Thirteen Johns Hopkins seniors received their diplomas early Tuesday night, then lit out in quest of a national baseball championship.
The brisk ceremony, held in the air-conditioned Board Room of Hodson Hall before families and friends, lasted 16 minutes and suited the tourney-bound players just fine — especially if it results in a College World Series victory for the team.
"This [event] is something we'll remember for the rest of our lives," said shortstop James Teta, an economics major. "No, we won't graduate in 90-degree heat, in a three-hour ceremony, with our [1,205] classmates. But if that's the trade we have to make, to get a [championship] ring, we're happy to make that trade."
The Blue Jays, ranked No. 1 in the country, were to fly today to Appleton, Wis., site of this weekend's Division III College World Series. The seniors departed, degrees in hand, following the special commencement organized by school officials. As the graduates filed out, a brass quartet trumpeted, "Take Me Out To The Ball Game."
The remainder of Hopkins' seniors will graduate Thursday.
"This is the least we can do for these guys," Ronald Daniels, Hopkins president, said of the commencement, which was planned for weeks.
"We didn't want to jinx the team, but we'd hoped we'd have to do this," he said.
Hopkins (43-5) plays No. 6 Heidelberg, Ohio (40-6) at 5:30 p.m. Friday. It's the third trip to the World Series for coach Bob Babb's team, which came close before losing in the finals in 2008. Hopkins also reached the eight-team, double-elimination NCAA tournament in 1989.
Babb, whose teams have won 899 games in his 31 years at Hopkins, brushes aside his pending milestone.
"I'm going to get my 900th win at some point, God willing, but you don't get too many opportunities to win a national title," he said. "To have two chances within three years is pretty special, and to come as close as we did in 2008 makes you want to go back, take it out of the umpires' hands and win convincingly."
Babb, a Hopkins grad, has never had a losing season since taking over as coach in 1980.
Hopkins , an explosive team which won the Mid-Atlantic Region tournament last week, leads the nation in hits (601), runs (492), home runs (76) and winning percentage (.907). Top hitter Brian Youchak (.505) has a 21-game hitting streak. En route to the playoffs, the Jays reeled off 32 consecutive victories and broke the school record of 42 wins, set in 2008.
"We're still wearing the bullseye," Babb said of Hopkins' No. 1 ranking. "And we have, on paper, the toughest first-round draw. But if we play our game, we'll be fine."
The Jays last played Heidelberg in 2005, winning, 10-2. Heidelberg, winner of the Mideast Regional, may have the only mascot (the Student Princes) named for an operetta.
Addressing the graduates Tuesday, the Hopkins president reminded them that, "although your active affiliation with [Hopkins] is hereby concluded, I must impress upon you that as you leave this campus this week, you will be on official university business.
"As such," Daniels said, "we expect you to comport yourselves in a manner that will not only bring dignity, honor and respect to Johns Hopkins, but will also wreak destruction, devastation and loss on all of our opponents."
Smiles lit up the room.
"What more could I ask for?" said outfielder Brendan Walsh (international studies), wearing the traditional cap and gown. "I graduated with the people I care about."