The trip taken by “Baseball and American Identity” to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York was my first immersion experience—and it exceeded my expectations. As the blog entries by students and staff attest, the trip was enriching to the course and to the students’ liberal arts education. I was very impressed by the students; not only for their enthusiasm for the trip (which itself wasn’t surprising) but in the seriousness with which they undertook their work. I was probably most uncertain about how the archival research would go—would students take it seriously and engage it? They certainly did. As part of their work, each student did research on a Hall of Fame player, or a potential Hall of Fame player, who was born in the state of Indiana. The contemporary players are well known (e.g. Don Mattingly and Scott Rolen) but most Hall of Fame players from Indiana played in the first part of the 20th century (and some in the 19th century). These are players such as Amos Rusie, Sam Rice, Mordecai Brown, Edd Roush, and others. Searching through player files, scrapbooks, and other sources in the Hall of Fame’s Giamatti Research Center, students delved into the stories of these names from baseball’s past. In doing so they came to understand a different part of history and to learn the personal narratives that exceed a player’s career accomplishments. Not only did students undertake the research seriously (white gloves and all) but most returned to the archives for additional research time.
In addition to their research on a Hoosier player, each student studied a museum exhibit or set of artifacts and considered how it seeks to construct the relationship of baseball and American identity and culture. Students considered the stories the exhibits tell, what elements of history they emphasize, and what elements from the past they omit. That exploration will be the subject of an end of semester paper revision that will build from students’ initial consideration of these topic areas prior to the trip and also a final course presentation. Students studied exhibits on Women in Baseball, Latin Baseball, Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and more.
Just as the students did their work, I used the immersion experience to engage in similar pursuits. Sitting in the shadow of the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former Yale president and Major League Baseball Commissioner who banned Pete Rose from baseball due to gambling, I continued my research into the Roger Kahn papers and the production of Rose’s first post-ban autobiography. And while students examined museum exhibits for their class projects, I too explored the newest permanent exhibit at the Hall of Fame, “One for the Books: Baseball Records & The Stories Behind Them.” I worked on a project that considers the ways in which the exhibit reconstructs our memory and understanding of baseball history while making an initial attempt to put baseball’s “steroid era” in an historical context that recognizes the statistics amassed but also tells us that the stories make the numbers something more (and less) than what they first seem.
As the blog entries explain, we were also treated to behind the scenes access to library collections and presentations from museum staff. Students also had ample time to explore the museum and Cooperstown. And we had time together, to watch the baseball playoffs and to learn more about one another.
I thank the College for the opportunity for this trip. I also thank those who participated in the trip and made it a success: Mike Raters and Steve Klein modeled research and engaged the students in discussions of baseball and beyond; Mark Siegel did an excellent job of documenting the trip in ways that will preserve its meaning for the College and the individual students; and Matt Page ’13 provided strong leadership and mentoring to the students. Jerry Bowie provided important logistical support for the trip. Most of all, I wish to thank the staff at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. They were most accommodating in working with us, sharing of their time and their expertise. Collectively these individuals made this a foundational and formational educational experience for all involved in the trip and something the students will always remember.