Dateline: Bell Field (May 31, 2022)
There was great anticipation today as the English Department gathered for its first in-person picnic/barbecue and softball game in three years. The 2020 picnic and game, like everything else at Carleton that spring, had to be cancelled because of COVID-19. The 2021 picnic occurred, but without a game (Chair Greg Hewett magnanimously having decreed that the 2021 Seniors had won because The World forfeited the game.) So, the last game played between the Seniors and The World was in 2019, when the World romped to victory, 23-6. The last year in which the Seniors had won was in 2017, by the rousing score of 24-10. Would The World show up this year? How would the Seniors acquit themselves in the face of a 5-year losing streak? Would Arnab behave himself? (Nothing seemed too far-fetched to imagine.) All eyes were on Bell Field. The result? The Seniors pulled off a thrilling victory over the World 12-11 in one of the closest games in departmental memory.
The weather was nearly perfect. The hurricane force winds of the previous night had subsided (though there were strong breezes fanning the flames of the grill). White clouds drifted overhead, the springtime air was fresh, Bell Field was a lush green, and the Minnesota State Bird (the Mosquito) was nowhere to be seen. Frances O’Grady was a quick study at the grill as she helped veteran grill-master George Shuffelton and Arnab Chakladar cook some delicious hot dogs and hamburgers, including some new Beyond Burgers (that received a positive review even from the ever-skeptical Greg Smith). Solvei Robertson, coordinating her first departmental picnic, did a masterful job of making everything run smoothly. The players were well fortified when the game began.
The World was short-handed this year, as stalwarts such as the Dashing Chevalier Timothy Raylor, Pierre Hecker (at large in London), the dauntless Adriana Estill and Peter Balaam (at the game but on injured reserve because of a bicycle accident) were all missing from this year’s lineup. The Seniors batted first, with outgoing Chair Greg Hewett throwing the first ceremonial pitch. Jacob Dyck started things off with a strong single, followed by Riley Madsen, who hit a high-flying single, and then Jacob Isaacson, who also singled. With the bases loaded, Julia Johnston (with a leg injury) heroically approached the plate while designated runner Madeline Goldberg prepared to run. But when Julia too hit a single, both players ran to 1st base, driving in the first Senior run and loaded the bases with four, not three players – an irregularity that caused The World to take note. Octavia Washington then hit a single, driving in another run and the Seniors were up 2-0.
Julia Johnston pitched first for the Seniors, throwing some high-altitude sub-orbital pitches, designed to test the mettle of The World. First up for The World was Field General Chakladar, who immediately caused a sensation by initiating the sort of action for which the caution “Don’t try this at home” was invented. Arnab hit a single and then attempted to steal second on an overthrown ball. Clearly looking to set an inspirational “leave it all on the field” example for The World, Arnab raced to second, overshot the base, slipped and fell on the grass and then went back searching for second base and was tagged out. The World was aghast. If their fearless leader was tagged out on the very first play of the game because he couldn’t find second base, what did the future hold? Bryn Battani quickly made the future look brighter by belting out a single, as did Frances O’Grady, Sophie Perfetto, and Julia Luljak (prancing barefoot on the grass). The World runs started pouring in. George Shuffelton had a hit, so did Solvei, Greg Hewett pinch-hit for Peter Balaam (who was rooting from the sidelines). The Senior in-fielding was in disarray. In one dramatic moment, Nina Kaushikkar (with runners on every other base) used her quick instincts to field and throw the ball to home plate to stop a run . . . but, alas, there was no runner there to stop! The World kept piling it on, and the Seniors struggled to get that final out (“an out, an out, my kingdom for an out!”). When the dust settled at the end of the inning, The World led 7-2.
But, Dear Reader, as we all know, The World is subject to hubris. For at the very moment when it was basking in its offensive firepower, The World suddenly started dissolving. George and Arnab had to leave early for family engagements, Bryn had a concert, others too disappeared, all of which left a skeleton crew on the field for The World. The Seniors saw their opportunity and seized it. Julia Luljak pitched at first for The World, followed by Nathan Assaf. Sam Wingfield started things out for the Seniors with a big hit. (“He used to be on the baseball team,” Greg Hewett said with a worried note in his voice.) The Dynamic Duo of Julia/Madeline got another four-legged single, and then Rebecca Hicke got a hit. Suddenly, the bases were loaded. What happened next was an at-bat that quickly earned a place in the Annals of English Softball. Jedi Apprentice Price Nicholas, who insisted on using a metal bat, stepped confidently to the plate and hit a grand slam, bringing in four runs for the Seniors and pulling the Seniors within one run of their opponents. The Seniors were rejuvenated; The World was on its heels. Senior runs started pouring in. On his next time up at bat, Sam brought in three more runs. Julia/Madeline bunted and managed to get to second base. Octavia was feeling more confident at bat. The Seniors were clearly regaining their swagger. By the end of their turn at bat, the Seniors had scored ten runs and now led the World, 12-7.
To its credit, however, The World did not fold. Sophie Perfetto and Julia Luljak combined to bring in one run, cutting the deficit to 12-8. World euphoria, however, was short-lived as good Senior in-fielding made for two outs. In fact, Price Nicholas seemed so confident that he left the field to eat some potato salad (a dish of which he seems inordinately fond). With only one out left and the game hanging in the balance, The World fought back valiantly. Nathan Assaf scored, then Solvei scored, and then Frances scored as well, cutting the Senior lead to only 12-11. (“And I thought finals were intense,” Nathan panted as he crossed home plate.) Jacob Dyck was pitching and the pressure was on. The bases were loaded, with one out left and Solvei at the bat. It was “do or die” for Jacob and the Seniors. The pitch came. Solvei swung bravely and got a solid hit and sprinted towards first base. Jacob fielded the ball and he too raced furiously toward first, showing one and all what it means to be truly FURIOSO. Time stood still for a moment as two destinies converged and the Northfield Ambulance Corps was put on high alert. Jacob somehow found the “strength of ten Grinches, plus two” and got the out (by inches). Solvei escaped with her life and with her unflappable good humor intact. Game over. Seniors win, 12-11!
The teams formed two lines for the traditional Good Sportsmanship hand-slap and group photos. After the game, The World was philosophical. “We had a lot of injuries,” Julia Luljak said. “And Riley and Jacob [Dyck] are off-phase and don’t actually graduate this year. The Seniors were lucky to have them.” For their part, the Seniors took their victory in stride. As Octavia Washington put it: “How did we win? By being generally better . . .” Sam Wingfield thought it all probably had something to do with divine providence. When someone noted that the metal bat was bent, Price calmly replied, “oh, that was me.” For his part, Jacob Dyck said, “The Imp was with us! And we finally have something to hold over Arnab after all those trivia games.”
And so, as the shadows lengthened on Bell Field and members of both teams helped clean up after what was indeed a lovely picnic, all seemed right with the Seniors. They can now finish up their classes with a lighter spring in their step as they finish out their time at Carleton. For while they know that The World can be a tough opponent, they also know that they have already beaten it.
Your Humble Scribe,