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  • Baseball Connections
  • John Shorey (bio)

I gaze out the window from the front passenger seat of the motor coach, watching the recently tasseled cornfields whiz by. It is midmorning on a late July day in America's heartland. Seated across the aisle is my friend and colleague, Bill Ricketts. Behind me, dispersed throughout the bus, are twenty-two baseball fans, ranging from retired couples to recently graduated high school seniors and everything in between. We are on day three of a week-long baseball class/tour through the Midwest. As the bus rambles along I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis, an excerpt from the "First Inning" of Ken Burn's documentary Baseball plays on the video monitors, and I think to myself, It doesn't get much better than this.

Just about every baseball fan has experienced the generational connections of baseball within their family. I know I have. But on this occasion, I shared my love of baseball with twenty-two people I had not met until two days before. By the end of the week, the connections inspired by baseball forged a special bond within the group.

For me, baseball is about connections. It connects me with my childhood; it connects me with my parents and grandfather, my brother and sisters, childhood friends, Little League, and trips to County Stadium in Milwaukee to watch my favorite player, Henry Aaron. It connects me with my recent past and my present; this includes my wife and daughters, friends, colleagues, fantasy baseball, attending games ranging from t-ball, to collegiate, the minor leagues, and the majors.

Baseball connects me with our country's history and culture. The game has definitely impacted the course of US history. The first large group gathering in New York City after 9/11 was the Mets versus Braves baseball game. A Mike Piazza home run late in the game gave New Yorkers something to cheer about after the long days of suffering and grief. Baseball also helped launch the civil rights movement. Shortly before his death in 1968, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. remarked, "Jackie Robinson made my success possible. Without him, I never would have been able to do what I did." Baseball is interwoven throughout our culture, from baseball caps to dozens of baseball phrases [End Page 16] used in everyday conversions. Baseball is ubiquitous throughout our culture, which lays the foundation for how baseball promotes connections.

Over a recent twenty-year span of my life, I was fortunate enough to experience connections through baseball in a very unique way. For two decades, I developed and taught a course called "Baseball and American Culture" at Iowa Western Community College. The idea for the class was inspired by an article I came across in a professional journal about a college course offered by the University of Southern Maine, in which the professor and class went on a week-long bus trip traversing the Northeast to tour various baseball sites and attend games. With that as my inspiration, I thought, "Why not develop a Midwest version of the class?" I needed a cohort to help teach and handle the logistics of a week-long trip. I turned to friend and fellow instructor Bill, and he agreed to help develop the course with me.

The wheels for the class started in motion early in the spring semester of 1998. The timing to start a baseball class couldn't have been better. At that time the United States was embroiled in the Clinton impeachment proceedings; the country needed a lift and a distraction. As in many other times throughout our history, baseball came to the rescue. Excitement was building for the upcoming Major League Baseball season in anticipation of a possible run at Roger Maris's single-season home run record. Bill and I had to really sell our community college president and the executive board on our idea of getting paid to teach a class on baseball. We jokingly told our president that if we caught a Mark McGwire home run ball, we would donate it to the college if the class and week-long trip was approved. The class was approved. Little did...


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pp. 16-24
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