The Thrill of Victory

By Dusty Shimkus ’13.

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
– Emily Dickinson.

After regaling you with tales of failures and lessons learned, we feel inclined to turn the mood upward with a thrilling story of victory. Here, Dusty Shimkus ’13 delivers a colorful account of an unforgettable moment on the baseball diamond. An outfielder for the Cadets, he was the designated hitter for this storied game and remained on the bench as his team took the field, giving him a clear view from the dugout.

Throughout its illustrious history, Norwich University has accumulated many stories of victory. In a proud athletic tradition that honors champions and powerhouses, all-Americans and Olympians, stories from the Norwich Nine—the Cadets baseball team—have been fewer and further between. On a campus that at times has dirty snow piles melting in the shadows until early May, it is understandable why it is a little-known fact that NU fields one of the oldest collegiate baseball programs in the country, with records indicating the first club formed in 1860.

In my time on the team, and in previous decades, success evaded the Norwich Nine. While the trophy cases for other sports programs continue to fill with national and conference championship hardware, the Norwich baseball team has struggled to gain momentum. It’s no wonder; a summer sport that starts spring training amid 3-foot-high snowdrifts in a central Vermont valley is at a disadvantage out of the gate.

So if you are looking for a story about one of Norwich’s greatest teams in terms of the number of cumulative victories, this isn’t it.

On the other hand, if you are interested in a story about a Norwich team that has bonded together, with teammates dedicating themselves to one other and to the common cause of representing their alma mater despite daunting setbacks and challenges, all the while embodying the spirit of the Norwich motto, I Will Try, and in one sweet instant, achieving a moment of glory after years of disappointments—if you’re interested in that kind of story, take a couple of minutes to read this tale of the 2012 Norwich baseball Cadets, with whom I had the privilege to play.

On Sunday, March 25, 2012, the Norwich bus pulled onto the campus of Castleton State College (now University) for a doubleheader with our in-state rival, the Spartans. The games were on, despite the rain that continued to drizzle from the night before, and temperatures that threatened to turn those raindrops into snowflakes. Cadet spirits were high, in spite of our winless record to that point—the day before, we’d dropped to 0-11 in a doubleheader sweep at the hands of Clark College. But amid our optimism, we suffered no delusions about our underdog status against Castleton, who routinely competed for their conference championship. In continuing with the established norm, we fell in Game 1 against the Spartans 10-2, dropping us to 0-12 on the season.

The first three innings of Game 2 seemed to promise the same dismal outcome. But in the top of the fourth, something clicked, and the Cadets’ bats exploded for six runs driven in by six different players, to take an 11-7 lead. (At that point in the season, Norwich’s game-score high was six runs; it was mind-blowing to achieve six in just a single inning.)

In the bottom of the fifth, with Castleton advancing, Norwich clung to a two-run lead. With two outs and a runner on third threatening to reduce our lead to one, senior Alexandro Cardoza ’12 delivered a pitch that sailed past catcher Josh Beardsley ’13 and into the backstop. The Castleton runner broke for home, and Cardoza rushed the plate from the pitcher’s mound as Beardsley sprinted to retrieve the ball. Sliding to his knees to grab the ball, Beardsley turned and threw, hitting Cardoza’s glove mid-stride as he and the runner dove toward home. A roar erupted from the Norwich bench and fans as the umpire ruled that Cardoza applied the tag before the runner reached the plate, thereby ending the Castleton threat for the inning. In his excitement, Cardoza sprang to his feet, yelled something in Spanish, and spiked the ball on home plate like a running back who’d just scored a touchdown.

With two innings yet to play, we understood that we had to remain focused. After Nick Gendron ’14 and Joe Sleeman ’12 drove in two more runs in the top of the sixth, we headed to the bottom of the seventh up 13–9. Castleton scored a run, and Norwich soon found its lead further threatened as the Spartans loaded the bases and brought the winning run to the batter’s box with two outs. We were one out away from defeating our archrival for the first time since anyone could recall.

Castleton’s batter, a lefty, hit a groundball to the right. The play seemed to move in slow motion as first baseman Seth Knihtila ’12 slid to his knees to field the ball. With the batter sprinting out of the box, Knihtila realized he had little time to reach the bag. He seemed to defy gravity, springing to his feet and launching himself into midair, diving headfirst toward the bag. The Castleton runner had also gone airborne in a dive.

In a surreal moment, both bodies were fully extended and torpedoing headfirst toward first base, arms outstretched, each straining to reach the bag first. In the bleachers, spectators hollered in the manner of Kentucky Derby ticketholders on the final turn around the track.

As the umpire emphatically called the runner out, the Cadets stormed the field like a team that had just won the World Series. The look of shock on the Spartans’ faces during the postgame handshake only enhanced our joy as we boarded the bus, turned the radio up, and celebrated all the way back to Northfield.

At long last, we had beaten Castleton, and made Norwich proud.

Castleton base runner and Norwich first baseman Seth Knihtila ’12 dive for the bag in the heart-stopping, game-clinching last play. (Photo: Matt Albury '10.)

Castleton base runner and Norwich first baseman Seth Knihtila ’12 dive for the bag in the heart-stopping, game-clinching last play. (Photo: Matt Albury ’10.)

Dustin “Dusty” Shimkus ’13 served as the 2012–13 regimental commander for the Norwich Corps of Cadets. Today, he is an Army first lieutenant transportation officer stationed at Fort Eustis, Virginia. He still plays baseball, and always will.

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