Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

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Are you ready for some football?

August 31, 2009

Are you rooting for the Colts this season? Or are you a fan of the Bears, Packers, Lions, Browns, Bengals, or another team entirely? Or maybe you are a college or high-school fan to the core. Whatever team you are cheering for, football season will quickly be in full swing, with the Colts’ first regular season game Sept. 13 against Jacksonville at home.

Before all of the action begins, we took a look at what types of resources were available in the Resource Connection. The 26 resources include a photo essay about Black Hoosiers’ Sports Heritage from the Indiana Humanities Council; a tribute to Cam Cameron, former football coach at Indiana University, from the Wabash Valley Visions and Voices; and a lesson plan from the Bill of Rights Institute about the legal rights involved in being searched and patted-down upon entering NFL games.

Remember, Sept. 13 is just around the corner. Check it out for yourself so you can wow your friends with some football trivia, and don’t forget to get the grill all cleaned up–-Are you ready for some football?

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Baseball in the Resource Connection

July 5, 2009

Summer is in full swing, and with it comes the pleasure of getting to catch a ballgame or two before the brief window of sun and fun comes to an end. A recent search of “baseball” in the Resource Connection revealed some pretty interesting results. Among the 39 results are an 1887-1914 on-line baseball card exhibit from the  Library of Congress, a lesson plan about the economics of baseball from the Indiana Department of Education, a photo essay about the role of  African-Americans in sports from the Indiana Humanities Council, and a list of baseball resources for kids from the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library. So, even if your game gets rained out, you can still check out the action on-line at the Resource Connection!

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Meandering Indiana 14 – Henry County

June 8, 2009

Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame

Chaucer wrote in The Canterbury Tales that when spring arrives “than longen folk to go on pilgrimages.” So it was that while on vacation I decided to visit a shrine or two. Of course, this led me to Henry County.

I’d been in New Castle before, attending a meeting at the community foundation. But this time I was able to enter the sacred space of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. On that particular day, the long walk from the parking lot to the front door was lined with clothes and shoes, set out on tables. Under a sunny sky, The Hall was having a yard sale.

Inside I watched the brief film that tried to explain why basketball is special in the state of Indiana. It was preaching to the choir but nicely done. Wandering up and down among the glass cases, I saw photos, trophies, newspaper clippings, jerseys and letter sweaters — all the material embodiment of legends and heroes.

The most special of all, always paired in my mind, are the 1954 and 1955 state championship teams. You know the stories, too. The first is the Miracle of Milan with Bobby Plump’s last shot. The second, as wonderful, is the first school ever to win a state championship for Indianapolis — Crispus Attucks with its star, Oscar Robertson. I was once privileged to attend a 50th anniversary reunion of that team and the team it beat in the finals, Gary Roosevelt. The Indiana Humanities Council was part of the celebration at Hinkle Fieldhouse via a grant for the project, which was directed by Dr. Bill Wiggins.

Afterwards I went through the enshrinement gallery, with its exhibit of black-and-white portraits drawn by the artist Keith Butz. Each player or coach is depicted in two images, one at the time of induction into the Hall of Fame and one as he or she looked back in the day. (Girls and their coaches were included although they did not get a state tournament until 1976.)

I could have spent more time there, but I wanted to move on to my next stop in Henry County, the Hoosier Gym. Taking Route 3 south from New Castle, past I-70, to U.S. 40, then turning west brought me quickly to Knightstown. It took a bit of searching to find the Gym because it’s attached to the Knightstown Academy, which looks more like a courthouse. It was, however, once a school, and when the county built a new consolidated high school, a developer bought the Academy, now on the National Register, and turned it into condominiums.

A weekend festival was about to start, with a commemorative game to be played between “Hickory High” and “Terhune.” Again I found piles of T-shirts and souvenirs for sale outside and a volunteer docent inside to explain about how “Hoosiers” came to be filmed in this gym. I asked him whether the film crew had to do much to prepare the site for movie-making. No, he said, it only needed a coat of paint and a bit of gloss added to the floor. Otherwise, it was already perfect.

Still owned by the town, the Hoosier Gym is administered separately from the condos, so it is watched over by its community group, just as the Hall of Fame is. Therein lies the true soul of Indiana basketball, for legendary games are not only about those who are heroes but also about those are witnesses.

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Secret of the Universe Revealed?

September 10, 2008

As previously noted, I often listen to Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN radio. They don’t always stick to sports, either. This morning they were discussing the new particle collider, whether it really needs a 17-mile underground ring, and whether it would help us understand the universe. Excellent questions.

Mike Golic, the true jock on the ESPN team, remarked that the topic made him think back to his freshman year at Notre Dame. A philosophy professor strolled into the classroom on the first day, held up his cup of coffee, and told the students that through a study of this styrofoam cup, they would learn whether there is life after death. Mike Greenberg then asked his radio partner whether they ever did, and Golic said he didn’t remember. He did, however, recall that the course material involved some Kierkegaard.

What do we learn from this story? 1) A particle collider cannot tell you everything. 2) Neither can a philosophy professor, but good try. 3) All kinds of people can be intrigued by the humanities. 4) And not always on NPR.

I know this is true because I’ve met a variety of folks interested in one aspect of the humanities or another. Also, I once taught at Purdue, and I had a few of Golic’s brothers-in-arms (defensive linemen) in my classes. We had some enjoyable discussions about literature, especially when the novels involved college mores and co-ed dorms.

Ironically, G&G then went on to talk about Lou Piniella and the Chicago Cubs’ losing streak, which again brought up the topic of life after death, at least in my mind.

This entry was posted by: Nancy
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Indianapolis’ Cultural Life Featured in Two Newspapers

June 9, 2008

Andrea Sachs, travel writer for the Washington Post, came into town for Fountain Square’s Masterpiece in a Day. After she gets past mentioning all of our sport’s attractions and our “seedy lots” she finds quite a bit of cultural value here. The Denver Post picked up the same story on Saturday (same story but without the slideshow)…I just wanted to let you know that we’re famous East to Old West.

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Baseball and the Perfect Moment

June 6, 2008

[Nancy actually posted this in the comments section to the post “Is Baseball Relevant” but the commentary was too good to not be read by those receiving Hoosierati via RSS feed, so I elevated it to post status–Jim]

This is a thoughtful post and covers multiple aspects of the current and past state of baseball. Personally, though, I don’t look at it that way. There is baseball as a sport, as a business, as a reflection of American trends, as an entertainment. Then there is baseball as a Platonic idea. To get to that point, however, you really have to turn to minor league baseball.

No one wrote about this brand of baseball better than Roger Kahn in Good Enough to Dream. Kahn owned the Class A Utica Blue Sox for one season, and his book is about the struggle that he, and his players, went through purely out of a passion for the game contrary to all reason.

Or consider the greatest baseball movie ever made–Bull Durham. It is also the only sports movie in which the ending is not about the team winning or losing the Big Game. That’s because there is no way to win. Summers always end. Players always come to a point when they have to retire. Even though baseball is also the sport that has no clock, thus coming the closest to suspending time, it is still not possible for an inning to go on forever.

But you live in the perfect moment, and you go to the ballpark because there is always the possibility of seeing something truly extraordinary. Even when my team is losing, when my team is terrible, when steroids wouldn’t help anyway, I still might see something I’ve never seen before. A freak triple play. An arcane rule invoked. I once saw Kevin Gross throw a NO-HITTER in Dodger Stadium. I noticed he had a no-hitter going into the 7th inning, but I didn’t tell anyone. I just held my breath and waited until the announcer finally realized what was happening sometime in the 8th. I don’t know whether the Dodgers had a winning season or not that year, and I don’t care. It was still wonderful.

So there is no doubt in my mind that baseball is also a religious experience, an archetypal ritual. The real competition is against mortality, the levelest of playing fields. A lot of writers have pointed out this dimension of baseball, but there’s a good way to learn it for yourself. That, of course, is by rooting for the Chicago Cubs. Will they get into the World Series in my lifetime? Suffice it to say that they haven’t done it yet.

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Is Baseball Relevant?

June 5, 2008

I could be wrong but I think that commenter PigInZen meant something different than what I am about to respond to here, but nevertheless his comment to yesterday’s vintage baseball post got me thinking about the what we mean when we say that “X is/is not relevant.” Without going the high school valedictorian route of “Merriam-Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “relevant as…” here are my initial thoughts on the topic.

It is clear, I think, what someone means by “relevant” when it is applied in such a way that it means “pertains to” or “influences,” as in, “Whether John had prior knowledge of the group’s activities is relevant to whether he should be prosecuted as an accomplice.” It is less clear what is meant when people say that “hip-hop (or rock and roll or ska or rockablly) is no longer relevant.” Relevant to what?

I think what PigInZen meant by his claim that I fall into a segment of the population for whom “baseball is irrelevant” was simply to mean what is in fact the case: that I just don’t care about it because when I stopped watching it in the late 80s early 90s, I filled that hole in my leisure time with other pursuits. Having been out of it for so long has made baseball irrelevant to me.

But I immediately wondered if, as he mentioned in an earlier comment, whether baseball’s decrease in popularity along with the subsequent increase in popularity of football, NASCAR, and others was a sign that baseball was “irrelevant” in a larger sense–in the same sense that someone might assert that hip-hop is irrelevant, that is, irrelevant in a broader cultural context, not just to me and others disenchanted in the wake of the Crisis of Greed that was revealed with Pete Rose’s gambling and the players’ strike.

I won’t kill you with anticipation. I think the answer is no. Baseball is not, in my opinion, irrelevant in that sense. If baseball does, one day, become irrelevant it will become so in the sense that frock coats and hoop skirts are, that is, frock coats and hoop skirts, were they around today, would serve an identical role as they always did: they would be manifestations of a person’s right to choose from amongst various fashion(able) accessories–they are irrelevant due to their virtual non-existence. They are both still around, of course, in either modified or costume form. However both uses entails the additional context of being deliberately iconoclastic which becomes the predominant message–which was not the case when both were considered legitimate fashion choices. Similarly one can speak dead languages, play ancient games, or be desperately in love with rightfully obscure music–but all these choices are weighted down with the irrelevance that comes from being “past their prime” as legitimate couture.

It seems to me that all sports of sufficient popularity serve an entertainment function for players and spectators of the right kind. They serve as exercise in an age of decreasing demand for manual labor. They serve a significant amount of their fan base with an outlet for the use of the analytical function of their brains. They serve as “water cooler talk”–that is to say, a common cultural experience that we can use as a mechanism for reaffirming our connections with one another. They can even–and baseball is perhaps the exemplar here–influence the nature of our conversations through both metaphor and the alteration of our lexicon. H.L. Mencken in his masterpiece The American Language and Bill Bryson Sr. have both noted the dramatic impact that baseball in particular has had on, well, the American language. Even those of us who don’t watch baseball can, for example, talk about “three strike laws” and use expressions like “She really knocked that presentation out of the park.” And those are just two of the most obvious.

In the context of baseball as sport, baseball will not cease to be relevant until it also is out of fashion, and I mean entirely out of fashion, like Chicen Itza out of style. That’s not impossible of course, but it would entail, or seems to entail, the passing of American culture as a whole.

There is, I think an urge, in the defense of baseball’s relevance, to use baseball as an explanatory model of the culture in general. But I don’t think that’s true. One would not want to say, for example that, baseball hearkens back to or was a product of “a more pastoral age” as some have suggested, or that the rules of the game reveal a culture more decorous or less barbarous than the one that created football.

Such comparisons don’t help us understand the success of baseball in tech-friendly Japan or the fact that both sports have enjoyed competitively similar audiences for most of their existence. Nor do they explain away the uncivil and barbarous nature of the time of baseball’s creation which in many respects were more barbarous and uncivil than our own (and we created mixed martial arts and professional wrestling). But most importantly in this regard, such an analysis is forced to ignore the historical antecedents of the games they try to explain in this way.

But I’m not personally partial to these explanations because I think it leads us to be too cynical about our own times. Certainly life can be compared to baseball, but I don’t think that the reverse is true. Or as Joyce Carol Oates said in her book On Boxing, “Life can be like boxing, but boxing can only be like itself,” or words to that effect. Part of this is a mere semantic truth, but there is more compelling reason for this. For all its intricacies, for all its history, baseball can only be a bare model of certain elements of life: Only cooperation exists amongst teammates–only competition amongst opposing teams. Failure to abide by this principle leads to team or sport collapse. If teammates compete, the team falls apart. When teams collude, the sport itself is jeopardy.

Some assert, of course, that life is like this, but that is an extremely narrow vision of the multitude ways humans interact. If we are forced to admit that life is like the sports we play must we also admit that we are all steroid abusers, that we all tape the defense, that we all purposefully clip the drivers in front of us, that we all pretend to be hurt when we’re not to gain sympathy? If we interpret the modern Major League Baseball Association as being in decline, must we recognize that America is also in decline?

I would argue that this is to put the cart before the horse. Certainly there are those who might be eager to admit the things I’ve listed, others may do so only reluctantly. I think both are misplaced. There have always been cheaters and manipulators in baseball, just as there have been in football, auto racing, shipping, banking, taxes, war, and love.

Furthermore I think it is too easy to rush to learn a lesson from the current state of baseball. Steroid abuse in major league baseball, in my opinion, is a real shame, but I’m not so certain that it represents any sort of decline in the integrity of the sport. Ty Cobb used to slide in with his cleats up, other players were notorious bat corkers. There were, of course, the Black Sox. In a hundred years, if baseball has continued to exist as an entertainment commodity, I think future analyists won’t draw a graph of baseball’s decline from the 19th century into the 21st. Rather there will be a nice flat line that includes the admissions that black players were kept of the league because it was feared they would outperform whites, the Black Sox scandal, Pete Rose’s gambling, multiple on-field riots, and the steroids scandal. The fact is that steroids are just a new way to cheat, but cheating itself is not new at all, not to baseball, not to sports, and not to any other segment of human history.

If we remove this conventional narrative from modern baseball, it seems to me we remove the ability to claim that baseball is either more or less relevant today compared to baseball say pre-1988 or pre-World Series 1919. Similarly, if all sports are equal in their ability to provide metaphors of human competition, then we can’t say that baseball is more or less relevant than any other sport and so if I find football relevant, then I must find baseball relevant too. Which is not to say that I must admit to any more or less personal relevance. Baseball is only as relevant to me as I make it or choose to recognize.

And at this point I’ve about reached the end of my thoughts on the subject, except for this final note. It is true that, if I grew up a hundred years ago baseball’s relevance would not have lent itself to quite as much personal choice. In the same way that conversations with friends, allusions in magazines, jokes in comedy bits, are littered with references to this or that reality show or episode of “Lost,” conversations 100 years ago would require far more knowledge of the sport than I am required to have today. Or at least, that is one possible defense of baseball’s declining relevance that is harder to buck.

The fact is that the 64 year old William James probably would have gotten along just fine without needing to know the batting order of the St. Louis Nationals and I am capable of discussing at some length the propriety of the congressional investigation into steroid abuse. It is hard to quantify the relative cultural magnitude of this sort of thing. Certainly at the turn of the 20th century baseball had no real rivals in the team sports category, a fact that means that America’s mass media could concentrate on baseball’s comings-and-goings without fear of alienating anybody. As a consequence many more people–as a percentage of the whole–knew about those events, which would lead them to discuss them more and use them more often as nods to a shared common understanding, a set of shared metaphors. It is also true that America is much, much larger than it was then and baseball is now a global commodity. There are, inarguably, more people familiar with Derek Jeter as a cultural icon and sportsman now than were ever familiar with Babe Ruth in his prime–even if this knowledge doesn’t transfer into cultural currency with as many people per capita.

So, in response to a question that was not asked: I think baseball is still a relevant enterprise.