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Hardball in D.C.: Flake suits up for congressional baseball game

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WASHINGTON – Democrat vs. Republican. It sounds like the definition of partisanship, but Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., hopes Thursday’s congressional baseball game can show the way to greater bipartisanship in Washington.

“The basic trend in Washington is to spend less time together across the aisle. This is one area members can get together and do what we ought to do,” Flake said.

So the freshman senator donned an Arizona Diamondbacks uniform to play third base as the Republicans faced off against their Democratic colleagues Thursday at Nationals Park under cloudy skies.

The game is “one of the best institutions in Congress,” said Flake, who has played every year since he was elected to Congress in 2000.

Besides, he said, “It’s a chance to beat up on Democrats legally.”

The Congressional Baseball Game for Charity was started in 1909 by Rep. John Tener, R-Pa., and played off and on through wars and hard times until 1962, when it started to be played annually.

“In the 1920s, the game had a little bit of a circus atmosphere,” said Matthew Wasniewski, historian for the House of Representatives. “Republicans would show up on the back of an elephant.”

When asked if he would show up this year on an elephant, Flake simply said, “No, I think I’ll be there in my cap.”

Proceeds from the game go to three D.C.-area charities: the Washington Literacy Center, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation. This year’s game raised more than $300,000 for the charities, according to organizers.

Flake, who has played left field, center and third base in previous congressional games, was playing his first game as a senator and was joined on the Republican team by another freshman, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Freshmen Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Chris Murphy of Connecticut played for the Democrats, with the rest of the teams filled out by House members.

“I hope there’s a little senatorial courtesy – maybe throw the ball a little slower,” Flake said of his first game appearance as a senator.

Despite his hopes for bipartisanship, Flake did not hesitate when asked who he thought would win.

“This is a Republican year, as long as this weather clears up,” he said of the stormy Washington weather, “which is clearly a Democratic conspiracy.”

Flake offered up a secret pregame strategy to beat the Democrats, who have topped the Republicans four years in a row.

“Score more runs than they do,” he said.

He played a respectable game, getting a hit before getting picked off base and helping turn a double play, among other plays. But his pregame strategy didn’t work out quite like he planned: The Democrats posted a 22-0 win for their fifth straight victory.