The congressional women's team almost had it.
Going into the 6th inning at the 5th Annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game Wednesday evening, the lawmakers led the press corps 8-5, had the backing of a racuous cheering section, and looked like they could have the momentum to pull out a win.
But the Bad News Babes scored six runs in the sixth inning to take the lead for good, earning an 11-8 victory and Capitol Hill bragging rights. The annual matchup has congresswomen playing against women of the Washington press corps for glory and to raise money for young women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Long before MSNBC television host Mika Brzezinski threw out the first pitch, it was clear that the congresswomen came to play. In pre-game interviews with The Huffington Post, Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) said she was feeling "really pumped up" and team captain Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said the group had been "practicing hard." It showed on the field as lawmakers took the early lead. By the end of the second inning, they were up 2-0 (at which point it was announced that the Republican women on the congressional team had scored more than all the Republican men in their annual game.)
Led by captains Abby Livingston (CQ Roll Call) and Amy Walter (Cook Political Report), the Bad News Babes were looking to defend their title as reigning champions.
"We're confident. We've been working hard, they've been working hard. But I think we're going to come out ahead," Livingston said before taking the field.
The newswomen started off slow. Between strikeouts and the lawmakers’ strong defense, the journalist team couldn’t get on the scoreboard until the third inning. When the lawmakers had the lead, the announcers noted the average age of the team's players is 53.
Yet, once the dam burst for the Bad News Babes the runs started flowing, and they tacked on five runs in the third.
From there, the congresswomen regained the lead until the sixth inning. Bad News Babes scored six runs -- a two-run double by Emmarie Huetteman (New York Times) brought Kasie Hunt (NBC News) and Livingston home and gave the team the lead for good.
Members of Congress came to the field to cheer their colleagues. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) sported a pink tie, and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) provided commentary.
"Three up, three down ... That's how we say it in New York," Schumer said.
A notable highlight for the Bad News Babes was Walter's one run and two RBIs. Carrie Budoff Brown (Politico) pitched the entire game. She had had four walks and gave away 14 hits without making a strikeout.
Pitcher Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) had a particularly strong showing. In what the announcers called "the best game of her career," Gillibrand had three hits, the most of any player, and an RBI double that put the lawmakers on the scoreboard. She pitched for six and a third innings, and struck out three batters.
This was no pickup softball game.
“We meet in January to begin planning the game,” Kate Yglesias Houghton, co-chair of the 2013 organizing committee, said during a pregame press conference.
As game day approached, the congressional team held practices from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. three times a week. Ben Gerdes, the game's spokesman and press secretary for Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), said it was not uncommon for members to rush after practice to make a breakfast by 8:45 a.m., or a committee hearing by 9:30 a.m.
"I think a lot of people think [the members] just show up and play softball, but actually these women take the game so seriously," Gerdes said. "These women, they practice when the sun comes up, and then they go to work.”
For the past few weeks, Twitter has been the outlet of choice for players to trash-talk the opposing team.
On Monday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) tweeted at press corps members a picture of a destroyed softball with the hashtags #beafraid, #beveryafraid. Instead of recoiling, Huffington Post reporter Jen Bendery shot back, “it doesn't count when you have your kids unravel the stitching. #BeatCongress.”
The annual rivalry between the lawmakers and press corps began in 2009, when Wasserman Schultz asked former Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and her congressional colleagues to help take her personal fight against breast cancer to a new level by playing in a softball game.
“I needed an outlet to show cancer that it messed with the wrong person,” Wasserman Schultz said before the game.
The following year, members asked women of the D.C. press corps to join in the competition, and a Washington tradition was born.
From the pink uniforms to the press releases, it is evident this game is about raising breast cancer awareness. Though the game is friendly, the fundraising is serious. This year’s matchup raised $115,000 for the Young Survival Coalition, an advocacy organization that provides programs and resources for young women that have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, one in 14 women is under the age of 40 when diagnosed with breast cancer, and one in eight women is younger than 45 when they receive their diagnosis. The Young Survival Coalition works with these young women to ensure their needs are met before, during, and after they have received their diagnoses.
In the game’s five years, it has raised more than$250,000 for the organization, and this year’s total surpasses the $62,000 the game raised last year.
This year’s event has additional personal significance for Wasserman Schultz: it marks five years the congresswoman has been cancer-free.
Lawmakers on the team were able to table partisan differences in an increasingly divided Washington to wage a battle with cancer.
“Washington is a place that's as broken as can be, but not here on the field. It's bipartisan, we get to know each other, not only as teammates but as friends,” Gillibrand said before the game.
“The other day at practice -- I won’t name names -- but one of the Democratic women members, who is a new member, was playing on the team, actually had to be told that the Republican women members that play on the team were Republican," Wasserman Schultz said.
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