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Once again, Congressional Baseball Game brings bi-partisanship to D.C.

Once again, Congressional Baseball Game brings bi-partisanship to D.C.

WASHINGTON – There’s one day a year where members of Congress put down their pens, hang up their ties and travel a mile south of Capitol Hill to pick up a bat and a glove. No, it is not debate night, rather the annual Congressional Baseball Game between Republicans and Democrats.

A June staple for politicians and government employees alike, the game represents rare bi-partisan cooperation in Washington D.C. In the event, which has taken place nearly every year since 1909 and has been at Nationals Park since 2008, Republican Congress members take on Democratic Congress members in a once-a-year celebration and raise money for charity.

In the 2019 edition the Republicans were prim and proper, all wearing the same red-and-white uniforms––red shirts with white numbers and white pants––to match their party’s colors. In the opposite dugout, the Democrats all paid homage to their local communities. Each wore a unique jersey from a semi-professional baseball team in or near their district.

Like in the Capitol, those donning red sat on the right of home plate and those sporting blue were on the left, fans and players alike. Although it was billed as bi-partisan, the cheers were far from it, as was the final score of the ball game. The Democrats ran away with it for the third year in a row 14-7, tying the all-time record between the two parties.

Each top halves of innings saw the right side of the park roar and the bottom half witnessed several waves from blue flags and celebratory whoops.

There was one time the cheers were unified across Nationals Park. When Steve Scalise (R-La.) stepped into the batter’s box to lead off the ball game the crowd collectively rose for a standing ovation.

Scalise, who was shot two years ago at a practice for the 2017 event, has become the focus of the game for the past two years. In 2018 he made an emotional return to the field in the midst of his recovery and was able to record an early out before being replaced on the field.

This year the right-handed batter proudly started the game off swinging on a dropped strike three. A runner playing in his spot made it to first before the throw.

“I’ve come a long way since last year. I could barely move, I literally had no lateral movement,” Scalise said to a pool of reporters pregame. “I’m here to help win the game; hopefully they don’t need me to be a pinch-runner. That probably wouldn’t be a good sign.”

Sending a teammate to first base allowed the Republicans to start the game off with three runs in the first frame. It was the only lead the red-wearing team would have.

And in an uncommon fashion, all members of Congress were able to leave a joint session feeling accomplished. No matter the result, together they raised $1.3 million for local charities. Fathers and mothers were able to play games of catch on a baseball diamond. Any frustrations from prior weeks in the House were able to be safely displayed in an appropriate manner.

But like Republican Andy Biggs (Az.) said, it is a “one-game season,” and despite a spirited sixth inning comeback attempt, this season was won by the Democrats.

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So far, so good for the Fernando Rodney Experience in Washington

So far, so good for the Fernando Rodney Experience in Washington

BALTIMORE -- Stories about Fernando Rodney are believable because they include Fernando Rodney, owner of The Lucky Plantain, dancer, reliever, impressionist, baseball’s oldest active player.

Was he once locked in the bullpen bathroom at Oakland Coliseum for two innings, almost missing a save opportunity? Maybe. Someone had heard that. They were going to ask. Did he once try to convince a coach to let him fly to the Dominican Republic for a single off-day? Probably, because, why not? Does he bark at teammates? Yes. Confirmed. Multiple times over.

All of these things -- the mystery, light-heartedness, 17 years as a reliever -- come together with his pitching to form what’s become known as the FRE: Fernando Rodney Experience. 

Rodney is 42 years old. He expected to pitch this year, but not for the Nationals. Season 17 started in Oakland. It did not go well. Rodney did not pitch often, he walked almost as many as he struck out and the A’s let him go May 28. Six days later he signed with the Nationals.

They needed to talk first. Manager Davey Martinez asked Rodney what was wrong in Oakland. They knew each other from Rodney’s 2012 peak in Tampa Bay, when Rodney put together a devastating season: 0.60 ERA, 48 saves, 76 strikeouts, 15 walks, 43 hits allowed, 641 ERA-plus (for a comparison point, Mariano River’s best single-season ERA-plus was 316). So, Martinez was aware of what Rodney could do at his best. The question was what could he do now? Was he finally burned up after all these years? Rodney threw his 16,000th major league pitch this season. What could be left in there?

Martinez knew if Rodney had anything near his career normal (3.84 ERA), the Nationals had a space for him. He explained pitching irregularly in Oakland was the culprit. Martinez told him lack of frequency would not be an issue in Washington. So, Rodney packed for Fresno.

Rodney was back on a major-league mound less than three weeks later. Martinez immediately began using him in high-leverage situations in the eighth or ninth inning. And, Rodney looked like himself: nothing easy, nothing stressful (for him), a changeup that travels like a river bends and a mid-90s fastball. He is prone to putting a runner on base. He is also as likely to get out of it. Such is his pitching life for almost 20 years.

“Kind of an erratic-type good pitcher,” Brian Dozier said. “He’s not always going to paint, paint, paint. Changeups are effective.”

This is not an insult. Martinez has mentioned Rodney’s propensity to allow baserunners and his big-league life proves it to be true. Rodney has allowed a hit or walk in 28.8 percent of his 920 big-league appearances. He has thrown 9,910 strikes and 6,172 balls, according to Fangraphs. The only thing typically easy about a Rodney appearance is his trip to the mound in the bullpen cart.

His fastball speed fluctuates -- on purpose. Last year in Minnesota, he began throwing a two-seam fastball more often to go with his four-seam fastball and changeup. Since joining Washington, Rodney has thrown 99 mph, stating afterward, “Sometimes you have to let the hitter know.”

That sentence made closer Sean Doolittle laugh out loud. “Love it,” he said. Dozier giggled, too. These are common reactions around Rodney.

Wednesday in Baltimore, he explained his view of marital challenges to Justin Miller (and a reporter). Who knows what portion of what was said is true, but he was having fun, Miller was laughing, so off he went.

Rodney has six children -- four boys, two girls (“lots of rice and beans,” he says) -- and uses as many voices when speaking. He doesn’t change tense, he changes the sound. Why? Why not?

“What I love [laughs], I love how he does a lot of different voices,” Dozier, who was also teammates with Rodney in Minnesota, said. “He’ll come in one day talking like somebody and spend the whole day talking like that. He’ll do these different voices all the time.

"Some people think he’s serious, but nothing’s really serious that he talks about. It’s so light. He’s an interesting cat. He’s an amazing teammate. What I love about him in that regard is, he’ll pitch six days in a row if you allow him to.” 

Rodney’s regular voice is deep and he is husky. His new teammates have been impressed by his power in the weight room, and those who did not know him prior weren’t sure about his approachability because he is a stern physical figure at 5-foot-11, 240 pounds. Any concern quickly melts when Rodney starts to joke in Spanish or is walking to left field at Citizens Bank Park shimmying to K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “My Boogie Shoes”, a dance routine which ends with him hopping into the air for a final kick. This is not someone here to menace.

Why so much fun? Why not? Rodney has made nearly $50 million living the volatile life of a major-league reliever. It beats the hard work his father put in fighting the elements as a fisherman in the Dominican Republic. As the sun rotated during the day, so did his hat, starting a natural-born trend his son carried into the major leagues. Rodney also thinks the askew lid makes a runner on first think he is looking that way when he is not. So, there’s that, too.

He feels well. The years haven’t dampened his spirit or fastball much. Maybe one more in the major leagues, he thinks. Then off to Miami with the kids. They like to play baseball in the Dominican Republic and Rodney is ready to be an out-of-the-ordinary shuttle service. 

“I think that’s a blessing,” he said.

For now, his 2.84 ERA in early work for the Nationals has him occupied. Rodney can be seen daily with a neon green ball about the size of a softball. He throws it off the outfield wall to help his grip of a normal-sized baseball be “more powerful.” He’s advised Wander Suero on his changeup. The veteran relievers have crossed paths with him somewhere along the line. They respect his work.

He could have stopped. But, he loves baseball. He loves pitching. Rodney debuted May 4, 2002. For him, there has been nothing else. Not yet.

“I feel today like 29,” Rodney said. “Feel good. My body feel good. A lot of rice and beans. A lot of fish. A lot of meat. Milk. Over medium eggs.”

Then he laughed, because why not?

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Nationals Roundup: Nats' bullpen spoils Erick Fedde's economical outing

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Nationals Roundup: Nats' bullpen spoils Erick Fedde's economical outing

The Battle of the Beltway Series finale didn't go as planned for the Nationals in Baltimore Wednesday night. Washington settles for a series split and falls to 50-44 following its 9-2 loss to the Orioles. 

Consider these news and notes as Davey Martinez's club heads south for a pivotal four-game weekend series in Atlanta. 

Player Notes:

Can you say economical? Erick Fedde cruised through six innings inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards on just 66 pitches (40 strikes). The 26-year-old surrendered just one run on five hits while striking out two. 

Very quietly, Adam Eaton is hitting .330 over his last 29 games and has reached base safely in 73 of 89 games in 2019. His third-inning sacrifice fly brought in Victor Robles, and a fifth-inning double -- his 12th of the season -- brought in Trea Turner. 

To put it quite simply, the Nationals' bullpen imploded Wednesday night following Fedde's exit. Wander Suero recorded just one out while allowing three runs, three hits and walking one Oriole. Just nine of his 19 pitches were thrown for strikes. Javy Guerra and Matt Grace then went on to allow a combined three runs on six hits, and Baltimore never looked back.  

Injuries: 

SP Max Scherzer: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Jonny Venters: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 18

SP Jeremy Hellickson: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Justin Miller: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 16

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, Expected to be out until at least Aug 7

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 17

Coming Up:

Thursday 7/18: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park

Friday 7/19: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Saturday 7/20: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

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