No Hardball When Press, Pols Get Together for Washington Softball

A Washington sketch as female lawmakers and reporters square off on the diamond

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By Jamie Stiehm, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Seeing the congressional women's softball team warm up on the green Wednesday, I thought to myself, there's no way my team's going to beat this bunch of competitors. My team consisted of journos like me--and I wasn't playing, just watching, so you can count on me for the facts, ma'am. But in truth and full disclosure, this is not a sports story, but an only-in-Washington scene sketch.  For example, where else but here would Nina Totenberg sing the national anthem, hitting all the high notes better than most in the land of the free?

The fact is, the members of Congress looked bigger on their side of the emerald diamond at Guy Mason recreation center on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest. They looked tougher. They looked like they had high morale and knew how to play as a team. And they looked like they had practiced with insane dedication at six in the morning. They were the reason this game was under police protection, with a sharp shooter overlooking the playing field on the roof of Whole Foods.

Led by the determined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a lefty New Yorker on the mound, and the feisty Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz at second base, the members of Congress didn't come out to play just to benefit breast cancer survival in young women. In the second such showdown between female pols and the press that covers them, they wanted to put the press in its proper place. The team of journos, captained by Dana Bash of CNN and coached by Shailagh Murray of The Washington Post, did not inspire the same confidence in a casual observer. Let's face it, being a reporter is generally an individual sport. There is a certain pride in going your own way, being a bit of the subversive against the crowd.

This lack of cohesion was evident in the women of the Fourth Estate as the game got underway. Their uniforms were not as sharp and they made a number of errors at first base in the first few innings. The athletic Gillibrand seemed to intimidate a few of my fellow scribes, as did the scrappy shortstop whom we watching through the fence tentatively identified as California Rep. Linda Sanchez. In all, the congresswomen, who also included Reps. Laura Richardson of California and Donna Edwards of Maryland, among others, were making fast work of winning under a still-light June night sky.

And then something improbable happened, midway through the seven innings. The journos started to catch up. Don't ask me how or why, I'm not a sportswriter. Soon it became clear there was a real game on--where true Washington players were gathered for this night, without their daily suits of armor on. This departure from adversarial mode, I could not help but think, was healthy for the workings of Washington. For it was easy to see the real people out there playing a harmless pastime. As a journalist, I can tell you that Gillibrand, appointed to take Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, may have a tough race in the fall--but I'd bet on her to win it. She cut a figure in pink and gray, with her hair tied neatly in a ponytail. Glimmers of character come through for women as well as men in ballgames.

Maybe that is the moral of the story. No--there was an amazing field of dreams play by Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico, who ran all the way home along with some other ink-stained wretches in a single play. I happened to be standing by her husband, Thomas Brown, a news photographer who had just returned from several weeks with the Marines in Afghanistan. I remarked lightly, See, this is what they're fighting for. Thomas broke into a smile, pleased his wife was the game heroine in the center of all the excitement.

But before it was over, a dispute, practically a filibuster, took place on the so-called mercy rule in the last inning. Did the five-run limit apply? John King of CNN, Dana Bash's husband, came out to mediate the matter. No matter, no mind. The scoreboard wasn't working real well and so the final score has faded into the spring ether. But the journalists filed under deadline, as we are wont to do, and they won over their sources. A good thing to see the press in fighting form, as if to say:  hey, don't count us out of the game yet.

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