OU to host Baseball in Literature & Culture Conference

By The Herald Staff

The Baseball in Literature & Culture Conference is back and will at Ottawa University for the fifth straight year.

This year’s event has been expanded to two days of programming, July 15-16. Registration is open. The conference opens 6 p.m. Thursday, July 15 with a dinner event and continue with a full slate of guest speakers and panel sessions in the Schendel Conference Center on the OU campus.

The event will feature three guest speakers at Thursday’s dinner and two nationally recognized keynote speakers on Friday, as well as presentations from baseball scholars and enthusiasts from across the country.

Overall, the conference will be giving a nod to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues, the celebration of which was interrupted in 2020 by COVID-19.

The expanded format to include Thursday night’s dinner is offered as part of the conference’s overall registration fee. Guest speakers include Kevin Kane, Pedro Sierra and Dr. Larry Hogan. Kane is a poet, playwright and songwriter from the New York City’s South Bronx. He will perform “Breaking the Line with the Mudville Nine” —   an original poem Kane wrote as a homage to the classic “Casey at the Bat,” which he first performed for the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame.

Kane’s play, “A Love of the Game,” was first performed in 1995 at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. Sierra was born in Cuba and signed his first contract to play baseball with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in 1954, when he was 16. In 1955, Sierra joined the lineup of the Detroit Stars. His career spanned 22 seasons with teams in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, including stints with the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins of the MLB. He left baseball in 1976, working for the Montgomery County (Maryland) Department of Recreation for 25 years.

On Friday morning, Dr. Emily Rutter of Ball State University will deliver the 8:15 a.m. keynote address titled “Creative Recuperations: Alternative Archives and Black Baseball Archetypes.” Rutter, an associate professor of English at Ball State, is the author of “Invisible Ball of Dreams: Literary Representations of Baseball Behind the Color Line” (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). Her essays about African American and Multi-Ethnic American literature have been published in several acclaimed journals.

Rutter will hold a book signing in the Mabee Lounge following her talk. Morning concurrent sessions are scheduled for 9:30 and 10:45 a.m., covering topics ranging from “Baseball Magic and Horror,” “Baseball History,” “Baseball Cultural Myths,” and “Early Black Baseball.”

A luncheon and afternoon keynote is on the agenda from 12-1:30 p.m. with former MLB pitcher J.R. Richard, who will be interviewed by Raymond Doswell, vice president of curatorial services at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM).

Afternoon breakout sessions include “Baseball, Politics & (In)Justice,” “(Anti-) Romantic Baseball Legacies,” “The Economics of Baseball” and “Baseball in Poetry & Fiction.”

An “Extra Innings” event is scheduled following the day’s sessions at 3:45 p.m., allowing for networking and socializing. Angry River Barbecue will have its food truck on site to serve dinner. Beer and wine will also be available. Capping off the conference activities is a trip to Kauffman Stadium for the Kansas City Royals-Baltimore Orioles baseball game. A limited number of $20 tickets will be available for those who want to attend, and a university bus will provide transportation to and from the game.

Dr. Andy Hazucha, professor of English and chair of the Humanities Division at OU, is the organizer of the conference. Hazucha said that the conference will be unique in that it's the first time a former Negro League player has spoken at the event.

“We wanted to honor and celebrate the Negro Leagues with this year's conference," Hazucha said. “To that end, we collaborated closely with the NLBM and asked Pedro Sierra to speak about his experiences as one of the last players to compete in the Negro Leagues before the leagues all folded.”

Panelists for the conference are coming in from a variety of institutions, including Marshall University, University of Kansas, Baker University, Georgia State University, Grinnell College, Carson-Newman University, University of Dubuque, Middle Tennessee State University and Iowa Western Community College.

To register, visit http://www.ottawa.edu/baseball-conference.