Beat the press: Journos, congresswomen play ball
June 27th, 2013
12:44 AM ET
10 months ago

Beat the press: Journos, congresswomen play ball

Washington (CNN) – It very nearly came down to the last inning. The home team was down by three with two outs and runners at first and second. Then Rep. Martha Roby popped a fly into the in-field. The ball made its way to the first basewoman who tagged Roby out.

Roby hasn’t been drafted into the minor leagues. The Alabama Republican still spends her days in a suit pitching bills. But Wednesday night, she was part of a team of senators and representatives playing in the fifth annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game.  Their opponents? The DC press corps, aka Bad News Babes.

After the game was over, the congresswomen, “Members” emblazoned on their jerseys, shook hands with the game’s victors, bold letters on their uniforms identifying them as “Press.” The final score: Press-11, Congress-8.

“It just means we’ll try harder next year,” Roby said after the game.

All players wore pink in honor of the game’s primary purpose. It’s a fundraiser that benefits the Young Survival Coalition, an organization that focuses on the needs of young women diagnosed with breast cancer. It was originally conceived by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida.

The annual game has also grown into something much more. It represents a unique opportunity for members of congress to interact with the journalists who cover them. “These are people who can declare war on another country and we’re all equal for a night,” said Abby Livingston, captain of the press team and a writer for Roll Call.

For the Members, the game is also a chance to blur party lines over aluminum bats and leather gloves.

“It’s our favorite thing,” Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Florida, said of practicing for the game. That is, aside from passing landmark legislation, she added.

Castor described the twice-weekly practice for the last two months as a rare opportunity to come together with her fellow congresswomen outside the Capitol Dome. The game has been described in the past as an incredibly powerful tool for bipartisanship.

“We’ve already decided that the women could solve the budget in an hour,” Castor said. Last week’s defeated farm bill? “They should’ve just left it to the softball team.”

The Members lead the Babes for much of the game.

It wasn’t until a sixth inning rally that the press were able to come up from a three-run deficit at 8-5, scoring six runs based in part on strong hitting. Hitting had been a major part of the team’s strategy, according to Livingston, who said players spent weekends at the batting cages in the hopes of powering the ball into the field.

The Babes also benefited from quite a few players walked in the sixth inning by the Member’s primary pitcher, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York. The game was played over seven innings.

Press players have won each year but one; although players on both teams point out that the Members have been getting progressively better. The game itself has grown, this year raising $115,000 and gaining itself a first:  anti-war demonstrators who took up a spot behind the press’s cameras.

The game has become famous for its trash talk, with Members eagerly speaking of their impending victory.

“I know everybody in this room today will want us to win because our opponents are the press,” Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, said in a team statement on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon.

Wasserman Schultz agreed.

“We want to defeat the common adversary that is the press corps,” she said in the statement, speaking of putting in the time to train at 7 a.m. “None of us can believe that we actually all get out there at the crack of dawn to make sure that we can build our skills, build camaraderie, make sure that we come together around a true common purpose.”

The trash talk also made its way into the announcer’s corner, with play-by-plays delivered by CNN’s Dana Bash and by Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota.

Klobuchar was fond of pointing out quirky details of the lives of Members and frequently reminded the audience of the average age of her players, which she said was 53.

House Speaker John Boehner also weighed in on some of the trash talk when he arrived at the game.

Walking across the field in between the first and second innings, he spoke briefly with the press players.

According to Amy Walter of the Cook Report, he told them: “Thanks for playing and I hope you lose.”

A number of other members of Congress also put in an appearance, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Even after the loss, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said she couldn’t be too disappointed.

The North Dakota Democrat was especially proud of the money raised and the 1,000-plus people who bought advance tickets for the game, hundreds of whom showed up.

“None of us are playing the pros,” she said. “This isn’t our day job.”


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