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A different political base: Giffords, Sinema suit up for charity softball

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WASHINGTON – Maybe it was the flawless ceremonial first pitch by former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that did the trick.

Something happened to turn around the fortunes of congressional women, who broke a four-year losing streak and beat women members of the Washington press corps in a charity softball game Wednesday.

The final score was 10-5, but players on both sides said the more important number was $175,000 – the amount this year’s version of the game raised to help breast-cancer victims.

“We are playing to support young women with cancer,” said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix. “We beat our fundraising goal and we are helping more young women with cancer than ever.”

Sinema, a self-described “not very good softball player,” spent most of the game on the congressional bench, only getting called in as a pinch runner after Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., pulled a hamstring on the base paths.

Sinema subsequently scored and played right field in the seventh, but “thankfully” didn’t have any balls come her way.

But the star of the Arizona delegation on this steamy Washington evening was not even a current member of the Arizona delegation.

Members of both teams flooded the field to cheer Giffords as she walked out in front of a crowd of 1,500 at Watkins Recreation Center in Southeast Washington.

Giffords, wearing the hot-pink jersey of the congressional women, was handed a hot-pink ball covered with signatures of breast-cancer survivors. She handed off her cane, put on a smile and tossed a nearly flawless first pitch to Wasserman Schultz.

“I have played a lot of catch in my years of playing softball, but catching Gabby’s first pitch was the best snag ever,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement from her office Thursday.

Giffords, who had played when she was in Congress, stayed for the first few innings, cheering the lawmakers from their dugout.

Giffords is still recovering from injuries she received in a 2011 shooting spree in Tucson that killed six people and wounded her and 12 others.

For Jennifer Merschdorf, CEO of the Young Survival Coalition, that makes Giffords a survivor, too. The coalition was the beneficiary of Wednesday’s game.

“It means something,” Merschdorf said of Giffords’ presence. “We in the country look up to her strength.”

The nonprofit coalition works to provide help and support to young women battling breast cancer. The cause helped take some of the sting out of the loss for the Bad News Babes, winners of four of the first five games.

“Win or lose, it’s just a great game,” said Caitlin Huey-Burns, a reporter for Real Clear Politics, shortly after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi handed the game trophy to her congressional colleagues.