By John J. Duncan Jr.
When I was in Congress, one of the parts of the job that I enjoyed the most was visiting with the thousands of my constituents who came to see me while on visits to Washington.
Many times, usually at least once or twice a week, I would take families or individuals to eat lunch in the House of Representatives Members’ Dining Room.
Very often I did not get to eat my full meal because my adult guests would ask questions about what was going on in the House that day or I would want to tell young people about the Congress and my job.
One memorable day, though, I did not have to say much at all because it turned into a fascinating lunch about baseball and football.
My guests that day were John Chavis, the associate head football coach at U.T., and Brian Schneider, the starting catcher for the Washington Nationals baseball team, and their wives.
Brian Schneider had married the daughter of one of my first cousins from Indiana.
Schneider spent this past season as a coach for the New York Mets and Chavis most recently was the defensive coordinator for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
At that luncheon, Chavis said his first love was baseball, and he really dreamed of playing in the major leagues but said he couldn’t hit a curveball.
Schneider said he grew up in Allentown, PA, and was a big fan of the Penn State team and college football all over.
So that day, Chavis asked Schneider many questions about big league baseball, and Schneider asked Chavis to tell one of his stories about college football. I had to say very little and enjoyed it very much.
Another sports lunch led to a second even more memorable one with Josh Willingham who was an outfielder with the Washington Nationals.
I had invited Brett Carroll from Knoxville, who was then playing for the Miami Marlins, to have lunch with me and he brought Willingham with him.
A couple of years later, Willingham was traded from the Marlins to the Nationals. One day I invited him to have lunch with me again.
When he came to the Capitol, he was in a bad batting slump. I told him what he needed was one of my lucky pennies that I gave out mainly to children in my District.
Willingham said he was going to have it in his back pocket when he went up to bat that night. That night I watched on TV as he had his best night of the season, hitting two doubles and a home run.
I called him the next morning and said: “Josh, you weren’t supposed to use up so much of that good luck in one game.” He laughed and said: “I almost called to see if I could come have breakfast with you this morning.”
John, the African-American host at the Dining Room, was always very kind to me. Early in my first year in Congress, I gave him a $20 tip, and apparently, not many members did that, because he brought me a giant thank you card.
So, I would give him $20 about every three months. Once each year, the first President Bush would have lunch at the House Dining Room with Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, a Republican, and Rep. Sonny Montgomery, a Democrat.
These were two friends of his from when President Bush had served in the House from 1967 to 1971.
Every time the president would come there, John would keep all the other tables around him vacant except for one for me and my constituents.
It was a great thrill for some of my constituents to come expecting only a tour of the Capitol and end up eating right next to the president.
I wondered if President Bush ever thought it was strange that whenever he came to the House dining room, he always ended up sitting at a table next to this new young congressman from Tennessee.