America's pasttime continues to reflect culture

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March Madness is over and April is here. It’s time to hit the diamond as Major League Baseball opened its season Wednesday with the defending World Series champions St. Louis Cardinals visiting the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark.

So, in that vein, I want to talk about MTSU’s annual Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference, which was held Friday. The event included a speech by former MLB pitcher Tommy John, the very man the surgery is named after.

Also, several professors from around the nation gave presentations on different topics on the game, like the voices of the diamond.

Because I’m a member of the media, I enjoy following sports coverage from around the world, especially when a big event is coming up. I want to see which networks were named to televise upcoming matches. Some of the announcers, either in radio or television, have played a big part in making the sport such an American icon.

Bob Barrier, who teaches at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, did a presentation about the famous announcers.

During a recent interview, Barrier said he along with other long-time fans of the sport have enjoyed the old timers more so than today’s crop of announcers.  Most of them have long since retired or have past away, but there is still a few around.

The bad thing is, I used to enjoy watching baseball on television. I was never a Chicago Cubs or Atlanta Braves fan, but I have always enjoyed the work of WGN reporter Harry Caray for the Cubs and his son, Skip, who called Braves contests for TBS.

Of course, there were some national broadcasters I enjoyed like Bob Costas, Al Michaels and Vin Scully.

Today, I hate watching the game on television because they all sound the same. All of the personality has been taken away from the current crop of announcers. Barrier said during his presentation that most of the attendees agreed with that viewpoint.

Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell described what viewers and listeners look for in a broadcaster.

“Listeners want a broadcaster they can listen to in a variety of circumstances,” he said. “In the car. Inside the home. Working in the garage. Relaxing in the backyard. With the radio underneath the pillow.”

But I’m still glad I have the MLB network and ESPN Classic, so I can still keep up with what is going on.

Another topic discussed at the conference was about one of the best novel I have ever read, “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach.

The book features a shortstop named Henry Skrimshander, who even at a Division III school is looked at by several people around the sport as the next big thing.

The book deals with losing it all and trying to get it back. Of course, even if you are not a baseball fan, you need to read this book.

Professors Shawn O’Hare from Carson-Newman College and Steve Andrews from Grinnell College spoke about the book.

Andrews talked about how all of the main characters use literature and the liberal arts to further their college education, all while playing baseball. For example, the bench warmer on the team, Owen Dunne and Skrimshander’s roommate spend games reading instead of watching the game.

As for O’Hare, he focused on how baseball is a metaphor for life.

“The goal in baseball is to minimize errors ...” he said in an e-mail. “I contend that we spend a good part of our lives trying not to screw up.”

David Hunter can be contacted at
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Baseball, Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference, MTSU, Sports, Voices
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