WASHINGTON - Wearing the uniform of the Texas Rangers, Rep. Joe Barton stepped out onto the field with a grin and a determined look in his eye.
Barton, from Ennis, was in control and in his element at RFK Stadium, home to the Washington Nationals. But the stadium hosted a different kind of game Monday night, as elephants and donkeys lined the scoreboard for fans as likely to wear suits as shorts.
Barton was manager of the Republican team for the 46th annual Congressional baseball game and led the team to its seventh straight victory, its 32nd overall.
Better known for chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee while Republicans were in power, Barton has been an influential force on the field as well. He started playing in the annual game in the late 1980s, then switched to coaching. After 23 years on the team, he was named manager when former Rep. Mike Oxley, of Ohio, retired from Congress last year.
Barton was cautiously optimistic before the game, saying he believed the team had a chance to win, but that “the Democrats have a younger team.”
After winning 5-2, he said Republican wisdom paid off.
“It was a competitive game and a fun game,” Barton said.
He held 7 a.m. practices for about six weeks to get ready to face Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, who led 24 Democrats.
With nine freshman players and five in their 30s, the Democrats had high hopes for a game performance as strong as their electoral one in the fall. Expectations were great for Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, who played quarterback in the NFL. But a foot injury relegated him to be designated hitter, and he struck out every time.
It turned out to be 60-year-old Rep. Joe Baca of California who kept the team going. In the seven-inning game, he threw more than 100 pitches, most of which found their mark.
Democrats scored in the first inning and kept their lead until a disastrous third inning, when the Republicans scored four runs. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., led the way with a two-RBI double. But the Republicans squandered an opportunity to tack on more when Rep. Gresham Barrett, R-S.C., hit a pop fly, leading to an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
Barrett said after the game that he wished he could have gotten another hit, but he said the Democratic team was “vastly improved” over last year.
“It was the best game we’ve had in five years,” Barrett said. “The Democrats worked hard, and Baca did a fantastic job.”
To Barton, who was cheered by his son and three grandchildren, the best part of the game was raising money for charity. The annual event raises between $75,000 and $100,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington and the Washington Literacy Council.
A close second?
“I get to wear a major league uniform and feel like a 23-year-old again.”
Jess Davis, a WHS graduate and University of South Carolina student, is an intern with Scripps Howard Foundation Wire this summer.