REP. Maria Cantwell (D) of Washington is such a nut about baseball that she goes to spring training in Tempe, Ariz., every year to see the Seattle Mariners play.
So when the first-term Democrat was asked to play in Congress's annual baseball classic, she said, sure, why not? After all, she'd been a big softball organizer in the Washington State legislature. In her winning campaign last fall, her most memorable ad showed her out there rounding the bases.
And, of course, the Democrats had to keep up with the Republicans, who had already broken the gender barrier this year by inviting Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida to play.
"It wasn't till about two months later, I realize they're talking about baseball! I've never played baseball," says Ms. Cantwell, her eyes opening wide. "I mean, we're talking about 65-mile-an-hour hurlers!"
She should have known better. As on the House floor, so on the diamond, it's hardball only for our nation's representatives.
So on Tuesday, on a warm summer evening at Four Mile Run Stadium in Alexandria, Va., history was made as three women - Rep. Blanche Lambert (D) of Arkansas was later recruited, too - took the field in the annual contest sponsored by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.
"It's good for women to break barriers, even superficial ones like this," says Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, looking resplendent in her size 6 Florida Marlins' uniform. "There's a lot of good-ol'-boy business in Congress."
Ros-Lehtinen was recruited by Rep. Dan Schaefer (R) of Colorado, who took over the GOP managerial duties from ex-Rep. Carl Pursell (R) of Michigan, who retired last year.
"I was kidding Dan Schaefer; he's from Colorado, and the Rockies really stink! The Marlins are much better," says Ros-Lehtinen, Congress's first Cuban-American. "So he figures, `She's Cuban; she must be good.' Actually, I never played baseball. Just some softball a long time ago."
Ros-Lehtinen led off for the Republicans, but Democratic pitcher Rep. David McCurdy of Oklahoma was throwing hard, and she watched strike three whiz by.
It was Ros-Lehtinen's only appearance in the game - she was listed as the starting second-base-person, but was replaced in the bottom of the first - and it proved a harbinger of things to come for the Republicans. In the seven-inning game, Mr. McCurdy struck out 11 en route to the Democrats' 13-1 wipeout, aided by the Dems' liberal base-running.
Would that the Democrats could win such a blowout victory on the House floor, Democratic politicos were no doubt thinking.
McCurdy was named Most Valuable Player for the Dems; Rep. Jack Fields (R) of Texas, the opposing pitcher, got sympathy MVP honors.
Lest anyone forget, forlorn Republicans reminded one and all that they still lead the overall series with 21 wins, now 10 losses, and one tie (only in congressional baseball!) in the Roll Call classic's 32-year history.
House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R) of Illinois was on hand to deliver a rousing rendition of the national anthem and to reminisce a bit about his glory years as the Republicans' ace pitcher.
"We used to say, `at least we beat 'em in baseball,' " Michel says, recalling his 11 straight victories on the mound.
Another ace hurler, ex-Rep. Wilmer (Vinegar Bend) Mizell (R) of North Carolina, cut a dashing figure in his St. Louis Cardinals uniform. Before his three-term tour in Congress (1969-1975), Mr. Mizell pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Mets, and the Pirates, and he threw batting practice for the Republican squad at its 7 a.m. practices.
"They play this game like they do the last game of the World Series," Mr. Mizell says.
SO what did Congresswoman Cantwell do when she discovered what she had gotten into? She went to Dave McCurdy for advice. She recounts their discussion:
He: Can you hit a curve ball?
She: I don't even know what a curve ball looks like.
He: If the threads show - better keep your head down.
In her first trip to the plate, Cantwell, alas, suffered the fate of Ros-Lehtinen, slinking back to the dugout, bat in hand. But on her next trip up, she earned a walk and advanced as far as third.
Congresswoman Lambert - dressed in shorts (But what if you have to slide? "I don't slide! I don't do windows, and I don't slide!") also walked in her only plate appearance. Neither woman played in the field. Seems the managers don't think the congressional gals are quite ready for a league of their own.
The Roll Call event raised more than $25,000 for the Washington Literacy Council and co-ed youth baseball in Washington, D.C.