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Iowa House of Representatives Member JD Scholten Targets Sioux City Baseball Team’s Victory

The Sioux City Explorers were in a difficult position. Three hours before the Iowa-based professional baseball team took the field Saturday, manager Steve Montgomery received word that the day’s starting pitcher was injured. The other arms on his roster were exhausted. Frantically, he sent out a series of calls to local baseball players who could fill in as emergency replacements.

Most of those calls went unanswered. Then J.D. Scholten, a 44-year-old Democrat in the Iowa House, picked up the phone.

“I said, ‘JD, I’m desperate. I want you to start tonight’s game,'” Montgomery recalled.

“You’re kidding,” Scholten replied.

It was a comeback opportunity that Scholten, a retired player who played in several independent professional leagues before entering politics, never imagined he would see at this stage of his career. So the MP ran home, grabbed his cleats, He signed a contract at the stadium and pitched for his hometown team, where he threw 100 pitches in nearly seven innings in a winning performance that brought the stadium to its feet.

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

Scholten’s heroics in Explorers’ 11-2 win revived a baseball career that lasted decades longer than the representative’s political career. Scholten grew up playing baseball in Sioux City, and when he went undrafted after college, he entered a network of independent professional leagues in the United States and elsewhere that were not affiliated with MLB or its minor league system. In the 2000s, he played four seasons for the Sioux City Explorers, who competed in the American Association of Professional Baseball with 11 other teams, mostly in the Midwest and Canada. In between his stints in the United States, he played for teams in Canada, Cuba, Belgium and Germany.

Scholten’s hard-nosed baseball persona stayed with him after he retired and entered politics about six years ago. He gained national attention in 2018 when he made a competitive but unsuccessful bid to unseat Rep. Steve King (R) in a red congressional district, running ads with the slogan “If you build it, they will come,” from the 1989 baseball film “Field of Dreams.” He ran for the U.S. House again He ran 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 went abroad to play briefly for a professional team in the Netherlands. He couldn’t stay away from baseball.

“Part of it is because I want to stay in shape,” Scholten said. “But it’s also a great stress reliever and a great escape from being in politics.”

In his 40s and in the midst of a reelection campaign that aches more after every game, Scholten never thought he would be back with his hometown team this year. He was volunteering at a music festival in Sioux City on Saturday when Montgomery, the Sioux City Explorers executive director, called with a last-ditch request.

Montgomery knew Scholten was in good shape. The Explorers were reeling from two bad losses to start the holiday weekend, with opposing hitters hitting home run after home run against their exhausted bullpen and leaving their pitching staff shorthanded. What did they have to lose?

“We were going through some desperate times,” Montgomery said.

Two hours before the first shot of the match, Scholten began warming up. Word spread quickly in Sioux City that a politician and a former hometown player would take the field. Scholten took the Explorers field for the first time in nearly two decades, and he was in front of a crowd of former college teammates and family friends. But Montgomery and the Explorers quietly tempered their expectations.

“I was just hoping for the best,” Explorers announcer Dan Vaughan said. “For him to get through the first couple innings and give us a couple (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 got off to a strong start. In the first inning, the Explorers allowed a runner to score on a sacrifice bunt and Scholten loaded the bases.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my God,'” Vaughan said. “‘This could be a long evening.'”

But Scholten induced a double play to get out of a jam. Then he worked his way through Milwaukee’s lineup, striking out two batters and allowing only one run, a solo homer, over the next five innings.

Scholten’s fastball reached 89 mph, Montgomery said. His sliders curved and spun. Montgomery added that he threw with the knowledge of a veteran, using it to quickly throw weak flyballs out and speed up his swing.

The Explorers built a comfortable lead thanks to Scholten’s pitching. Montgomery visited the mound after the lawmaker threw his 100th pitch in the seventh inning and — after some discussion — convinced Scholten to leave the game to a standing ovation. Montgomery said it felt like a playoff game.

For Scholten, this was also a first, even though he has played baseball on many continents.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life,” he said.

Scholten was named player of the match The Explorers’ few remaining relief pitchers completed the win. His teammates poured him a bucket of water in celebration — another first for him. In his postgame interview on the field with Vaughan, Scholten said the win was for “all the middle-aged guys who still think they can make it.”

Scholten and the Sioux City Explorers have since continued their own campaign. The Explorers traveled north to Fargo, N.D., this week to kick off a major road trip and compete for the final playoff spot in their division. Scholten said he spent time with residents affected by recent flooding and going door-to-door distributing supplies as the fundraising deadline approaches.

Scholten is scheduled to pitch once more for the Explorers in North Dakota on Thursday as he continues his campaign. Scholten said he believes he can balance his political commitments with baseball and doesn’t care if he never sheds his image as a baseball player.

“The bottom line,” Scholten said, “is if people can think ‘baseball’ with me … I guess that’s the way I prefer to be remembered.”

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