'Somewhere ... the sun is shining bright'

Mother Nature is once again dropping cotton balls outside my window and it looks like snow and freezing temperature will be here for a while. But lucky me.

This winter, for about an hour each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I am transported to a patch of green and a swath of dirt on a sunny mid-summer day where instead of grumbling about the weather, people are high-fiving and cheering.

This actually takes place in a rather dingy packed University of Connecticut classroom where Prof. Steve Wisensale, who is from Essex, is teaching "Baseball and Society: Politics, Economics, Race and Gender."

You read that right: It's a class about baseball.

This is not a course to analyze MVPs or Max Scherzer's contract or to help those gamblers among us pick our fantasy teams for the coming season.

Wisensale, a specialist in human development and family studies, has generously allowed me and a colleague in the School of Business to sit in on the class which operates under the assumption that America's past time is a microcosm of the larger landscape of the country.

So far we've created personalized baseball cards, written essays on areas of baseball research that interest us (mine: media, oral history) and listened to a sultry version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" by Carly Simon. (Get it on YouTube; it's worth your while.) And we've laughed at George Carlin's monologue on the difference between baseball and football. An example: the latter is played in pouring rain, while with the former if it's raining "we can't come out to play."

We've also listened to presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin talk about how her father's undying optimism about the Brooklyn Dodgers (recounted in her "Wait Until Next Year" autobiography) taught her lessons about survival and strength. As was true in her case, my father taught me how to score as we watched the Washington Senators lose yet another game on the little black-and-white television set in the downstairs rec room.

Last week, we talked about cheating (stealing signs, part of the game; steroids and outside tampering - not so much), and instant replay.

My business school colleague expressed surprise at the number of students who weren't nuts about replay because it removed the "human element" from the game. How uplifting to hear this thumb-clicking, technology-driven generation preferring this "human element."

In coming weeks we'll talk about the history of the Negro League, Jackie Robinson's role in breaking the color barrier, Latino and Japanese contributions and gay players (still the only pro league where no player has come out while active).

We'll watch the brilliant Ken Burns PBS series on baseball, "A League of Their Own," "42" and other movies and videos for homework because the professor values class time for dialogue and sharing experiences.

Make no mistake: This is no gut course. There are three textbooks, a portfolio of assignments, five quizzes, a midterm and a final. I may have to blow off some assignments - hey, I did it enough as a real college student - but I won't miss a sunny afternoon in that class for all the world.

So a big shout out to the evocative students, the UConn faculty members and other bureaucrats who approved the course and most of all to Steve Wisensale for putting so much time, effort and passion into baseball.

For a few cranks who may be saying "Is that what they teach up there at that university?" allow me to cite New Yorker writer and retired fiction editor Roger Angell, who is quoted on the first page of the hefty 11-page syllabus.

"Baseball seems to have been invented solely for the purpose of explaining all other things in life."

Terese Karmel is a pre-major advisor with the Journalism Department at the University of Connecticut and a former sports writer.

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