One night a year, lawmakers leave their smoke-filled rooms and pick up their bats and gloves for the Congressional Baseball Game, a bipartisan tradition dating back to 1909. The two teams—made up of 22 Democrats and 34 Republicans—will face off at Nationals Park today at 7:05 PM, and at only $10 a ticket, the game bills itself as a “fiscally responsible” evening out. Washingtonian asked writer Nathaniel Rakich, who has covered the event for the New Yorker and Grantland, for some tips on what to enjoy at America’s nerdiest ballgame.
1. Congress members trying really, really hard at the game of baseball
Being on a team is no joke—or at least, the players don’t think so. About a month beforehand, Rakich says, the teams start holding 7 AM practices at least once a week. Nobody grinds harder than Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who’s got big shoes to fill. Back in 1979, his dad, Ron, famously hit the first over-the-fence home run in the history of the game, when it was played at Four Mile Run Park in Alexandria. Rand made his own history in 2015 as the first presidential candidate to compete, but he went 0-for-2 at the plate that night.
2. Famous people sitting next to you
There are just as many reps in the stands as there are on the field, and the game is a rare opportunity for a face-to-face encounter. House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and their ilk tend to sit in the exclusive seats behind the plate, but everyone else is mixed in with the fans. Though sitting presidents don’t usually attend, President Obama did last year—so a POTUS sighting is also possible.
3. The style
When legislators wear things that aren’t suits, it’s both awkward and amazing. The players sport uniforms from high schools or colleges in their home districts, unless they’re looking to make a statement—Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, longtime pitcher for the Democrats (with an 80-mile-per-hour fastball), has been known to wear a Dodgers uniform to honor Jackie Robinson. Off the field, outfits range from matching dorky staff shirts to this goofy outfit on Texas Republican Blake Farenthold.
4. The swag
You’ll want to bring an extra bag to this game, because there’s free stuff everywhere. The event has a ton of sponsors—ranging from known brands like Buffalo Wild Wings to only-on-Capitol-Hill groups like the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association—who give out pens, seat cushions, laptop stickers, and even free beer. At last, you can be the beneficiary of some lobbyist zeal.
5. The crowd
Besides being an attempt at baseball, the game is also a chance to break out your best wonky jokes. Last year, fans turned out with signs like “Winner gets Hillary’s emails” and “Right Swing Conspiracy,” and stadium-wide chants are common. With the election coming up, this year’s Trump signage should be unforgettable.
6. Women playing baseball
Women broke into the Congressional Baseball Game in the 1990s, but this year’s face-off will have exactly one: Linda Sanchez, a Democrat from California. She’s gotten a hit in each of her pinch plate appearances in the past three years, so she’ll be looking to extend the streak. Plus, in honor of Title IX, she wears a nine on her jersey. Slay, girl.
7. Lots of runs
For anyone turned off by baseball’s sometimes glacial pace, the good news is that Congressional pitchers tend to allow more runs than the average MLB player—a few years ago, for example, the Democrats scored 22 runs. Given the players’ hardly perfect fielding skills, this will also be a good chance to see an inside-the-park home run.
8. Money for Charity
Sure, some of the sponsors are sketchy—Petroleum Marketers Association of America, anyone?—but all of their money goes to three DC-based charities, so you can feel okay about it.
It’s a long-running joke that the game’s results predict presidential elections. But lately, it’s been the other way around: The Democrats have been undefeated since President Obama took office in 2009, while Republicans won every game from 2001 to 2008, when George W. Bush was in office.
10. Congress members getting clobbered
Injuries on the field are not uncommon, and past collisions between players have resulted in broken arms and dislocated shoulders. Congressional baseball has something for everyone, Rakich says—even those of us who are fed up with the Hill.