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Common ground ball for Owens, Hick

Governor trounces mayor in friendly softball match

Published June 28, 2006 at midnight

After seeing Gov. Bill Owens and Mayor John Hickenlooper on the field in their shorts and T-shirts, no one will ever accuse the two of being juiced.

But Owens' softball team, the Preemptors, played like it Tuesday.

The Preemptors, named so because the state "preempts" municipalities, routed the mayor's error-prone, light- hitting Denver team, the Bureaucrats, 17-3 Tuesday evening in their first friendly softball match at Lowry's Jackie Robinson Field.

Owens' co-captain Bret Hillberry, who works for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, knocked in eight of his team's 17 runs.

The teams played seven innings, though had the mercy rule been enforced by the umpire, the game would have ended much earlier.

Before the contest, a confident mayor had strolled over to the visitors' dugout to offer a wager and give the game even larger significance. The loser would treat the winner to the first Colorado Rockies road game for the 2007 season.

Hickenlooper now had better hope the Rockies don't start the season in Japan.

"We could have been contenders," the mayor shouted in his dugout shortly after congratulating the governor and his team of Colorado department heads and staff members. "Just a couple of more innings," the mayor said.

And as if the score alone wasn't bad enough for Denver's Bureaucrats, the mayor might be remembered for one key at-bat during the game: a grounder to Owens at second base who gobbled up the softball and tossed out the gangly Hickenlooper.

It was the only time in the game that the catcalls rained down from the dozens of chuckling Denver fans who probably won't ever let the mayor forget that at-bat. It wasn't a good day at the plate for the mayor. He also hit into a double play.

Hickenlooper didn't get much help from his teammates.

John Huggins, Denver's economic development director, may be good with finances, but he's no gold glove at first base. Balls hit on the ground in his direction turned into singles and doubles.

"The knees," Huggins said between innings, "they don't go down that far."

But he still had hope even though his team was trailing 14-3 in the fourth inning. "Hey, it's not over until . . . you start drinking beer," he said.

The game was delayed several minutes for the governor, who got held up for yet another meeting.

Owens didn't have time to stretch, and his skinny legs paid a bit of a price. After walking in the first inning he scored from second, but suffered a slight hamstring pull in the process.

"I'm tough," he said. "I'm playing through pain."

Not long after the game was decided, the political spin began.

"Do we know if they're all state employees?" asked a suspicious Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, the mayor's spokeswoman, who insists she would have played for her boss if she wasn't pregnant.

In the end, Tuesday's game was a special session that the players and fans applauded.

"Beer afterward?" the governor asked the mayor.

"Yeah, if we have time," the mayor responded.

"What could be more important, Mr. Mayor?"

"Oh, I don't know. My dignity?"

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