Race Plays Out on Congressional Baseball Game Field

by Nathan L. Gonzales June 12, 2015 · 2:27 PM EDT

Next year’s Florida Senate race is a high-stakes contest that could impact Roll Call Congressional Baseball Games for years to come. It may also decide the Senate majority in the next Congress.

Both parties are at risk of losing one of their youngest and most experienced players, since Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy and GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis are giving up their Florida House seats in order to run for Republican Marco Rubio’s open Senate seat. At least one member will lose and won’t be available for the 56th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game in 2017.

Murphy represents a politically competitive 18th District. He scared off his strongest challengers in 2014 with a dominating fundraising performance, but the congressman now is risking his increasingly safe House seat for a chance to switch chambers.

“It’s every boy’s childhood dream to play at a major-league stadium,” Murphy told CQ Roll Call about getting to play at Nationals Park in the 54th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game Thursday. “But at the end of the day, it’s about getting things done and solving problems. I think I can do that in the Senate.”

Murphy has been a key cog in the Democrats’ offensive machine since he was elected in 2012. The 32-year-old Miami native has gone 3 for 5 (including two doubles) with three runs scored, four runs batted in and a stolen base while hitting cleanup for a Democratic squad that has scored a combined 37 runs in the past two games.

Looking ahead, Murphy may be most valuable as a hard-throwing insurance policy if Democrats’ star player, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, is slow to return to the mound. The three-term Louisiana congressman has pitched all 27 innings for Democrats in the past four years, racking up 38 strikeouts against 10 walks and a 1.43 ERA. But he underwent surgery before Thanksgiving to repair torn cartilage in his shoulder.

If Richmond can’t start or pitch the entire game this year, Murphy will likely come in from center field to take the mound. As a high school pitcher, Murphy was throwing as hard as 90 miles per hour (along with a slider) and was on his way to pitch at the University of Miami on a scholarship. But he broke his shoulder playing football in the final game of the season. He never recovered enough to compete at a higher level.

After the first two years of Richmond’s domination, DeSantis was supposed to be an infusion talent for the Republican squad. But it’s been a rougher road than he expected.

DeSantis has played with and against major league talent through his career, which also includes playing in the Little League World Series and four years at Yale University, where he was captain his senior year.

But the congressman threw out his shoulder during Republicans’ first practice in 2013 and he came into the 52nd Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game nicked up and nursing arm and leg injuries. “I just didn’t take proper precautions,” said DeSantis, who admitted that he underestimated his then-34-year-old body’s ability to pick up a baseball without preparation and play competitively again.

The Jacksonville native went 0 for 3 against Richmond in Republicans’ 22-0 loss — a “big-time butt-whipping,” as DeSantis called it. “It’s just a terrible feeling, no matter what level, losing a baseball game by that much,” he added. But avenging the loss was delayed when DeSantis decided to have shoulder surgery in early 2014 and didn’t play in last year’s game. As of a couple weeks ago, the congressman still hadn’t thrown a baseball, but he was confident he’d be on the field — somewhere — on Thursday.

DeSantis, now 36, could probably represent the safely Republican 6th District for as long as he wants and help lead Republicans back to baseball relevance. But the two-term congressman is more interested in having an immediate impact on the Hill than on the field.

“You can play in the game, but unless you’re committed to the House for 15 to 20 years, I think you can do more as an individual senator than an individual House member,” DeSantis said, citing freshman Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton as an example. The view of each chamber is a rare point of agreement between the potential Senate foes.

A six-year term allows senators to dive further into the policy weeds and have more time to focus on capturing the coveted Roll Call trophy, although neither man would ever admit the latter. Both teams’ rosters are often dotted with senators who made the jump from the House including, this year, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut. (Former Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign also played during his time.)

Both DeSantis and Murphy are credible contenders for the Florida seat, but each may have to navigate a competitive primary (which will likely be held less than three months after next year’s game) before getting to one of the most competitive general elections in the country.

The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report rates the Florida race as a Tossup. Democrats need a net gain of five Senate seats in 2016 for a majority, and it’s difficult to see the party getting there without taking over Florida.

Depending on the outcomes of the primary and general elections, there is a chance neither DeSantis or Murphy are on a baseball roster in 2017. But with the future of the coveted Roll Call trophy hanging in the balance, spending on the race should exceed $100 million.

[Editor's Note: This story appeared in the program for Thursday's game.]