By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Will Kline never had a problem seeing himself making an impact in the Big Leagues. As the 65th pick in the 2007 draft, the dream was within his grasp.
The reality, though, has varied greatly from the vision.
His new teammates are United States senators and representatives, and while the field is Major League Baseball – tonight at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. – Kline will be in the dugout, not in the lineup.
A Tupelo native and the ace of the Ole Miss staff, Kline helped pitch the Rebels into a super regional at Arizona State in 2007.
He was drafted by Tampa Bay with the first pick of the second round, but shoulder surgery kept his career from getting off the ground, and for three years Kline worked to return to his previous level of dominating hitters with his change-up and location.
He never made it back, but now is doing his best to help others – government leaders, some approaching 60 years old – do the dominating.
Kline says he’s been impressed with the physical condition and hand-eye coordination of many of his players. He calls Rep. Kevin Brady, 57, of Houston, Texas, “a force to be reckoned with in Congressional baseball.”
Kline, 27, is really enjoying his unique opportunity.
“With what little bit I know about the legislative body here in the United States, to get to do something like I’m doing right now, with my background in baseball sort of as a catalyst to that, it’s like it’s all come full circle,” he said. “It’s crazy to me that I get to go spend time with sitting members of Congress in such a relaxed setting, sort of in my territory now, where I’m comfortable between those lines.”
Members of Congress have played a once-a-summer baseball game – not softball – since 1909. It’s Democrats vs. Republicans, and only members get to play.
Kline, a legislative aide to Sen. Roger Wicker, is an assistant coach for the Republicans, who enter on a three-game losing streak.
While the game’s roots are in fun and fellowship – It also supports D.C.-area charities – winning and losing are quite important to its participants and followers.
“We take it very seriously,” Rep. Alan Nunnelee says.
back in the game
So as news of the presence of a former elite college pitcher, a near first-round draft pick spread about The Hill, Kline was soon back in the game.
“I didn’t think I’d ever put a glove on again,” Kline said. “Some people on The Hill caught wind that I was in town and had a baseball background.”
Kline describes himself as just “helping” with practices. The head coach for the Republicans is Rep. Joe Barton from Texas’ sixth district.
Kline offers instruction on hitting, fielding, bunt defense and the like, but his most important role is to give the Republicans a glimpse of Cedric Richmond.
Richmond, 38, is a representative from Louisiana’s second district, New Orleans. He wasn’t a second-round draft pick, but he pitched at Morehouse College.
“He could run it up there pretty good velocity wise, and the night they played one another happened to be his night. He really shut down the Republican bats, so they’ve asked me to kind of emulate what they may see,” Kline said.
Nunnelee, an avid baseball fan and former park and rec coach in Tupelo, said it was past the sixth innings before the Republicans got a hit off Richmond last year.
“We told the Democrats that if Mitt Romney wins, we’re going to make sure Cedric gets a big appointment to get him out of Congress,” Nunnelee said.
Really helping the Republicans requires Kline to get back on the mound. He says he’s limiting himself to 40 pitches per practice.
While instructing the Republican pitchers, Kline has to consider the competitive nature of this friendly pick-up game. If there are high-and-tight fastballs thrown by the GOP it won’t be because that’s how they were coached.
“We’re dealing with members of the US Congress. I tell them just to be careful. What you’re flirting with is dangerous, and there’s a fine line there. Anything can happen if you end up throwing one really high and tight on one of your counterparts from across the aisle, so let’s just try to pound the strike zone,” Kline said.