Perhaps it was the martini glass that appears on the left shoulder of their blue shirts. Perhaps it was the endless cheering from the bench. Or perhaps it was the leadership of a veteran tournament manager. But there were no perhapses about the final result.
Julio's is the champ.
A team representing this saloon on Capitol Hill captured the trophy last Saturday in the Fifth Annual Think Tank Softball Tournament. As always, this daylong softball-fest benefitted Send a Kid to Camp, the fund-raiser I spearhead each summer. And as always, despite rain, clingy clouds, warm beer and the occasional dropped pop-up, a good time was had by all.
Julio's walked off with the title by beating a spirited team from the Congressional Research Service, 10-0, in the final game.
Left fielder John Kendrick was the star of the show for Julio's. His double in the bottom of the third inning blew open what had been a close game until that point. Then he bashed a two-run home run to deep left field one inning later to put matters out of reach.
While legging out his homer, John pulled a thigh muscle as he rounded second base. But he limped his way around and barely beat the throw home. It was the sort of gutty effort that Julio's got all day long.
Winning Julio's pitcher Ben Haddad allowed CRS only four hits in the final game. The first and hardest was a single to left-center by CRS pitcher and coach Denny Snook, whose hurling had seen CRS through four victories earlier in the day.
Julio's manager Rocky Vaughan chalked up his team's success to "a lot of good luck and a good team that plays behind you." Meanwhile, his squad was celebrating the way a team should when it represents a bar: with high spirits and ample suds. Looking on impassively, as always, was the coveted traditional tournament trophy, "Thinkie," a replica of Rodin's famous statue, "The Thinker."
Julio's, whose team consists of Hill staffers, lobbyists and other assorted cogs in the local political wheel, had little trouble early in the day. They whomped their first three opponents by a combined score of 38-0.
But in the semifinals, Gene Karpinski's squad from the Public Interest Research Group nearly notched the upset of the day.
Down by 4-0, PIRG got to within 4-2 in the bottom of the final inning, and had the bases loaded with two outs. A hit would probably have tied the game. Two hits would probably have won it.
But the final PIRG hitter struck out. PIRG was left in PIRG-atory, and Julio's was safely into the finals.
Based on past history, CRS was an unlikely opponent. In four previous tournament appearances, the Sourcerers (so named because of all the sourcing they provide to members of Congress) had never won a game, much less had a chance to go for the gold. But on Saturday, they proved that slow-pitch softball can be a streaky, unpredictable affair. CRS captured four games in a row, by scores of 5-3, 9-0, 4-0 and 4-0.
Another team that had never won a Think Tank game managed to taste victory, too. Dechert, Price & Rhoads, the local office of a Philadelphia law firm, knocked off Pacific Sierra Research in the first round, 13-1, before falling to the Brookings Institution, 8-2, in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, there must have been something in the water for previously successful teams.
Two former Think Tank winners -- the Republican National Committee and Hogan & Hartson -- were defeated in the first round. Another former champ, the Congressional Budget Office, fell in the second round. At the same time, last year's losing finalist, Engineering Research Associates, also fell in its opening game. And the perennial contenders from The Heritage Foundation failed to get past the semifinals.
Rocky Vaughan had been the manager of that victorious RNC team. Since leaving his job at the RNC, Rocky has recruited some of the mainstays from his old squad, added some of their friends and mixed in some other people who obviously just love to play softball (and who know how). The result is Julio's -- a Think Tank winner that deserved to be.
Congratulations to the entire Julio's roster (Susie Deller, Joe Wynn, Peggy O'Connor, Rich Hansen, Paul Boanton, Nancy Campbell, Mary Ann Dittmer, Gregg Shallan, David Kimball, Tom Burke, Peter Gourlay, Laura Arnold, Janis Budge, Blake Junghens, Dan Steadley, Lisa Burgess, Mike Roberts and John Ashworth, in addition to those already named). Special thanks to St. John's College High School for the use of their softball fields. Extra-special thanks to Mark Ziebarth (father of future star third baseman Jonathan) for his help in organizing and running things.
But the biggest thanks of all go to the 24 teams that took part. Because of you generous folks, our camp fund is almost $4,000 richer. That money will send 11 of our scheduled 1,100 campers to the Virginia countryside later this summer. We appreciate the help. The kids do, too.