The D.C. mayor’s calendar is jammed as he contends with the sprawling complexities of managing the city, not to mention a scandal that has made the question of his political survival the topic of casual speculation.
But on this night, his attention was on the D.C. Dragons, the slow-pitch softball team for which he has played and coached for more than two decades and that was chasing another championship.
Softball for the mayor, at 69, remains what it has been for decades, a joyous excursion from the pressures of work and a source of not-inconsiderable regret.
As his security team drove him to a field beneath the Southwest Freeway, the mayor transformed from a jargon-laden bureaucrat into a gum-chewing ballplayer. He thought about whom he’d assign to bat fifth in the lineup and fretted over whether the Dragons would advance to the semifinals. He laced up his size 11 cleats.
“This is not a league where people show up and say, ‘We brought the picnic basket,’ ” he said. “Oh no. They come to win.”
None more so, perhaps, than the mayor, who said that umpires twice have ejected him over the years for arguing calls. A few weeks ago, after the Dragons gave up seven runs in the third inning, Gray ordered his players into a huddle and suggested in no uncertain terms that they extricate their heads from their you-know-whats.
“Vince can get a little feisty,” said Tracy Proctor, a Dragon for more than a decade.
The team’s pitcher works as a letter carrier, the left fielder as a Justice Department lawyer, the catcher as an auto mechanic. The shortstop is a police officer on the mayor’s security detail. A handful of Dragons are at least 40 years younger than Gray, who is the oldest player in the Department of Parks and Recreation league. His teammates call him Vince, or mayor or sometimes “sir.”
They cheer him when he’s at bat and smirk when he doesn’t bend low enough to scoop throws at first. They do not bring up what they read in the newspapers — the federal investigation into his campaign, the three associates who have pleaded guilty to campaign-related crimes, the D.C. Council members who have demanded his resignation.
“This is his sanctuary,” said Jerome Bracey, 47, a Dragon for 20 years. “This is his little bubble where he can forget everything.”
Except when someone won’t let him.
In the top of the first inning Wednesday, the mayor, a lefty, stepped up to the plate and struck out swinging. As he walked back to the dugout, a spectator shouted, “Sulaimon Brown Three!,” a taunting reference to a former mayoral candidate whose allegations started Gray’s troubles.
A few innings later, the mayor slapped a single to right, driving in two Dragons as the team advanced to the next round. Afterward, as the clock neared midnight, he returned to his office to work for a couple more hours at his desk, still in uniform, cap on, his batting gloves stuffed in his back pocket.