Month: August 2014

Communality: What I learned from Shibe Park

We are about to start the second year of the Eye to Eye chapter at Temple University! We have big shoes to fill from the work we did the first year. But I think it is possible. I mean we are expanding to two mentee schools. With expanding to two schools that means we will have more mentors (we are projecting about 20-25). In addition, we are growing the LD community on Temple’s campus. To do so, we added a community organizer to the team. We are have not 2 student coordinators but 4 this year! It is amazing how fast an idea I had in the winter of 2013 can grow when people support it!

In preparation for this big year, I thought I would do my homework. Homework during summer? Not really “homework” I wanted to learn more about the area that we are mentoring. And as a history major, I thought the best way to do so was look in the past. So I found a book called To Every Thing A Season by Bruce Kuklick. The book explores the rise and fall of Shibe Park, the home of the baseball teams Philadelphia Athletics and Phillies. It also looks at how North Philadelphia, and the neighbors that we mentor, changed over time. My goal with this book was to see if we can learn anything from the past neighbors of North Philly and apply it to the work we were doing at Eye to Eye.

So I started reading this book and I could not put it down! One thing you should know about me was that I am a sucker for  the history of Philadelphia and baseball so this was the bees knees. I forgot sometimes I was reading because it was that enjoyable! I read all about Connie Mack and the Athletic Dynasties of the 1910’s and 1930’s, the diverse neighborhood of North Philly, how bad the Phillies were in the early 20th century etc. One of the most interesting things about the book was something that is not political correct at all. The Philadelphia Athletics had not one but two hunchback mascots on the team. These two hunchbacks were just normal guys however the players would rub their back for good luck. As I said it is not a PC story but if you are familiar with baseball history these “sideshow attractions“ were common in the early half of the 20th century. And is nice to know that they stopped it as well.

I finished the book rather fast enjoying every moment of it. But once when all the dust settled I thought about my goal prior to reading the book: can we apply anything from the past to what we are doing at Eye to Eye today? And….. I was not sure. I mean it was fun to read about the fun things about Shibe Park and the baseball teams but this book was about the rise and the FALL of them in North Philly. The Fall was filled with racism, white flight, crime etc. Both the Athletics and Phillies were some of the racist teams in baseball. Connie Mack had an Italian player that he advertised as a black player. And the Phillies were one of the last teams to integrate.  In addition, with the white flight of the 1950’s, many of the Jewish  and Irish residences left for the burbs. The Athletics and Phillies joined suit in this flight as they believed the area, which now had a large African American community, was unsafe for people to come to watch a ballgame. The Athletics left town to Kansas City and the Phillies moved down to South Philly to the Vet.  The area that was once the grand connector of everyone in Philadelphia was now left in rubble.

And thinking about all this I thought I wasted my entire time reading this book. The book that I thought can help me in my second year of Eye to Eye was useless, a waste of my time.

And then I read the epilogue. Usually when I read for school, I jump over the intro, prologue and epilogue because it means less pages for me to read. But to make sure I left no stone unturned I read on. And I found the answer I was looking for. The following passage, Kuklick explains what was so magical about Shibe Park:

The unique aspect of Shibe Park baseball was not the failures or successes of management or the feats or defeats on the field. The unique element was that the sport magically taught people about excellence and joined them communally to something not available in day-to-day experience. Shibe Park Was a place where uncommon deeds gave people a sense of commonality.

For this entire time, I was looking for a physical aspect that I can use to apply to the work at Eye to Eye. But that is not why Shibe Park was special. It was not what unified a city. What did, and what Kuklick put so eloquently, was communal connect that people craved that was not available everyday basic. For those 9 innings, fans, neighbors and hell even players were apart of something even bigger than themselves.

 

And by this point I got it. What we can do for the second year of Eye to Eye was what we already started the first year, provide a space for people with LD/ADHD be empowered and know that they are apart of something bigger than themselves. And it works so well that we are doing this in North Philadelphia because it has a history of doing so. Either on the baseball field, in an art room or a bonding event, we are providing a space for people to be apart of a community and know that they have a part to play on the field. What we need to do know is to grow on that and grow this LD community so that more people can know that they have a place where they are accepted and where they can feel empowered. Shibe Park might be no more but in its place we are continuing that sense of communality through the work of Eye to Eye in the schools of North Philadelphia, Temple University and the city of Philadelphia.

So the second season of Temple Eye to Eye is ahead of us the only thing to do now is to play ball!

 

Best,

Matty C

 

Kuklick, Bruce. To Every Thing A Season. Reprint ed. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993. Print.

Photo from: http://writing.upenn.edu/wh/involved/awards/juniorfellow/scrapbook/shibepark_1913.html