Don't Call It Medicine Ball: 35th Season Opens for Hundreds in Stanford University Medical Center Softball League

STANFORD, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- The Traumatizers will face the Rays this season, and the Myoclonic Jerks will play the Comp Med−and if anyone gets hurt, they won’t have to look far for help.

On Tuesday, the 35th season of the Stanford University Medical Center Softball League begins, continuing a highly competitive yet still friendly tradition that unites more than 350 MDs and PhDs and RNs and any others who care to come from Stanford Hospital & Clinics, Stanford University, the School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in one great sporting group that’s not clinical or academic. It’s simply a good time.

“We do science together all the time,” said the Rays manager, Fred Chin, PhD, Head of Cyclotron Radiochemistry at Stanford, “but outside of that, you like to have something else with your colleagues that’s for fun and for friendship.” The Rays, whose official name is the Radiology Rays, hail from the Department of Radiology. Last year, the team took the League’s Division C championship, ending a four-year quest to climb out of the bottom of the rankings.

Chin has high hopes for the team’s eager new recruits and returning veterans to defend that championship this season. “We do have some beefy guys in Radiology and I’ve heard there might be someone around who used to play for the Seattle Seahawks.”

The games take place at 5:30 pm every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at a triple-wide field off Sand Hill Road, just a couple of blocks from the Hospital. The seven week season comes with all the regular features of the major leagues – an All-Star game, although here it’s a full week of special games: women only, over 40’s only and Commissioner’s choice. It’s unlikely, though, that the majors would allow their season to begin with a one-pitch tournament where a batter gets one swing at bat and games take only 30 minutes.

There are some special rules in this league, as befits its origins: Players aren’t allowed to wear scrubs. This league is also kinder to its players’ bodies: no base stealing or sliding.

There’s no farm club or minors to season players. Instead, said Chin, “We start practice a month before the season begins just to get people coordinated a little bit. A lot of our players are beginners and a lot are worried they don’t play well enough. We get them on field early to work on hand-eye coordination and to teach them with the rules of the game.”

It doesn’t really matter if someone knows how to play, said Caroline Chang, Operations Director from the University’s Office of Development−−and general manager of its team, the Cha-Chings. “Our philosophy is that anyone can play and everyone plays.”

The League’s quality, according to a four-foot-high trophy that sits in the work area of Andy Downs in the Hospital’s Materials Management group, has never been in doubt. The SUMC League earned the trophy for winning the 2005 Bed-Pan Classic Championship in a contest that included teams from Kaiser and Dominican hospitals. Stanford’s league, however, is one of the largest single health care facility leagues in the U.S., and likely one of the best organized and best loved. When the Hospital’s Chief Engineer Leander Robinson walks through the building, many people greet him because he’s the League’s top guy−also known as “the Commish.”

Robinson started at the Hospital in its Dietary group, and he was ready to play ball, too. The next year, the group’s director promised to buy the team uniforms if they could win the championship. The next season, there were a lot of admiring looks when the Dietary team showed up in pants, stirrups, jerseys and caps. Twenty-four years ago, Robinson was asked to take over the League’s organization and he said yes. “I like softball,” he said. And the League “is a blast for everybody.”

He has added the ice cone makers, popcorn and inflatables for special occasions. The league’s barbecues and potlucks are legend.

Players wear official team jerseys, some emblazoned with nicknames whose meaning can be obscure, or logical. Ed Hall, the Hospital’s Risk Management Director, is known as−yes−“Risky Business.” The Rays wear shirts that show a Tasmanian devil getting an X-ray. The team names have always spoken about origins: The University’s Athletic Department team is Cardinal Sin, for example; the Cytabombers from Oncology.

The history of the league is a bit murky. Its size has varied. Once, Chin said, Radiology had three teams and the League was up to 33 teams. This year, there are 20. Some teams may have as many 35 to 50 listed players, but the average that show up to play at each game is 15, Chin said. Many play for years.

When Tim Fournier came to work with the Hospital’s Oncology Department seven years ago, someone spotted his softball potential right away. He has the build of an athlete, and played shortstop on his high school’s varsity baseball team. He also played football, basketball and volleyball. One of the Department’s physicians, Wen Kai Wang, was coach of the team and recruited Fournier, a cancer patient care coordinator.

“It was interesting just to see everybody so informal,” Fournier said, “to see physicians and management coming out to play. You got to see a more personal side of them.”

The League’s camaraderie also builds friendships across the normal divides of departments, programs, labs and units. “I know people in every department now,” said nursing administrator Joan Forte, “although I mostly play because it’s fun!” Forte, a cheerleader in high school, has developed into a fearless player for the Power Alley team.

Some of these amateurs are more serious than others. “There are a group of guys,” Fournier said, “who have their own bats and gloves and they play outside of Stanford. With a lot of athletes, their competitive nature is always present.”

Sometimes, there’s trash talk, too. “People just aren’t used to that,” Chin said. “I keep telling my players to keep their cool, to maintain their composure.” His goal has always been to expose his foreign-born colleagues to this classic American pastime as they get to know each other. “We have a very diverse group from Taiwan, China, Denmark, Romania, Germany, Ethiopia, Israel, Japan, Thailand−a lot are used to soccer and others to cricket. This is a whole new experience for them.”

Watching someone who’s never seen or played the game before pick up a bat or a glove is part of Chin’s reward. “And when one of those players catches a fly ball or makes an awesome defensive play, the whole team erupts with cheers,” he said. Spectators are definitely welcomed, too.

“A lot of people,” Chang said, “have come up to me over the years and told me, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever done. I feel like a kid again, running around the bases,’ That really encapsulates the way most of our players feel. It really is a healthy release.”

For more information about the season, visit

For more information about playing, show up at a game or email Commissioner Robinson at [email protected].

Photos of the SUMC Softball League can be viewed here.

About Stanford Hospital & Clinics

Stanford Hospital & Clinics is known worldwide for advanced treatment of complex disorders in areas such as cardiovascular care, cancer treatment, neurosciences, surgery, and organ transplants. Consistently ranked among the top institutions in the U.S. News & World Report annual list of “America’s Best Hospitals,” Stanford Hospital & Clinics is internationally recognized for translating medical breakthroughs into the care of patients. It is part of the Stanford University Medical Center, along with the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. For more information, visit


Media Contact:
Stanford Hospital & Clinics
Liat Kobza, 650-723-1462
[email protected]
Writer: Sara Wykes

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