MTSU’s Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference welcomed a veteran All-Star and took on the sepia tones of the earliest photographs as it turned to the 19th century for inspiration.
The ninth annual event, held today, April 4, in the James Union Building, was to include a late afternoon demonstration of turn-of-the-century baseball by re-enactors who play the game in their own “vintage” league.
Representatives of the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball will don their period uniforms and demonstrate the earliest version of the sport at 3:10 p.m. today in Walnut Grove outside the James Union Building, weather permitting.
The players will be Michael “Roadblock” Thurmon of the Nashville Maroons and Jeff “Skeeter” Wells and Jeff “Cornbread” Jennings of the Stewart’s Creek Scouts.
A searchable campus map with parking details is available at http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap13-14.
“The earliest versions of the game before it began to professionalize after the Civil War still had some of the same structures in place,” said Dr. Warren Tormey, a lecturer in the Department of English and co-director of the conference with fellow English professor Dr. Ron Kates.
Tormey said players did not wear gloves and spectators saw much more cooperation between the pitcher and hitter than in the modern game. Also, a fly ball caught on the bounce was still counted as an out.
Skip Nipper, a local baseball historian and sales representative for New Era Sports, set the tone of the conference with the morning keynote address, “The Emerging Era of Middle Tennessee Base-Ball.”
Nipper is president of the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association and a member of the Grantland Rice-Fred Russell chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research. He is also author of “Baseball in Nashville,” a pictorial history of the game in the Midstate area.
An administrator of www.sulphurdell.com, an online archive for images of the old Sulphur Dell stadium, Nipper has contributed in various ways to the move to build a new stadium on that site for the minor league Nashville Sounds.
Sulphur Dell was the site of Nashville’s first professional baseball team in 1885.
Willie Wilson, a former All-Star with Major League Baseball’s Kansas City Royals, shared a few anecdotes from his career during his luncheon address in the James Union Building’s Tennessee Room.
Wilson was an American League All-Star outfielder in 1982 and 1983 and led the league in singles for four consecutive seasons from 1979 to 1982. He led the league in stolen bases in 1979, his first season as a full-time player in the majors, and he captured the league batting title in 1982 with a .332 average.
Before the luncheon, Wilson met with youngsters from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee. The organization is working with Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities initiative, also known as RBI, to reintroduce the sport to children in urban areas.
“It’s a program that is design to reconnect the game with what has traditionally been one of its greatest fan bases,” Tormey said.
A question-and-answer period followed the luncheon. Wilson also signed copies of his book “Inside the Park: Running the Base Path of Life,” which he co-wrote with Kent Pulliam.
Throughout the conference, leading baseball scholars delivered presentations on various topics, including the place of baseball in American childhood; the Atlanta Braves’ upcoming move to Cobb County, Ga.; and the politics of umpires’ calls.
Referring to baseball’s enduring fascination for the academic community, Tormey repeated historian Jacques Barzun’s oft-quoted observation, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”
“No other sport has been credited with that sort of status in connection with larger developments in American society,” Tormey added.
For more information, contact Tormey at 615-904-8585 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Kates at 615-898-2595 or email@example.com.
— Gina K. Logue (Gina.Logue@mtsu.edu)