In Washington, the hot, final days of summer beckon Capitol Hill staffers back to work.
The end of summer also offers one final chance to settle the great issues of the day -- on the softball diamond.
For the past three weeks, the championship softball tournament of the Congressional League's B conference, its 64 teams include about 1,400 players from Senate and House staffs, political think tanks, lobbies, federal agencies and the media, has been aging nightly on the Andrews and Bolling Air Force softball fields as well as the Anacostia Naval Yard fields.
The four finalists which entered play this week were The Circuit Breakers (Circuit Court of Appeals), the LEAA (Law Enforcement Adminstration Agency), the Third Strike Capability office of Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Calif.) and the Free Traders (Office of the Trade Representative).
Last year's champions, the Outhouse Gang, a team of White House staff members from the Ford administration, lost in the quarterfinals. The Blue Mirror team from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, with a reputation for intense play, vetoed the Outhouse effort, but was later eliminated.
For some teams, like the Indiana Schmenge's, just being in the tournament was thrill enough.
"We started only this year and we were just psyched to make it to the playoffs," said Tamara Browne, a legislative director for Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and assistant coach of the Schmenge's."Okay, Schmenge's, you can do it!" Browne periodically shouted to her team from behind the backstop, but to no avail. The Schmenge's suffered an 8-2 loss to the Mississippi Mudcats.
Fans rooted, booed and cheered from the wooden bleachers, where the coolers of sandwiches, sodas and beer were easily reachable.
The Congressional B Conference is not so serious. It is known for its postgame beer drinking.
There are a number of B teams known for their tough play, like the Outhouse Gang, Blue Mirror, Free Traders and the Obstructionist Running Dogs, an unusual mixture of Republican National Congressional Campaign workers and House Democrat staff members.
The A Conference, considered to have more skilled players, began its tournament last week and will continue through the end of the month.
Political rivalries sometimes make the games especially competitive. When the National Association of Manufacturers played the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the two business lobbying groups were ready for a war of attrition. Stephen Sibert, who works in political and government policy for the Chamber, explained, "We're competitive with N.A.M. on and off the field. Our memberships are interlocked." Chamber won, 11-5.
But all is fair in love and softball. Chamber of Commerce player Andrea Peligrino, who works in marketing for the Chamber's capital campaign, said that two players who met on her team are planning to get married. "He played third base and she was the pitcher," Peligrino said.
Surprisingly, partisan politics are not always a factor in the Congressional League, as the teams tend to set up games with teams from offices they know and like.
"Two seasons ago we played a Republican team," said Carol Galloway from the Third Strike Capability. "It was good fun. But usually we try to play fellow Democratic members."
Fellow Third Striker Kathleen Ferris said, "If the team has a funny name we try to play them." Some of the teams go by names that give no clue about their membership or what political stances they might take. While the Minnesota Knee-Jerk Liberals is an obvious appellation, others, like Kostmayer's Crotch Kickers, are more elusive.
Galloway added that some teams are not what they would seem. "The National Association of Realtors turned out to be a lot of fun . . . we thought they would be deadly serious," she said.
Congressional B Conference teams not only arrange their own schedules for the season -- which usually include about 14 games -- they also umpire their own games until tournament time. Most teams practice once or twice a week. B teams also don't call balls and strikes until the playoffs.
Players report they don't find a problem calling their own games, with some notable exceptions. Ferris said, "Once a certain member of Congress was playing and he didn't like a call. Someone from our team was afraid he'd get overruled, and the congressman was really putting up a fight about this."
The congressman gave in. "When they're out here on the field," Galloway said as she pointed the softball diamond behind her, "they're just another player."