Never played softball? Aaron Ling and Nicolas Thiault, Ph.D., are the coaches for you! These two have teamed up to lead La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) scientists and staff to victory in a local league here in La Jolla.
Well, maybe not victory. But the teams are having a lot of fun. “If we lose, we do it with happiness and smiles on our faces,” says Thiault.
LJI employees have long taken pride in their softball prowess (there’s a break room full of trophies to prove it), but the sport has taken on special significance as a way to bring people together during the COVID-19 pandemic. While games slowed down for a while earlier in the pandemic, more and more players are signing up, and LJI will field a third team for the first time this year. The teams this summer also include a record number of women on the field.
Ling serves as Senior Director, Financial Planning & Analysis, at LJI. He sees softball as a great way to meet people from other parts of the Institute. “Softball helps bridge the gap between admin and researchers,” he says.
Thiault studies autoimmunity and immunooncology in the lab of LJI Professor Hilde Cheroutre, Ph.D. He’s originally from France, where softball is not popular. Of course, once he joined the LJI softball team, he was hooked. “I loved it so much,” Thiault says. “It’s really about friendships, making new friends among your coworkers and having a good time. It’s one hour when you can leave your stress behind you and just have fun.”
The LJI softball teams belong to a league that includes players from UC San Diego and many nearby biotechs. They play in La Jolla every Wednesday during the summer and every Monday during the rest of the year. There are two LJI teams for beginners and a team for the more experienced players. Outside of games, the teams get together for a summer BBQ and family pizza night.
“We have people who have never even picked up a bat or a glove,” says Ling. “You can see their improvement throughout the season.”
“All you need is a glove, and actually we have some extras if you don’t have one,” Thiault adds.