October 11, 2007

First-Year Seminar takes a Closer Look at ‘America’s Favorite Pastime’

Chip Nataro, associate professor of chemistry, uses hands-on methods to explore history and science of baseball

Terence Mann, played by James Earl Jones in the classic baseball motion picture Field of Dreams, called baseball “the one constant through all the years.” A First-Year Seminar course, titled after this catchy phrase, is taking a critical look at the game from its historical development and impact on America to the science of playing it.

Chip Nataro, associate professor of chemistry and coach of the College’s Club Baseball team, is the instructor for “Baseball: the One Constant through All the Years.” He explains that baseball is “America’s pastime” because, like America, “it has survived everything thrown at it.”

  • Elizabeth Pinelli ’11 reflects on Baseball First-Year Seminar.

“Baseball has been around for well over 100 years,” Nataro says. “During the war years, players served. During the Civil Rights era, Jackie Robinson integrated baseball and was a key figure in the battle for equal rights. No sport has had more written about it, more movies made about it, or more attention given to it than baseball. From the story of Lou Gehrig and the disease named for him, to the tragic loss of Roberto Clemente in a plane crash while delivering relief, baseball has been a part of American life, culture, and history. The names Ruth, Aaron, and DiMaggio are legendary. People love the game.”

According to Nataro, the course spotlights a vast diversity of issues in regards to baseball. One major component is an exploration of its history, which includes its development, racism and sexism in baseball, and baseball in other countries. More currently, the class will investigate the economics of baseball, performance enhancing drugs, the present season and a variety of other topics in which the students express interest. In doing so, Nataro will help his students develop the critical thinking skills invaluable to not only their college careers, but the rest of their lives.

One of Nataro’s goals is to structure the course mostly around discussion and to do as little lecturing as possible. Students are required to read a total of four books including a biography of Jackie Robinson by Arnold Rampersad and a collection of historical essays by John E. Dreifort. The other two are Moneyball: the Art of Winning an Unfair Game (2003) by Michael Lewis and H.G. Bissinger’s Three Nights in August (2005), both of which, Nataro says, are historical in nature but have a slightly different twist or purpose.

Moneyball examines how economics affects running a baseball team and also shows how new statistical analyses are challenging some of the old baseball knowledge,” Nataro explains. “Bissinger’s Three Nights in August gives the students an inside look into the mind of a major league manager, which will be extremely important for the final project of the class.”

Critical thinking and analysis are foundational to the class, according to Nataro. Students are required to write a paper on some historical aspect of baseball as well as watch games as a class. They will write analyses of each game that entails questioning the decisions they felt were wrong. One of the games is that of Nataro’s Club team, after which he will make himself directly available to his students to question his actions during the game.

The final project called the “First-Year Seminar Baseball League (FYSBL)” requires each student to manage their own baseball team using the computer program Diamond Mind Baseball (DMB). Students are required to perform every managerial duty of a baseball team from sorting through last year’s players’ statistics to determine the best 28 players for their team, to playing a full 76 game season against one another.

“I have broken down the season into three playing periods of approximately 25 games,” says Nataro. “At the end of each play period, I will compile the statistics and the students will be required to write a brief synopsis of how their season is going.

“They have to make decisions in each and every game that will require them to analyze the situation and determine the best course of action,” he continues.

Playoffs will take place toward the end of the semester and the student with the winning team will be crowned FYSBL champion.

“Overall, I think this provides a unique and interesting opportunity to the students,” Nataro comments. “They have to analyze data constantly and attempt to make their decisions based on what they see.”

Nataro’s long standing love for baseball and experience playing have added an extra bite to his excitement for this course.

“From my days of playing to now, I have a great passion for the game,” he explains. “Most of my earliest memories revolve around baseball. It has been an incredible privilege to work with the Lafayette College Club Baseball team. The guys play hard because they love the game. We were fortunate enough to win our conference championship in National Club Baseball last year.”

His hopes for this course not only include encouraging his students to love the game as much as he does, but also using it to teach them the higher level skills of critical thinking and questioning their peers that are necessary for a successful college career.

“I think all of these goals fit well in the FYS spirit and will give the students a course that is a firm foundation to their education,” he says.

Students enrolled in Nataro’s class are Shaun Banks (Hyattsville, Md.), Alex Bechta (Ellicott City, Md.), Dan Bergen (Fairless Hills, Pa.), Lawrence (Casey) Ennis (Chester, N.J.), Franklin Floyd (Shaker Heights, Ohio), Zach Fritz (Pottsville, Pa.), Doug Gerowski (Manhasset Hills, N.Y.), Kerry Griffin (Allenhurst, N.J.), Justin Kamine (Oldwick, N.J.), Tim Kangos (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.), Kyle MacLelland (Kimberton, Pa.), Daniel (DJ) Neri (Fairfax, Va.), Liz Pinelli (Princeton Junction, N.J.), Chuck Prutzman (Rockville Centre, N.Y.), Marc Quilling (Allentown, Pa.) and Ben Wheeler (Herndon, Va.).

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