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

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