Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Just time

@brainpicker Maria Popova and @KristaTippett , doing more than their share to counter intellectual boredom. "There is no shortcut for the conquest of meaning." Delightful conversation.
Ms. Popova: As a culture — you're right. We seem somehow bored with thinking. We want to instantly know.
Ms. Tippett: [laughs] Right, right.
Ms. Popova: And there's this epidemic of listicles. Why think about what constitutes a great work of art when you can skim the “20 Most Expensive Paintings in History?”
Ms. Tippett: Right.
Ms. Popova: And I'm very guided by this desire to counter that in myself because I am, like everybody else, a product of my time and my culture. And I remember, there's a really beautiful commencement address that Adrienne Rich gave in 1977 in which she said that an education is not something that you get but something that you claim. And I think that's very much true of knowledge itself. The reason we're so increasingly intolerant of long articles and why we skim them, why we skip forward even in a short video that reduces a 300-page book into a three-minute animation — even in that we skip forward — is that we've been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge but not do the work of claiming it. I mean, the true material of knowledge is meaning. And the meaningful is the opposite of the trivial. And the only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward is really trivia. And the only way to glean knowledge is contemplation. And the road to that is time. There's nothing else. It's just time.
Ms. Tippett: Right, right.
Ms. Popova: There is no shortcut for the conquest of meaning. And ultimately, it is meaning that we seek to give to our lives...
(continues at On Being)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Don't just stand there

Move it!
With evidence mounting that sitting for long stretches of time is unhealthy, many of us naturally wonder how best to respond. Should we stand up, or is merely standing insufficient? Must we also stroll or jog or do jumping jacks?
new study offers some helpful perspective, suggesting that even a few minutes per hour of moving instead of remaining in a chair might substantially reduce the harms of oversitting... 
...those who walked around after standing, replacing some of their sitting time with a light-intensity activity like strolling, gained a substantial benefit in terms of mortality risk... (continues)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


I didn't know tweets could be embedded. The feeling is not quite ecstatic, but... nice.

Monday, April 27, 2015

On the road

The perfect epigraph, perhaps, for my book-in-progress on peripatetic philosophy: “The life of the body [is] on the road that leads to the life of the spirit." Henri Bergson
Image result for walking on a country road

Couple that with some lines from Wordsworth, maybe...

Not in Utopia,—subterranean fields,—
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!
But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us,—the place where, in the end,
We find our happiness, or not at all!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day

A day for reflecting on the gap between nature's majesty and humanity's depredations... and a day for plotting to close it. Wordsworth would have understood.

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Opening Night!

Shiny new First Tennessee Park finally opens its doors tonight for the Nashville Sounds' 2015 home opener, on the ancestral grounds of the old Sulphur Dell ballpark.

Image result for first tennessee park  

Postscript: Walk-off win in 10, 3-2! Like Old Times...
Remembering Sulphur Dell
They call it First Tennessee Park, this spanking new $75 million baseball stadium that awaits the Nashville Sounds' first home game this Friday under the lights.

But Middle Tennessee baseball fanatics age 60 and older cherish memories of a creaking, wooden grandstand and a sunken field with a ridiculously short right field fence that claimed this spot for nearly a century, the historic and no-so hallowed ball park known notoriously and affectionately as Sulphur Dell.

Historians believe the first baseball game may have been played here in 1862, possibly by Yankee soldiers occupying Nashville during the Civil War. The first organized game took place Sept. 11, 1866, when the Flynns beat the Burns 25-16.

For 78 years pro baseball survived at this site, originally called Sulphur Springs Bottom, beside a sulphur spring around which the city of Nashville grew and prospered. In 1908 legendary Tennessean sportswriter Grantland Rice, a Murfreesboro native, nicknamed the ballpark Sulphur Dell. The name stuck, while at times the park stunk.

With the city dump smoldering nearby, there were occasions when fans inhaled the mixed aromas of popcorn, peanuts and burning mattresses. The field lay some 20 to 30 feet below the street level outside the park, thus it was ripe for flooding from the Cumberland River after heavy rains. And with its hills in the outfield and being but 262 feet from home plate to the right field foul pole, managers of visiting teams were known to quip, "who the hell can play baseball in a telephone booth."

No wonder it garnered such derogatory nicknames as "Suffer Hell" and "the Dump."

The Sounds' new stadium at 401 Jackson Street, a half mile north of the state capitol near Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, need not fear such disdain. There be no hills in front of the fences, and the right field line measures 310 feet at the fence. With 8,500 fixed seats and lots of extras, First Tennessee Park likely will allow Sounds fans to quickly forget, alas, poor Greer Stadium.

(The Sounds, by the way, members of the Triple A Pacific Coast League, are now affiliated with the Oakland Athletics, and the first home game is sold out.)

Local baseball historian Skip Nipper, author of Baseball in Nashville: Images of Baseball(Arcadia Publishing, $19.99), laments the death of Sulphur Dell, which saw its last professional game in 1963. However, he was elated when he heard that the city of Nashville would move the game back to where it began.

"I had been going to Greer Stadium since 1978. In 30 years it had become sort of dilapidated and out of date. I always thought Nashville deserved better," said Nipper, who claims Mt. Juliet as his home base. "I think the new site is excellent with its tradition and history. There's a lot of baseball DNA in the dirt out there.

"The configuration of right field in the new ballpark will overlap some portion of the old right field. I think that's special," said the retired sales representative for New Era baseball caps.

Nipper cannot recollect the date of his first visit to Sulphur Dell, but his memory is vivid.

"We sat down the right field line in the grandstand because Dad wanted to sit close to right field; he wanted me to see that right field and watch the right fielder and have a ball come off of that wall some times. The only other memory I really have is my grandfather not letting me getting anything to eat until seventh-inning stretch. He wanted me to watch the game, to learn the game," said the East Nashville native, a graduate of Stratford High School who played baseball up to age 18 in the local Connie Mack League.

His decision to compile a book with 85 photos that help tell the 150-year history of Nashville baseball came by happenstance. In 2002, he and his father attended a baseball game at Chicago's Wrigley Field, historic home of the Cubs.

"On the plane coming home, Dad said how much it reminded him of Sulphur Dell. I got on the Internet but couldn't find anything about Sulphur Dell," recalled Nipper.

He then purchased an Internet web site template and began his research. One of his best sources proved to be the Metro Nashville Archives in Green Hills where he found photos of Sulphur Dell as well as a mother lode of baseball stories from local newspapers on microfilm.

"My dad knew Nashville Banner sportswriter Edgar Allen and some of the group at the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association. I started gathering photos, oral biographies, newspaper clippings. SABR, the Society of American Baseball Research, had databases with stats on players, plus publications."

By September 2003, Nipper had loaded much of the history of Nashville baseball and of Sulphur Dell ballpark on his web site. Three years later he set up a booth with Sulphur Dell memorabilia at Nashville's Oktoberfest, and a number of Nashvillians stopped to chat and share stories about watching games at Sulphur Dell with their fathers or grandfathers.

"People would come up to me and say, 'I remember my dad took me there' or 'I saw Carl Sawatski hit a home run.' Then I would say, 'I have this web site.' They told me, 'People that remember Sulphur Dell don't know the Internet.' So I thought of a book."

His tome covers numerous unorthodox situations at the park, but Sulphur Dell's skimpy right field takes the cake.

"The right field line was only 262 feet from home plate, and it was a low-lying area so if the right fielder was standing at the base of the fence, he was 22½ feet above the playing surface," Nipper shared.

"The hill began at about 235-240 feet. It was almost a 45-degree incline. Often reporters would call the outfielders 'mountain goats' as there was a porch carved out there about halfway up the hill where the outfielder would stand. It was a six-foot shelf where he could stand and be ready for a ball headed for the fence or come down the hill to field the ball.

"I heard Buster Boguskie [a former Nashville Vol who played at Sulphur Dell] saying a line drive would be hit to the base of the right field fence, and he would field it at second base as it caromed off the fence and throw out the runner at first base."

A couple of other idiosyncrasies inside the park were a scoreboard in left center, similar to the Brooklyn Dodgers' scoreboard at Ebbett's Field, that was part of the playing field as was the flag pole in deep centerfield.

Going back to the beginning, Nipper notes that the playing field in the 1860s was known as Sulphur Springs Bottom and used by locals as a recreation area. Construction began in 1884 on a new grandstand called Athletic Park, and the first professional baseball game occurred March 30, 1885, when Nashville played an exhibition game against Indianapolis.

"From 1885 to the late 1890s Nashville had a team in the Southern League and played at Athletic Park. In 1901 they became a part of the Southern Association for 61 years. In 1927 the ballpark was turned around so the sun would not be in the batter's eyes and from then until the 1950s very few changes were made," said Nipper.

As for sportswriter Rice's inspiration of renaming the location from Sulphur Bottom to Sulphur Dell, historian Nipped reports, "He wrote about it in rhyme, and Nashville Bannersportswriter Fred Russell saw the article and eluded to the fact that Rice couldn't find anything to rhyme with 'bottom.' A dell is kind of a low-lying grassy area and a one-word description. So Rice came up with Sulphur Dell."

Nipper quickly gives a rundown on some of the most famous boys of summer who played for Nashville teams when they were known as the Vols.

"Two Hall of Famers played part of their career at Sulphur Dell: Kiki Cuyler, an outfielder for the Nashville Vols in the early1920s, who later played with the Pirates and Reds, and Waite Hoyt, most famous for pitching for the Yankees, who played part of a season here in Nashville.

"Johnny Vander Meer, who pitched two consecutive no-hitters in the majors, played part of a season here. He came to Nashville because he had a bad arm and there was a doctor in town famous for helping athletes with injuries."

Jim "Dusty" Rhodes, who played for the Vols in 1951 and 1952, went to the majors and became the most valuable player when the New York Giants won the 1954 World Series.

He also notes that Carl Sawatski, who played here in 1949, was famous for hitting some of the most prodigious home runs in any park in the Southern Association. While Bob Lennon hit 64 homeruns for the Vols in 1954 with 42 coming at Sulphur Dell.

(Nipper reports that the right field fence rose 16 feet, and above it stretched 30 more feet of wire or netting, thus a left-handed hitter had to swing the bat with an uppercut to knock the ball out of the park.)

Why did professional baseball die at this historic venue after the Vols played their final game here Sept. 8, 1963?

"I think there are a lot of things as a fan that I could put a finger on," Nipper said. "The city limits were expanding, and so people had moved away who used to could walk to the game. Television had some effect. Air conditioning had some effect.

"From the professional side, the major leagues did two things. They started televising the game of the week, so you didn't have to read about your favorite player and major league teams. You could watch them on TV. And Major League teams quit paying some of the stipends that they had been giving to some players and teams."

In 1964 amateur baseball teams played at Sulphur Dell, and in 1965 it became a race track. It was also used in its final few years for circuses, wrestling events and concerts (for the likes of black singers such as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Dionne Warwick and Sam Cooke, among others).

Near the end the baseball shrine, that once hosted Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other titans of the game, served as a tow-in lot for Metro Nashville.

"In 1969 they just bulldozed everything in, and they used the rubble to fill in the hole after the Andrew Jackson Hotel was torn down," said Nipper about the ignominious disappearance of two Nashville icons.

He notes that 35 stalwarts showed up to watch their beloved ballpark bite the dust.

Thankfully, the dreamers, movers, and shakers behind First Tennessee Park did not forget their city's baseball roots as homages will be paid to the original playing field.

"Outside the stadium there is a greenway where there will be some stanchions. Also on the outside of an outfield wall there will be a big marquee that says, 'Sulphur Dell: Baseball's most historic park.' It will not be the original sign, but that will be a real nice call-out, and inside the stadium they are going to use images of Nashville's baseball history," said the man who knows this story by heart. -
Ken Beck

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A fond elegy

A fond elegy for MTSU's "Baseball in Literature and Culture" Conference

(Submitted for publication in MTSU's College of Liberal Arts Magazine)

Every Spring for the past decade, MTSU's College of Liberal Arts and English Department (and tireless organizers Ron Kates and Warren Tormey) have hosted an event that to me had come to seem as promising a harbinger of the season as April showers and the first flowering forsythia: the "Baseball in Literature and Culture" Conference, which convened for the 20th time (following a prior decade in Indiana) this past April 3d. 

And now, abruptly, it's leaving us. Heading north, to Kansas City. (More precisely to Ottawa, Kansas - across the Missouri-Kansas border and Major League Baseball's Royals, and the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame.)

I’ve been privileged to participate in this sunny event every year since 2008, making it nearly as much a perennial source of personal renewal for me as the game itself. Besides the usual throng of scholars from across the country, the conference always drew a "name" ex-Big Leaguer to deliver a luncheon keynote and sign our books, programs, pennants, cards, whatever. The "inner child," no matter how old or sober-faced the outer scholar, was always thrilled. 

We were graced here by pitchers, mostly - Denny McLain, Mudcat Grant, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Rooker, Tommy John, Jim Bouton, Bill “Spaceman” Lee - so it was nice to see hitters of the stature of Willie Wilson and Ken Griffey stepping up to the lectern in the conference's final At Bats. 

For the record (it being baseball, after all, a game suffused with record-keeping): in my conference talks over the years I discussed Ted Williams & John Updike, George Plimpton's apocryphal (but amazing) Sidd Finch, the meaning of life, umpires and rules, heroes of my St. Louis youth like Bob Gibson & later semi-villains like Mark McGwire, time and eternal recurrence, Nashville’s old Sulfur Dell ballpark, Spring Training and the perennial renewal of life... and next year I was finally going to do something on Murfreesboro's favorite son, legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice. ("It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.") And why shouldn't I? What else is there for me to do, on the first Friday in April?

Guess I'm goin' to Kansas City in 2016... Kansas City, here I come!

Phil Oliver
Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy

Sunday, March 22, 2015

20th Annual Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference

It's that time of year again! My secular talk on Spring Training* is on a panel discussing baseball, religion, and Genesis. I suppose that's apt: in the beginning was the Grapefruit and the Cactus...

Sadly, this is the last of these conferences to be hosted by my school. Next year it moves to Kansas City. I'll have to travel quite a bit more than the few steps from my office to the conference site I've grown accustomed to.

POSTSCRIPT: Ken Griffey is this year's conference headliner. I happen to have had a copy of Ken Burns' Baseball (the book) on hand in my office, which he graciously signed on page 460 below the photo of his son greeting him at the plate after his (KG Sr's) first HR as a Seattle Mariner.

"My Oh My"

Agenda for 20th Annual Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference

April 3, 2015 - Murfreesboro, Tennessee (Middle Tennessee State University)

7:45-8:15 Registration and Breakfast

8:10-8:15 Welcome: Warren Tormey, Conference Coordinator

8:15-9:00 Keynote Address: Sarah Bunting, tomatonation.com

9:05-10:00 Concurrent Sessions A

Session A1: Baseball in the 1920’s and 30’s
Location: Hazlewood Chair:

Michael Pagel, Northeast State University:
“Luke Goodwood Strikes Out in Robert Penn Warren’s ‘Goodwood Comes Back’”

Nick Bush, Motlow State University

“The Berg Identity: A Short Story Adventure Advantage About a Princeton Catcher Turned WWII Spy”

Dan Anderson, Dominican University:
“'This Harlem Urge’: Garveyite Nationalism, Black Aesthetics, and Negro League Baseball in the Interstate-Tattler.”

Session A2: Baseball Historians and Baseball History
Location: Dining Rm. C Chair:

Dallas Hanbury, Middle Tennessee State University:
“Play Ball! Du Pont Company Baseball in Old Hickory, Tennessee” (Part 1)

Ronnie Pugh, Nashville Public Library:

“Play Ball! Du Pont Company Baseball in Old Hickory, Tennessee” (Part 2)

Josh Howard, Middle Tennessee State University:

“The Wendell Smith Exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame”

10:15-11:15 Concurrent Sessions B
Session B1: Late 19th Century Baseball

Location: Hazlewood Chair:

Scott Peterson, Wright State University:
“Sporting Life Journalism in 1890”

James Jones, Tennessee Historical Commission:
“’Play Ball!’ The First Year of Professional Baseball in Tennessee, 1885”

Skip Nipper, sulphurdell.com:
“The Americans in the Southern League: Nashville’s First Professional Baseball Players”

*Session B2: Baseball and Spirituality
Location: Dining Rm. C Chair:

Phil Oliver, Middle Tennessee State University:
“Spring Training and the Perennial Renewal of Life”

Brian Steverson, Knoxville TN:
“Baseball Literature-Bible Literature: Cultural Interconnectivity”

Warren Tormey, Middle Tennessee State University:
“Imposing the Genesis Narrative onto the Vintage Game”

Session B3: Baseball in Creative Writing
Location: Faculty Senate Chambers Chair:

Bob Johnson, Eastern Kentucky University:

David Veve, Dalton State University:
“Baseball Graphin’: Collecting Baseball Autographs and the Day My Fiance’ Should Have Dumped Me!”

Jacob Collins-Wilson:
“Poems about Baseball”

11:25-12:05 Concurrent Sessions C
Session C1: Dramatic Reading

Location: Hazlewood Chair:
Crosby Hunt, Middle Tennessee State University

Monologue Adapted from Jonathan Schwartz’s “A Day of Light and Shadows”

12:15-1:30 Luncheon and Ken Griffey Talk
Tennessee Room
12:00-12:45 Lunch
12:45-1:30 Ken Griffey Talk (~30 min. talk + 10 min. Q&A)

Book Signing in James Union Lobby to follow talk

2:00-3:00 Concurrent Sessions D
Session D1: Baseball and Commodity

Location: Hazlewood Chair:
Andrew Hazucha, Ottawa University:

“The Joe Tinker Project: One Kansas Town’s Attempt to Save Itself”

Shawn O’Hare, Carson-Newman University:
“Tug McGraw, Cartoonist”

Sylvio Lynch, Bowling Green State University:
“The American Baseball Card and Youth Culture”
Session D2: Baseball in Cultural Contexts
Location: Dining Rm. C Chair:

Tim Mirabito, Marist College and Robin Hardin, University of Tennessee:
“The Healing Power of Baseball in Post 9/11 New York”

Seth Roberts: “Sugar and Spanish Speaking Influences”

Steven Andrews, Grinnell College:
"From Intercollegiate to Intramural and Back Again: Grinnell College Baseball, 1867-1957."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Leonard Nimoy's last tweet* echoed the ironic humanism of his Vulcan alter-ego, the hopefulness of his boss, and the optimism of this old post:

“A lot of science-fiction is nihilistic and dark and dreadful about the future, and ‘Star Trek’ is the opposite,” Mr. Nimoy said. “We need that kind of hope, we need that kind of confidence in the future. I think that’s what ‘Star Trek’ offers. I have to believe that — I’m the glass-half-full kind of guy.”
* Leonard Nimoy @TheRealNimoy  ·  Feb 23
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP
Strange new worlds... ST humanism

Monday, February 16, 2015

David Carr's last words

His final column, drawn from the syllabus for his Boston University communications school course, is full of life wisdom and sound pedagogy. I'll be cribbing from it from now on, beginning with the way he introduced himself:
"Your professor... hates suck-ups, people who treat waitresses and cab drivers poorly and anybody who thinks diversity is just an academic conceit. He is a big sucker for the hard worker and is rarely dazzled by brilliance. He has little patience for people who pretend to ask questions when all they really want to do is make a speech.
"He has a lot of ideas about a lot of things, some of which are good. We will figure out which is which together. He likes being challenged. He is an idiosyncratic speaker, often beginning in the middle of a story, and is used to being told that people have no idea what he is talking about. It’s fine to be one of those people... he will strive to be a lucid, linear communicator.
"Your professor is fair, fundamentally friendly, a little odd, but not very mysterious. If you want to know where you stand, just ask.”
He encouraged teamwork. “While writing, shooting, and editing are often solitary activities, great work emerges in the spaces between people,” David wrote, adding, “Evaluations will be based not just on your efforts, but on your ability to bring excellence out of the people around you...”
David warned there would be a heavy reading list. “I’m not sliming you with a bunch of textbooks, so please know I am dead serious about these readings,” he wrote. “Skip or skim at your peril...”
“Who you are and what you have been through should give you a prism on life that belongs to you only... Don’t raise your hand in class,” he wrote. “This isn’t Montessori, I expect people to speak up when they like, but don’t speak over anyone.”
“If you text or email during class, I will ignore you as you ignore me,” David added. “It won’t go well.” 
I'll bet most of his classes went very well. Gonna miss him too.



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