Democrats' election win no help on ball field

GOP coasts to 32nd victory in annual congressional faceoff

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WASHINGTON -- Democrats may be winning elections. But they still can't win a baseball game.

Despite an influx of fresh talent from Pennsylvania -- and the coaching skills of Rep. Mike Doyle of Forest Hills -- the new majority party on Capitol Hill last night extended its losing streak in the annual congressional baseball tournament to seven games.

The GOP soundly defeated the Democrats 5-2, at RFK Stadium, home of the Washington Nationals.

Nine Democratic errors didn't help.

"That was a marked improvement over last year," said Mr. Doyle, referring to the 12-1 thrashing of 2006, his first year as coach. He wore a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform bearing No. 14, his Pennsylvania congressional district.

The Republicans have now won 32 of the last 46 games, according to Roll Call, a Capitol Hill publication.

November's electoral victory brought in 41 freshman Democrats, giving them control of both houses of Congress for the first time in more than a decade.

Mr. Doyle recruited nine of them for yesterday's game, including three Pennsylvanians: Chris Carney of the northeastern part of the state, Patrick Murphy of the Philadelphia suburbs and Jason Altmire of McCandless. But Mr. Altmire and Mr. Carney didn't play because of injuries.

"Mike worked them real hard," said the Republican coach, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee with Mr. Doyle. "It was Democratic youth versus Republican wisdom."

The Democrats also had some wisdom. Rep. Joe Baca of California, a 60-year-old former semipro player, pitched all seven innings (they decided to cut the game short). But a disastrous third inning -- five errors and four runs -- ruined his strong performance.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington was responsible for a Bill Buckner-esque, ball-through-the-legs blunder.

Rep. Bill Shuster of Blair, wearing an Altoona Curve uniform, started the inning off with a triple for the Republicans. A pinch runner scored for him, tying the game at one apiece. Then the errors came.

"That was the game right there," Mr. Doyle said. "We gave them three runs."

The yearly event has Pennsylvania roots. Rep. John Tener, a Republican from Pittsburgh, organized the first game in 1909. He later became the state's governor.

After years of intermittent play, the game became a regular event in 1962, when Roll Call became the lead sponsor.

GOP dominance was helped by the "Republican Revolution" of 1994, when the party picked up 54 seats.

Mr. Doyle also won his seat that year. During his orientation week, he encountered Rep. Martin Sabo of Minnesota, then the Democratic coach. "Can you throw?" Mr. Sabo inquired of Mr. Doyle.

"Pardon me? Can I throw what?" the freshman replied.

"A baseball."

Mr. Doyle had, in fact, logged some years as both a pitcher and catcher for Swissvale High School. He joined the congressional team and went on to become a two-time MVP for the Democrats.

Mr. Sabo declined to run for re-election last year, and he asked Mr. Doyle to take over coaching duties.

Mr. Doyle's first year didn't go very well. The Democrats committed seven errors in one inning in their 12-1 loss.

This year, the Democrats had fresh blood to take on an older GOP team.

"The Republicans team is basically the same team they've put out there for 10 years," Mr. Doyle said. "Their bats are a little slower."

But some of the new players were disappointments. Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, a former Washington Redskins quarterback, went hitless.

Almost all players come from the House, not the Senate. Former Sen. Rick Santorum was once a decent player for the Republicans, Mr. Doyle said. "He got a hit or two," Mr. Doyle said.

Mr. Santorum also received relentless abuse from the crowd. Last year, his plate appearances were met with a loud chant: "Casey, Casey." Former Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey went on to beat Mr. Santorum in the November election by an 18-point margin.

Former Rep. Melissa Hart, another member of the GOP team, lost her seat to Mr. Altmire last year.

Mr. Altmire, a former Florida State Seminoles wide receiver, tore a hamstring during a recent baseball practice. But he sat in the dugout, wearing his Seminoles jersey.

The game raised between $75,000 and $100,000 for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington and the Washington Literacy Council.

About 2,500 fans turned out, including many congressional office staffers. In keeping with their political leanings, Democrats sat on the field's left side, along the third base line, while GOP supporters occupied the right side.


Jerome L. Sherman can be reached at jsherman@post-gazette.com or 202-488-3479.


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