As a kid, Lou Barletta dreamed of roaming center field for the New York Yankees like his idol, Mickey Mantle.
His dream fizzled, but Lou Barletta will prove on Thursday you can sometimes realize unfulfilled dreams in ways you never imagined.
As the 11th District congressman from Pennsylvania, he will step onto the diamond at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., to play center field or pitch.
Lou Barletta will play for the Republicans against the Democrats in the 74th Congressional Baseball Game in the park where the Washington Nationals play Major League Baseball. Though he will finally play in a Major League ballpark, the stars in his eyes are gone, the view more realistic.
“If I should be lucky enough to hit a home run, I think I can get on a better committee next year. So this could be good for our area,” he laughs.
Life is funny that way. You start out as a kid thinking anything is possible, but that isn’t always true.
“I never talked about it to other people, but … I believed I was going to play in the major leagues,” he said.
A switch-hitter, he played on the same Hazleton High School team that featured future Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon as starting catcher. Barletta, not a great high school player, turned into an all-star in summertime Babe Ruth League Baseball.
After high school, he was at Bloomsburg State College when the Cincinnati Reds wrote him a letter, inviting him to a “special tryout” in Tampa, Fla., in February 1978. A Reds scout had seen him play.
To prepare for the tryout, he traveled to Boca Raton, Fla., to attend a baseball school, now known as the Bucky Dent Baseball Academy after its owner, famed Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent, who hit a legendary three-run homer against the Boston Red Sox later that year.
School players who played on the academy team sometimes were invited to join an actual Class A minor league team, but Barletta decided to head for the overlapping Reds tryout.
“In hindsight, I might have had a better chance had I stayed and played for that team than try out for Cincinnati, because Cincinnati didn’t need any outfielders,” he said.
Two years earlier, the Reds won the World Series with what is considered one of baseball’s greatest teams. Their outfield was loaded with .300 hitters – George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Ken Griffey Sr.
The tryout arrived and suddenly Barletta was competing with 65 players from across the country.
“You may think you’re a good ballplayer in an area that you’re playing until you see kids from around the country and you see how good talent is around the country,” he said. “There were kids who could throw farther than me, who could hit farther than I could.”
He was blazing fast. His tryout time from home plate to first was measured at 3.7 seconds. Above average home-to-first speed for a left-handed major league hitter is 4.1 seconds, according to a baseball website.
The Reds loved his speed, but with all those outfielders suggested he try out with Toronto or Seattle, which had just come into existence and were just starting their minor league systems.
“I threw my glove in the trunk and went home,” he said.
It is a surrender he regrets.
“I was disappointed because I always thought I was going to make it and when I didn’t, you know, I doubted whether I was good enough,” he said.
For a while, he played fast-pitch softball with Maddon on a team called the Young Man’s Polish Association (YMPA). Maddon went on to college, played minor league baseball, became a major league coach and took the Rays to the World Series.
Barletta kept playing for the fast-pitch team, which once finished fourth in a national championship tournament. Mostly, he got on with real life.
He skipped finishing college, went to work for his family’s construction business, raised four daughters with his wife, Mary Grace. The Barlettas started a successful road-line-painting business they eventually sold for a lot of money.
He won a city council seat, then three terms as mayor. He lost twice for Congress, but never gave up – as he did once a long time ago – and finally won the seat last year.
These days, he joins fellow Republicans at 7 a.m. practices that started more than a month ago. The back of his leg is now black and Yankee blue.
“I pulled a hamstring muscle because I’m old,” Mr. Barletta, 55, said.
Barletta denies with a chuckle that he only ran for Congress because he wanted to step onto a Major League field.
“But I think it’s true that some of the members there only wanted me to run for Congress because they wanted me on the baseball team,” he said. “It’s going to be great.”