My name is Paulo Camacho, and this is Macho Sports.
When one thinks of the English Department, perhaps the stereotypical English professor comes to mind: a distinguished gray-haired, mustachioed gentleman, with his sweater vest, khaki pants and wire-rimmed spectacles. Maybe it is the constant essays, grammar exercises and aptitude tests one had to take when they were in middle school.
However, one particular branch of the UC Davis English department – the creative writing graduate program, to be more precise – has inadvertently bucked that image. Not through any literary work, poetry workshop or scholarly practice. Surprisingly, it has been through the softball field.
For a period of five weeks during the spring quarter, the men and women of the creative writing program at UC Davis have participated in one of the university’s numerous intramural (IM) softball leagues. Run by Campus Recreation, UC Davis intramural sports offer 27 programs in a wide array of activities, from basketball and football, to ultimate Frisbee and dodgeball. For a designated fee of up to $50, a group of people can form intramural teams in any league they desire. Ian Afflerbach and the creative writing program did just that.
“We [in the department] all talked about it last year, and missed the deadline,” explained Afflerbach, a second-year English Student, currently in the PhD program. “This year I got the emails started early enough to make sure we had a team.”
From there, the team was formed – a bunch of like-minded creative writing graduate students, all looking for an athletic outlet. While prior experience in sport was not a requirement to participate, much of the team has had a background in athletics. Julia Jackson, a first-year creative writing grad student, grew up in Davis, with a background playing AYSO soccer, as well as rowing for the crew team. “I always tried really hard [at AYSO],” Jackson replied, “but was never all that good.”
Other creative writing graduate students, like Marissa Tinloy and Nick Falgout, also had an affluence for sport growing up. Tinloy, like Jackson, grew up playing soccer, and played softball in middle school. Falgout, meanwhile, participated in baseball in college, but listed hockey as his specialty, as he played in high school.
“I played some softball in college, casually,” he explained. “I was expecting to translate here – and it [only] sort of did.”
“It’s surprising how athletic all of us are,” Tinloy exclaimed. “We only see each other at our desks, and in the hallways, and here we are […] to have fun.”
Besides the athletic benefits, IM softball was also a chance for the creative writing students to bond as a grad program. “It sounded like a fun opportunity to get to know people in my department in a non-academic way,” Jackson explained. “I like the idea of forming a community that isn’t focused on one idea or shared discipline […] We can connect socially, as well as academically.”
They call themselves the Sofists. Apparently, it is a play on the term “Sophist”, meaning an ancient teacher of philosophy and rhetoric. “More specifically a sophist is someone who uses fallacious or entangling logic,” explained Nicole Kenley, another member of the softball team. “Obviously, this is analogous to what we do in the English department.” Kenley, a PhD graduate student at UC Davis, has had numerous experience with the sport, having played three seasons of IM softball as an undergrad at UC Berkeley.
“Our team back then was called the Dollar Hot Dogs,” she said, “because the Oakland A’s have dollar hot dog nights on Wednesdays.”
As with most of the intramural leagues run at UC Davis, IM softball is a recreational sport, usually for those not interested in an intensely competitive environment. Just don’t tell that to the members of the Sofists. Many of the participants were very enthusiastic about the opportunity. So much so, that one of their members, first-year PhD student Kelley McKinney, went above and beyond the call of duty, providing custom-made shirts for the team. The idea was a group effort – another way for the department to bond.
“We actually had a bidding war for a few weeks about which color [to use],” Jackson said. The team even went so far as to give themselves clever nicknames. Names like “The Baron” (Afflerbach), “Action Jackson” (Jackson), “The HATTU” (Falgout) and “Cheerio!” (Tinloy) were adorned on the various custom shirts during IM games.
As the season went underway, many of the Sofists had to get used to the modified rules of intramural softball. Games are slotted for 45 minutes, as the number of teams participating do not allow for an indeterminable amount of time. As a result, various guidelines are enacted in order to keep the action going.
For example, all batters begin with a 1-1 count (1 ball, 1 strike). All strikes count as a missed swing, a foul ball, or the ball reaching home plate. Foul balls, unlike in baseball, count for a strikeout. Because it is a co-rec (coed) league, walks allow for the male runner to take two bases, and female runners take only one. While they are useful to keep with the abbreviated nature of IM, it can be irritating at times for the players.
“The stupidest rule has got to be that when you walk a guy, it’s extra bases; but when you walk a girl, it’s not,” Kenley exclaimed. “I resent the heck out of that rule.”
“The pitching regulations are tight enough that some teams can sit there and just not swing and hope to get walked,” Afflerbach added. “You put a little sexism together with a little bad sportsmanship, and occasionally you get some games that turn a little sour.”
Despite the rules, the Sofists still enjoy the experience of playing together. Why else would a merry group of English students, in the middle of an otherwise hectic spring quarter, want to play intramural softball? After three years of softball experience, Kenley still loves the simple things, especially the camaraderie, of the game. “Nothing’s more fun that getting a team together, throwing the ball around, scoring some runs, and hearing that infield chatter,” she opined.
“Really fun – I’m terrible, but I’m learning about the sport,” Jackson said of the experience. “In all seriousness, it has been a really great way to get to know some of my classmates and friendly faces in the department.”
“It’s been great,” Falgout added. “I think there should be more teams,[and] we should [play softball] for longer.”
Their enjoyment was indicative during one of the Sofists’ final games of the season. Creative writing grad student Naushad Ulhaq, as a spectator, recalled a particular play involving the opposing team. “There was a high fly ball, and she was trying to run under it,” he reflected. “It just sort of fell right into her glove, and she was just so happy. I think everyone on both teams were cheering, when that happened. That was a really heart-warming moment.”
Ultimately, the Sofists ended on a high note, winning a high-scoring game. But, like most things in sport, the most important thing is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game; and the Sofists played to have fun. “It looks like everyone’s having a good time,” said Ulhaq, a part of the creative writing program. “I like the fact that our team isn’t taking things too seriously, [and] I think we have a really good balance between wanting to win, and having fun.”
Not bad for bucking the traditional English student’s image, isn’t it?