I’m recently back from Steel City where Research On The Road gathered on a rainy Wednesday evening, April 30, for a quintessentially Pittsburghian night out: a talk by Penn State professor of kinesiology and history Mark Dyreson on the history of baseball.
Our venue? None other than the historic Clark Bar and Grill, the former Clark Candy headquarters and a famous post-game hotspot for athletes when Three Rivers Stadium still stood nearby.
More than 50 attendees filled the room, most of them members of Penn State’s Pittsburgh area alumni chapter, as well as the general public. The mood was very upbeat despite the overcast skies and everyone enjoyed the specialties of the house (note bene: the Clark Bar makes a mean Italian meatball) before the talk kicked off.
Dyreson got the crowd interacting right from the start, with trivia questions and an invitation to “call out the answer” – which folks were happy to do. He soon found out that Pittsburgh is home to some uber-serious sports fans who kept him on his toes all night with some great in-depth questions.
He also took a moment to pay tribute to his mentor, Penn State Professor Emeritus Dr. James Thompson, who passed away on April 25. Dyreson’s heartfelt words about Thompson’s career, character, and positive impact on Penn State, were very moving to everyone in the room.
The talk touched on the origins of the game as a direct rejection of British cultural influence, specifically its national game of cricket. Said Dyreson, just as Mark Twain called for—and delivered—a uniquely American style of literature, Americans also craved a sport all their own. As our nation developed, we used baseball as a foreign policy tool, in a sense, in order to export a distinctly American stamp on the globe.
In a room filled with an impressive collection of baseball memorabilia, the audience asked questions about such things as technology and baseball (baseball is better on radio than television, opined Dyreson); the relative popularity of baseball around the world (Japan and Latin America are obsessed; Europe much less so); and the changing demographic of both fans and players.
Baseball started in New York City as an urban, working-class game, Dyreson told the crowd, to some surprise. But over the past few decades (perhaps due to suburbanization, said Dyreson) that has changed dramatically, prompting Major League Baseball to create initiatives aimed at repopularizing the game among inner city youth.
The crowd lingered on long after the official end of the event, with Dyreson graciously chatting with almost everyone in the room.
Although the Texas alumni chapters may still hold the title for largest attendance at a Research On The Road event, the Pittsburgh Penn Staters have raised the bar for team spirit. In a team town like this one, who would be surprised at that?
A huge “thank you” goes out to Pittsburgh chapter board member Kathy Kasperik for helping us “hit it out of the park” with this first Research On The Road in Pittsburgh.
And thanks for already inviting us back to the ‘Burgh for more ROTR alumni nights ahead! We wouldn’t miss the chance to be with yinz again! (How’s my Pittsburghese?!)