Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Cooperstown Symposium 2008

Another year, another former major leager tossing the ball for both teams in Town Ball.

As always, there were number of fascinating topics presented at this year's Cooperstown Symposium, so many that there was never a time slot in which there was nothing I wanted to hear so I never got my usual free time to wander Main Street and poke around the stores. I managed to grab a few quick minutes to pop in to Willis Monie Books, chatting with co-symposiite and Cubs' fan Merle as we skimmed the spines crowded into the shelves right inside the door, the hot spot for used books in Cooperstown.

Because this is the centennial of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" the song was, of course, the topic of a presentation. Timothy Johnson's Music Theory for Dummies ("Analysis of Melodic Shape") look at the song was an interactive session, opening with the audience rising to sing the National Anthem, fixing the particular musical theory Dr Johnson was addressing firmly in our own experience. There were a couple other songs we rose to sing, including TMOTTB, and someone nearby expressed exactly what I was thinking, that this session was like being at Mass. We talk about the chuch of baseball and the green cathedrals, so this made perfect sense.

We were to have a demonstration of Pesapallo, Finnish baseball, which was rained out. The presenters, Kevin Casebolt and Shawn Munford of East Stroudsburg University,, gave us a packet that included a schematic of the field which I kept having to refer to to make sense of the rules. The pesapallo diamond is not equilateral like the baseball diamond, and a home run is reaching third.

Terumi Rafferty-Osaki gave an impassioned presentation on the Japanese internment camps and baseball. This is a subject I knew of, but knew little about it, the children's book Baseball Saved Us and the movie American Pastime, but these barely hint at the volumes of information and evidence that Terumi displayed. Each year I find a presentation that opens a whole new arena to explore and take to my classroom and this year it was this one.

There was a session with guest umpires who were with us via video tape and through a son/co-author, talking about umpiring in the Negro Leagues and the Pacific Coast League. (I got a souvenir at this session, a baseball autographed by Branch Rickey. Branch Rickey III, that is, Mr. Rickey's grandson who is president of the PCL. And who looks eerily like his grandfather more than ever.

One participant brings his primary source to the conference and lets the other participants ask what they want to know. Last year he brought a member of the 1986 Mets, who was on the DL and didn't play in the World Series. This year he brought Mario Ramos who is transitioning from being a professional athlete to civilian life. His willingness to speak with a roomful of baseball academic geeks was appreciated as was his apparent introspective take on his role in life. Another former minor leaguer present commented that Mario was much farther ahead, had a more mature outlook, than he himself had at the same age. I suggested that the two of them hold a panel presentation next year with our resident cultural anthropologist and former minor leaguer as moderator.

My favorite session, possibly of all time, was by Stephen Wood and David Pincus. These two have presented in the past and each time it's been a stand out. They've covered music (sung a few songs in the presentation) , they've covered films (I use their movie website http://www.reelbaseball.com/ as a source in my class. This time they presented photos. They're both professional photographers who like to take busman's holidays at ball park, and they've gathered a beautiful collection in a book, Baseball Revealed: A Photo Essay On The Hidden Art In America's Game. I loved this mostly visual presentation. They talked about taking pictures of things other than the action of the game, lines and angles and colors and lighting in and around ballparks that are interesting, and as I watched the images flash past I was enthralled, mostly because they were great shots, but also because they were photos I would have taken. I love the quirky things one can see at a ballpark, the dramas and comedies being played out. People who haven't attended a live professional game, a minor league game in particular, don't understand that the game, the action on the field, is only a part of the experience, and their collection highlights this.

These are a couple of examples from my work, taken at The Beehive in New Britain, CT.

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