Let's hope Senate staffers are better at vote-counting than run-counting.
"What's the score?" one policy expert asked during the second inning of a Wednesday night softball game on the National Mall.
Responses from his colleagues varied from 3-5 to 4-5 to 5-4.
"Who's winning?" someone else asked.
Senate staffers, former staffers and interns gathered on the National Mall Wednesday evening for the annual intra-Pennsylvania rivalry that pits Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey -- along with their staffs -- against each other on a softball diamond.
Democrat Casey’s team prevailed 17-11. That tied the series 2-2.
The teams -- Hit It Toomey and Scrantonicity -- are both part of a summer league that pits Senate staffs against each other. Hit It Toomey and Scrantonicity have each played several other staffs already this summer, but Wednesday's game was the one that drew the most players, the most spectators and the most mock trash talk.
“I saw [Sen. Casey] a little earlier. I think he’s shaken up. I’m not sure he’s ready for this,” Mr. Toomey joked in a pre-game “press conference.”
The ribbing is in jest, but the rivalry is real. It’s so intense that staffers decided to chip in to hire a professional umpire from the American Softball Association after disputes over calls in previous games. That’s unusual in the league, except in championship games.
“This is a big deal. It’s our equivalent of a Yankees-Red Sox rivalry,” said Jim Brown, chief of staff from Mr. Casey’s Philadelphia office.
It’s also one of the rare times he finds his boss on the right – right field, that is.
“It’s where all the high-skilled players go,” the self-deprecating Democrat deadpanned.
He’s not that he doesn’t have his share of trophies. When he was a Little Leaguer, he played for a championship team, though he admits that his contribution was a single base-hit in two years of play.
On Wednesday, he had a clean base hit that pushed a teammate home. In the outfield, meanwhile, he was repeatedly saved by a center fielder who snared fly balls that soared past.
“That guy’s getting a promotion tomorrow,” an observer said.
“Yep. Head intern,” joked a staffer.
Mr. Toomey, meanwhile, legged out a grounder to get on base but didn’t score. He had mixed results in the infield, making a nice catch in foul territory and fielding one grounder but missing at least one other.
It was different Toomey, though, that Mr. Casey considered a bigger threat.
That’s 12-year-old Patrick, the Republican senator’s son who was a standout in the 2013 match-up.
“He was good last year and now he’s a little bigger,” Mr. Casey said.
Mr. Casey doesn’t take the game -- or himself -- too seriously.
“I just show up, play badly for one night, and my job is done,” he said. “I find the fewer times I bat the higher our score.”
In the office, Mr. Casey is the boss, but on the field clipboard-wielding policy staffer Jack Groarke is clearly in charge.
“I was close to getting the All-Star coaching gig but I had this commitment already,” he said with mock braggadocio before leading his team to the field.
Hit It Toomey is coached by Theo Merkel, the office’s expert on health policy.
Playing in the league is a longtime tradition for Hill staffers.
Mr. Brown has been playing since the 70s when he was a House committee aide. He first played for the Minish Maulers, named for former New Jersey Sen. Joseph Minish. It was on the softball field that Lynne, a pretty staffer for the Italian embassy who joined the team, caught his eye and, soon after, his heart. Now she is his wife of 31 years.
They are one of at least three couples who married after playing together on the Maulers. All of the marriages have endured, Mr. Brown noted.