Spectrum News: Padilla to take the mound for Democrats in Congressional baseball game debut

By Cassie Semyon

When the Democrats take the field Wednesday night to face off against Republicans in the Congressional Baseball Game, they will have a rookie taking the mound.

He’s not new to Capitol Hill, or even baseball. In fact, he played from little league through high school, and even pitched for a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But Republicans have never faced Sen. Alex Padilla in the batter’s box.

“He’s 6’ 5”, pitched through high school, they took their team to the championship one year, so he can pitch. So they better be ready,” warned Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif.

Padilla has been a longtime prospect for Democratic scouts.

“We’ve been trying to get him to play for so many years,” Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif. lamented.

But Padilla was, at first, a little resistant.

“Year one was just intense transition, as everybody knows,” said Padilla of his appointment by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021 to fill the seat vacated by Vice President Kamala Harris. “My second year, I was on the ballot seeking a full six-year term, so I was a little too busy for the game, as good of a cause as it’s for.”

Each year, the game raises money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Literacy Center and the Washington Nationals Philanthropies along with the United States Capitol Police Memorial Fund.

But this year, Padilla was convinced to don the jersey in part for his friend, Cárdenas.

“This being Cárdenas’ final year in the House of Representatives before he retires, it’s our last chance to play on the team together. So, here we are, trying to act like kids again.”

Cárdenas and Padilla have a long history together, both politically and personally. Both men grew up in Pacoima just down the block from each other. The son of immigrants, Cárdenas graduated from San Fernando High School in 1981, while Padilla would graduate nine years later.

Then, in 1996, Cárdenas hired Padilla to run his campaign for State Assembly. Cárdenas went to Sacramento.

“My first hire when I ran for office in 1996 was Alex Padilla,” said Cárdenas, standing on the first base line at practice. “We grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same elementary school, same high school. And so he’s up here, I’m up here, he’s in the Senate. I’m in the House. But this is the first time we’re going to play together in this fun game, and I can tell he’s having a good time.”

“We’re just so happy and rooting for him, playing, on the mound or first base or wherever he plays,” said Ruiz. “He’s a great senator, he’s a great ballplayer.”

When we caught up with Padilla, he had just finished throwing pitches to some of his California colleagues. He said he’s “been living vicariously through [his] kids last couple of years helping coach Little League,” but this will be the first time he will return to the mound since hanging up his jersey. It will also be the first time his sons will see their dad play ball.

“Oh, the pressure!” he decried, putting his hands to the side of his face.

“I think goal number one, don’t get hurt. My wife is big on that,” said Padilla of the strategy heading into the game. “I don’t think anybody will confuse me for Nolan Ryan or Fernando Valenzuela. We’re just trying to keep it in the strike zone.”

California is well represented on the Democrats team, with nine members from the Golden State on the roster and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., coaching. No California Republicans are playing on the team this year.

“T​​his is the highlight of the year for a lot of us. We come out to play ball and to enjoy this sport and each other’s company,” said Ruiz of taking to the diamond with his Golden State colleagues.

Started in 1909, the baseball game has become a summertime tradition of the beltway. Republicans have defeated the Democrats for the last three years in a row, and Democrats are looking for revenge.

Perhaps no one has a stronger desire to win than the rookie.

“We’re going to have to reclaim Democratic glory on the baseball field, so we’ll do everything we can to bring the trophy home,” said Padilla.

First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST and will be broadcast live on FS1.

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