As the minutes dwindle down to 7 p.m. on Monday it seems the rain is going to hold off. Despite the continued threat of storm clouds swirling in the air, something about the lack of drops makes sense: It’s almost time for the Saint John Vianney’s annual Wiffle Ball World Series. Certainly the heavens can hold off opening up for this, couldn’t they?
The red brick façade of the surrounding buildings gives the “God Quad” (as the area of the upper quad outside SJV’s residence is affectionately referred to) the feel of Wrigley Field minus the ivy. Tonight the mood is increasingly festive as first pitch gets closer. The root beer keg is tapped, buckets of ice cream ready to round out floats for – what will soon be – almost 100 spectators and players. A steady wind blows through the nearly dozen flags down the third base line and beyond center field – flags representing the students’ archdioceses around the country, a U.S. flag, a Minnesota flag, a St. Thomas flag. A seminarian in room 307 tapes a cardboard sign outside his window, hawking seats with a prime view of the field for $1. Wiffle balls loft through the air as players on both teams warm up on the soggy field.
This is the annual culmination of a tradition that started nearly a decade ago as a stress reliever on finals week and has grown into a full spring semester league for the men of SJV. This year’s championship teams – the Bridegrooms, the upperclassmen of fourth floor, and the Orphans, the upperclassmen of third floor – are the survivors of a six-team, single-elimination playoff, which comes after all eight teams play throughout the spring. Of SJV’s 117 residents more than half participate in the league in some way, whether as players, umpires or sound guys. The latter of that list sit in a room on third floor, its windows open with a concert-worthy speaker pointed outward to blast walkup music for every batter from DJ Paul Hedman, and to carry the voice of announcers Tony Gutierrez and Kevin Hufnagel, who provide not only names and nicknames for every batter but commentary and between-inning commercials. (“That inning brought to you by Mane and Tail, originally meant for horses but also great for Wiffle ball mullets!”)
“Guys have a really good time with it,” seminarian and league coordinator Nick Smith said. “It’s a great way for the seminary to come together around one thing. That’s really the appeal. This is May, we have finals, all this stuff, and this is a great way to decompress. A lot of the seniors are giving their capstone presentations, everyone’s busy, so this is a way you can forget about all that for a while and have fun.”
Tonight the seminary’s students, staff and dozens of guests gather around the diamond-shaped patch of grass that forms the field between intersecting sidewalks, ready to see which team will earn having its name stamped onto the championship trophy. Father John Bauer delivers a prayer, seminarian Max Carson lays down an electric guitar national anthem that even in a less hallowed setting would be described as righteous, and the players take the field.
Like most games throughout the season, the pitchers control this contest throughout. The undefeated Bridegrooms roll out Zach Schaefbauer to the mound and he cruises through the Orphan’s lineup, racking up strikeouts early and often. The Orphans counter with Mitch Dietrich, who got them to the championship with a 1-0 semifinal victory in which he hit a home run. Tonight Dietrich’s control wavers and he loads the bases on walks in both the second and fourth inning, but manages to escape unscathed with key strikeouts.
In the fifth inning of a six-inning game, with dusk settling and the peanut gallery hanging on every pitch, Dietrich loads up the bases on walks for a third time. Three quick balls give way to two strikes and a full count before the payoff pitch sails wide, walking in the game’s first run. A spotless top of the sixth from Schaefbauer and the Bridegrooms wrap up their championship, a leaping crowd gathering as the team yells in celebration.
The season’s final celebration will go on for some time, with congratulatory handshakes and trophy-embracing photos and a hope for better fortune next year for everyone but the champs. As the post-game scene finally begins to wrap up Gutierrez’s voice can be heard over the speaker, asking the famous question posed to champions: “You just won the World Series, what will you do now?” A Bridegrooms player turns his face upward, yelling into the rain that has begun to fall again, “I’m going to chapel!”