It was a breezy Saturday afternoon, much like any other. Except that at a certain park in a certain West Baltimore neighborhood (which, for legal reasons, shall go unnamed), an athletic showdown for the ages was about to conspire.
Five teams. Six theater companies. A dozen coolers of beer. Soft balls. The occasion: the third annual Baltimore Theatre Softball Death Match.
Baltimore has a crop of ensemble theater companies which are small and versatile, but not necessarily community theaters. The companies often share ideas, guest artists, and some of them even reside in the same building. Through the Baltimore Network of Ensemble Theaters they meet regularly to hobnob and chit-chat.
Once a year, however, the companies get together for a different cause: to whup some ass.
“This is the one time we get to beat each other,” said Steven Krigel of Single Carrot Theatre. “We get to prove we’re better.”
This year, Single Carrot was one of five teams at the death match. The other teams were Baltimore Improv Group, in day-glo orange; the Baltimore Rock Opera Society (BROS), with their dreadlocks and nose-rings; the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, in bright purple with feathers in their caps; and GlassMob, a team comprising both the Glass Mind Theatre and the Mobtown Players.
Though each team had its own fire, each its ringers and its golden gloves, only one team could take home the prize for ultimate ball-whacking: a trophy, fashioned from seven (full) Natty Boh cans, glued to some wood.
According to volunteer umpire Robert Marbury, they had ordered a real trophy for the winner, but it hadn’t arrived by Saturday. Therefore he got out the glue gun and whipped together Trophy #2.
The Bohphy made by What Weekly favorite Robery Marbury
“I’m hoping the winner will pop it open and drink it,” said Marbury. “That’s probably not going to happen, though. They’re pretty warm.”
Now, for a full disclosure. On Saturday afternoon, the reporter (me) was suffering from a terrific Friday night. Therefore, the reporter (Tristan) didn’t do a very good job of recording numbers, or keeping track of the play-by-play. Actually, the reporter (Tristan Brooks. Like, it was me) didn’t arrive at the fields until about halfway through the tourney. Luckily, Marbury was kind enough to fill the reporter in on how the game worked.
“The rules are pretty communal,” said Marbury. “Everybody’s pretty self-reliant, which is good, because I’m not really paying attention.”
The whole event seemed to be pretty communal. The annual Baltimore theatre softball game grew out of a tradition that the Single Carrot took part in during their time at the University of Colorado, according to Single Carrot’s public relations director Jessica Garrett. According to Garrett, the entire BFA theater program at CU used to play in an annual softball game. “It was a big part of initiation into the program,” she said.
When Single Carrot moved to Baltimore in 2006, a few years passed without any softball games (imagine!). Then, “One day Glass Mind said something about having a field day,” explained Garrett. “So, in CU tradition, we challenged them to a softball match instead.” That was 2010. In two years since, more theaters have come on board. The more the merrier, said Garrett.
There seemed to be an unspoken rule on the field that as much Budweiser should be consumed as humanly possible. Also, besides batting, fielding, and base-running, one of the players’ main strategies (on all sides, but with BROS as a notable leader) was to talk as much shit as possible. A nice combination of the two was illustrated by one Carrots player (whose name, also for legal reasons, must be withheld): “Get as much alcohol in your system as possible. At the same time, get one orange slice, and just stare at this weak-ass other team as you ruin their hopes and aspirations.” Quotes like this were pretty much flying all day, with everybody encouraging everybody else to drink more. More they drank.
As far as the actual sports–well, as I mentioned, I wasn’t really on my A-game that day, and this was the first sporting event I had ever covered. Don’t ask me what the scores were. Do ask me what Single Carrot told me about the intersection of softball and theater:
“There’s no ‘i’ in either softball or theater.”
“Better when drinking.”
“There are bats? Wait… no.”
“It’s about shifting where the ball is.”
The final match, the battle for the Bohs, the theatre/softball showdown of 2012 wound up between Single Carrot Theatre and the Baltimore Rock Opera Society. Before the game, a new round of “lime-a-ritas” was cracked, and Single Carrot gathered for a pep talk by managing director Elliott Rauh.
“This is against the BROS,” said Rauh. “They have been talking a lot of smack. Let’s just let the score do the talking.”
On the other side of the field, BROS was chanting the word “dominate,” and somebody blew a ram’s horn.
The Minotaurs (BROS)
Softballing. At the top of the first inning BROS drove in a two-run home run. The ram’s horn was blown, and the BROS punched each other with happiness. For the next inning, Single Carrot showed a strong bat, but the Opera Society managed to hold them to zero with some solid infielding.
Then, at the bottom of the third, Single Carrot drove in two runs. Fresh beers were opened, and the shit-talking picked up even more. Single Carrot’s artistic director Nathan Cooper took the opportunity to take me aside and talk about the (actual) back-and-forth between theater and softball.
“You have to be an athlete to be an actor,” said Cooper. “We do a lot of physical training as a company. It’s all about focus, stamina.
“We should be versatile. Theater incorporates every medium–visual art, performance, music. There are a lot of people who are specialists, who only act, but I think it makes you a better artist if you experience other forms.” This made sense.
Somewhere in this conversation, Single Carrot Scored three more runs. By the top of the fifth (six innings, three ladies on the field at all times) the Carrots were up 9-2. For the rest of the game they maintained this lead, and the trash-talking from the BROS’ dugout grew noticeably more tame.
“It’s very hard when you lose by too much,” observed Garrett. She took another swig of her “lime-a-rita” before continuing. “Not that we would know, but…”
In the end, Single Carrot won by 9-2, unless I got that number wrong. They won by at least several runs, I am certain, and received the greatest prize of all: Rob Marbury’s Natty Boh-phy. After a glorious photo-shoot, the team made good of Marbury’s dream and actually opened the hot, cheap victory-beers, drinking them straight from the trophy. It was the most beautiful thing my mortal eyes have ever seen. If you had been there, you would have left a changed man.
Before they left the field, Single Carrot got together for one final huddle. Rauh talked the team down, saying, “I just want to thank everybody in the company, and outside. You’re all Carrots, and we couldn’t win this without you.” The team then chanted, “2-4-6-8, Who do we appreciate? BROS!”
This was followed quickly by an even more enthusiastic “U-S-A! U-S-A!” It was 4 p.m. Everybody was hammered. I should never cover another sporting event.