the second in 12 games for the Republicans, who now lead the all-time series 42-41-1. Of all the congressional traditions, Stanton said he especially enjoys this one.

“It helps me build great relationships with my teammates and friendly banter with the other side. And we need that in Congress,” he said. “We’re dealing with very important issues, some very contentious issues.”

And even though the game can be competitive, Stanton said it lets lawmakers deal “with people in a way where, hey, it’s nothing personal, we like each other, we’re friends.”

“That helps make the legislating process a little bit easier,” he said.

Simon Williams si-mon wil-lee-ams (he/him)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Simon Williams expects to graduate in May 2022 with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in religious studies. Williams, who has experience in play-by-play broadcasting, live event production, digital media and strategic communications, is working in the D.C. Bureau.

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Diannie Chavez is a visual journalist completing her bachelor’s degree in journalism. Chavez, who interned at Phoenix Magazine, is a visual reporter for the D.C. News Bureau.