Annual Math vs. Physics Softball Game Is a Good-Natured Grudge Match

May 18, 2015
Fans look on from the stands as a softball player hits the ball

This year’s Math vs. Physics softball game began with a bang when James Battat, assistant professor of physics, hit a two-run homer. As he rounded the bases, his teammates loudly applauded the feat—possibly the first home run for Physics in 15 years of playing against Math. Up 2-0 after the second inning, the physics team thought, Maybe we’ll actually win this year.

As the battle of the bats continued, faculty and students enjoyed the bright sunshine, cool breeze, and the opportunity to unwind after the end of classes. That’s the real purpose of the game and the cookout, said Ann Trenk, professor of mathematics and the department chair, who downplayed her colleagues’ long history of winning.

“The Physics Department may have the advantage of thinking about the arc of a throw and pitch speed,” she said. “In mathematics, our knowledge of probability and statistics could help us decide where to position our fielders, and our skills in optimization could be used to decide fielding position assignments and batting order. But we don’t do any of that.”

Instead, batting order is determined by birth month, starting with January birthdays, and players are allowed to choose any position they want, even if that sometimes means having six or more outfielders.

Rebecca Scanlon ’15, a math and computer science major who played softball throughout high school, loves the laid-back event because the students and professors in the Math Department are so much fun. “Everyone gets really excited to show off our ‘math pride,’” she said

The only students who agonize over the event, said Trenk, are those who double major in math and physics and must choose one over the other.

As the game went on, Battat and his teammates watched in dismay as the Math Department scored one run after another, dimming their hopes of earning bragging rights and the coveted trophy, which resides with the winning team for a year. According to official records, the Physics team has stolen the trophy twice.

The final score was 8 to 3, with another victory for the Math Department. (The department also recently won its annual Frisbee game against the Computer Science Department.)

Battat, whose first-inning homer seemed so promising, held his head high. After all, he knows the game is really just one more way that faculty encourage and nurture students as the end of the year approaches.

Still, he wants redemption next year. “I love the Math Department, but this has got to stop. Reverse the curse in 2016!”