I had a creative-writing professor who was sick of reading about baseball.
In retrospect, I don’t really blame her. It seems like most of us wrote about baseball at some point that semester, prompting her to put a ban on all stories that include the phrase “the crack of the bat” — as well as stories about dying pets and hit men with hearts of gold.
Anyone reading our work might think that life is a metaphor for baseball, she said.
But you know what? She might not be that far off the mark. Baseball is engrained in American culture. The first baseball story was probably written a week after Abner Doubleday invented the sport.
Over the last century and a half, baseball stories have had broad, sweeping themes like triumph against all odds, the relationship between fathers and sons, and the fears and excitement of growing up. Does it get more American than that?
Baseball can also be credited with helping to make some significant changes in our culture. The kind of changes that matter.
I had a chance to talk to Byron Motley at HACC-Gettysburg Wednesday. He’s a musician and photographer living in L.A., and he just got financing for an upcoming PBS documentary called “The Negro Baseball Leagues: An American Legacy.”
Motley’s father, Bob Motley, 89, is the only surviving Negro League umpire.
It’s an interesting part of our history that he’s always been interested in — as a baseball fan, and because of how the league changed our country.
Jackie Robinson was the first black player to break baseball’s color line, leaving the Negro Leagues and joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, which Motley said helped usher in the Civil Rights Movement.
But if Robinson played squash or chess, the cultural impact would not have been nearly as significant, he said.
Robinson played baseball. That transition surely wasn’t easy for Robinson, but it showed a nation that if breaking the color line could be done in baseball, it could be done in its metaphor — real life.
Watch for Motley’s documentary, coming in the near future.
HACC-Gettysburg has plenty of great programs like Motley’s lecture, and many of them are open to the public. It’s a great community resource to check out. You can learn more about Motley here, and see HACC-Gettysburg’s upcoming events here.