Rep. Kinzinger Shows Redbird Pride
June 29, 2012
NORMAL, Ill. - Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger's (R-Ill.) ties to Illinois State run deep, and Thursday night, he displayed his Redbird pride at Nationals Park in Washington D.C., when he donned an ISU baseball jersey and hat while competing for the Republican team in the annual CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.
Born in Kankakee, Ill., Rep. Kinzinger was raised in Bloomington, Ill., and attended Normal Community West High School. He enrolled at Illinois State in 1996 and graduated in 2000 with a degree in political science.
"I'm really impressed by the tremendous advancements the university has made," Kinzinger said by phone. "Over the last few years, Illinois State has made significant strides in academics and is very well respected. I thought this was a great opportunity to represent Central Illinois and wear my favorite baseball jersey."
Billed as, "the only annual partisan showdown beloved by all and enjoyed by thousands," the Congressional Baseball Game dates back to 1909 and is annually played in the home ballpark of Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals. After witnessing the game as a fan last year, Kinzinger knew he wanted to participate this time.
"I saw the same last year and it was a lot of fun," he explained. "Several people approached me saying, `Hey, you're young, you've got to come play.' I'm really glad I did."
For weeks, representatives juggle their work commitments with daily, early-morning 90-minute practices. The fast-pitch game is taken very seriously by those involved and is attended by thousands of fans. Money raised from the event is donated to DC-area charities, The Washington Literacy Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington. Thursday night's game raised more than $250,000 for the two organizations.
"I think a lot of people are under the impression that all we do in Washington is fight and bicker," Kinzinger said. "The reality is that behind the scenes, everyone gets along pretty well. This goes to show you that we can have competition, but in the end, we are all on the same team. It is a great example to us, and to the American people, about working together for the good of everyone."
Kinzinger became the first Illinois State alum elected to the United States House of Representatives, when he assumed office, January 3, 2011. His involvement in politics, however, extends for nearly fifteen years. As a sophomore student at ISU, he successfully ran for a seat on the McLean County Board, challenging a 12-year Democratic incumbent to become one of the youngest board members in county history.
"I was at a meeting of local Republicans and someone joked I should run for the seat," he recalled. "People tell me now that I look young. I must have looked 15 years-old knocking on people's doors asking for their vote. But, I saw someone who I felt lost the passion for the position, and the right thing to do was to run. It took a lot of people by surprise."
He remained on the McLean County Board until 2003, when he enlisted with the United States Air Force. Kinzinger was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and later earned his pilot wings. He has flown missions in South America, Guam, Iraq and Afghanistan, piloting both the KC-135 Stratotanker fuel plane and a RC-26 spy plane. Kinzinger has also served in the Air Force Special Ops, Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command and is currently a captain in the Air National Guard. In 2006, he received the United States Air Force Airman's Medal, the National Guard's Valley Forge Cross for Heroism and the Wisconsin Red Cross "Hero of the Year" Award for disarming a knife-wielding man who attacked a woman in downtown Milwaukee, Wisc.
But for all of his achievements, walking onto a major league field was one of the most exciting moments of his life.
"When I was a kid I loved baseball," Kinzinger said. "To walk onto a professional field, under the bright lights, in front of thousands of people was a real thrill."
Despite Thursday's, 18-5, Democrat victory, Kinzinger, who played left field and had one at-bat, was quick to point out that Republicans "take great pride" in leading the all-time series 38-36-1. He is already looking ahead to the experience next year.
"It is just a great event and I look forward to being a part of it again in the future," he stated.
Kinzinger represents Illinois' 11th district, which houses McLean County and ISU.
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