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Iowa Rep. JD Scholten predicts victory for Sioux City baseball team
Iowa Rep. JD Scholten predicts victory for Sioux City baseball team

The Sioux City Explorers were in a bind. Three hours before the Iowa professional baseball team was scheduled to take the field on Saturday, manager Steve Montgomery received word that his starting pitcher for the day was injured. The other pitchers on his roster were exhausted. In desperation, he placed a flurry of calls to local baseball players who could step in as emergency replacements.

Most of those calls went unanswered. Then JD Scholten, a 44-year-old Democratic representative in the Iowa House of Representatives, picked up the phone.

“I said, ‘JD, I’m desperate. You have to be in the starting lineup tonight,'” Montgomery recalled.

“That’s a joke,” Scholten replied.

It was a chance for a comeback that Scholten, a former player who had played in several independent professional leagues before entering politics, would never have imagined possible at this stage of his career. So the MP ran home, grabbed his football boots, signed a contract at the ballpark and took the mound for his hometown team, where he threw 100 pitches in nearly seven innings and rocked the ballpark with his winning performance.

“It was pretty magical,” Scholten told the Washington Post.

Scholten’s heroics in the Explorers’ 11-2 win The victory revived a baseball career that has lasted decades longer than the congressman’s political one. Scholten grew up and played baseball in Sioux City. When he went undrafted after college, he joined the network of independent professional leagues in the United States and elsewhere that are not affiliated with MLB or its minor league system. In the 2000s, he played four seasons for the Sioux City Explorers, who compete in the American Association of Professional Baseball with 11 other teams based primarily in the Midwest and Canada. Between stints in the United States, he joined teams in Canada, Cuba, Belgium and Germany.

Scholten’s persona as a hard-nosed baseball player stuck with him even after he retired and entered politics about six years ago. He ran ads with the slogan “If you build it, they will come” from the 1989 baseball movie “Field of Dreams” when he gained national attention in 2018 with a hard-fought but unsuccessful attempt to unseat Rep. Steve King (R) in a red congressional district. He ran again for the U.S. House of Representatives. in 2020 and lost before being elected unopposed to the Iowa House of Representatives in 2022.

Scholten continued to pitch in his spare time. When the legislative session ended in May 2023, he played in an amateur league and traveled overseas to briefly play for a professional team in the Netherlands. He couldn’t give up baseball.

“It’s partly because I want to stay in shape and stuff,” Scholten said. “But it’s also a great stress reliever and a great distraction from politics.”

Scholten, in his 40s, in more pain after each outing and in the midst of a campaign, never thought he would return to his hometown team this year. On Saturday, he was volunteering at a music festival in Sioux City when Montgomery, the manager of the Sioux City Explorers, called with his final request.

Montgomery knew Scholten was on form. The Explorers were devastated after two dismal losses to start the holiday weekend, when opposing batters had hit home run after home run against their depleted bullpen and decimated the pitching roster. What did they have to lose?

“We were in a somewhat desperate time,” Montgomery said.

Two hours before the game, Scholten began warming up. Word quickly spread around Sioux City that a hometown politician and former player was on the field. Scholten took the Explorers’ field for the first time in nearly two decades in front of a crowd that included his old college teammates and family friends. Quietly, however, Montgomery and the Explorers team tempered their expectations.

“I was just hoping for the best,” said Dan Vaughan, the Explorers’ sportscaster. “That he would get through the first couple of innings and get us some (outs). I mean, as much as I wanted a more heroic story, I just thought, Milwaukee, this team we’re playing is really good.”

The Milwaukee Milkmen started strong. In the first inning, the Explorers let a runner score on a sacrifice fly and Scholten loaded the bases.

“I just thought, ‘Oh no,'” Vaughan said. “This could be a long night.”

But Scholten hit a double play to get out of the jam. He then effortlessly stormed through Milwaukee’s lineup, striking out two batters and allowing just one run in the next five innings, a solo home run.

Scholten’s fastball reached 89 mph, Montgomery said. His sliders dipped and spun. He pitched with the smarts of a veteran, Montgomery added, getting weak fly balls to get outs quickly and getting through his innings quickly.

The Explorers built a comfortable lead thanks to Scholten’s pitching. Montgomery visited the mound after the player threw his 100th pitch in the seventh inning and – after some back and forth – convinced Scholten to leave the game to loud standing applause. It felt like a playoff game, Montgomery said.

Even though Scholten has played baseball on several continents, it was a first for him.

“I have never received anything like this in my life,” he said.

Scholten was named player of the match after The Explorers’ few remaining relief pitchers made the victory perfect. His teammates doused him with a bucket of water to celebrate – this was also a first for him. In a post-game interview with Vaughan on the field, Scholten said the victory was thanks to “all the middle-aged men who still believe they can do it.”

Scholten and the Sioux City Explorers have since resumed their respective campaigns. The Explorers traveled north to Fargo, N.D., this week to begin a key road trip and battle for the final playoff spot in their division. Scholten said he has spent time distributing relief supplies to residents affected by the recent flooding, going door-to-door as the donation deadline approaches.

As part of his campaign, Scholten is scheduled to pitch for the Explorers again on Thursday in North Dakota. Scholten said he believes he can balance his political involvement with baseball – and that he doesn’t mind never losing the image of a baseball player.

“At the end of the day,” Scholten said, “if people can think of me as ‘baseball’ … then I think that’s how I’d like to be remembered.”

By Liam