Summer anthropologies: beaches and baseball

Summer anthropologies: beaches and baseball

Mid to late 1990s beach scene. North San Diego County, CA. Photo: Ryan Anderson

All the grades are in, summer is here, and we can all start ‘relaxing’ by lining up a bunch of unrealistic work expectations. Finally. One of my goals is to get back to short form writing that is not owned, controlled, moderated, or in any way beneficial to or complicit with the once functional platform known as Twitter. Recently, someone on that platform said something along the lines of ‘If you start writing more than a few lines here, write a blog post instead.’ I like it and I agree. So this summer, it’s time for some non-CV, short-form, yes-of-course-it’s-open-access-because-we-own-the-site blogging.

So my summer project is to write about two things: beaches and baseball. If for some reason you’re still on the threadbare shell of its former self that is Twitter these days, and you happen to follow me there, you may have noticed there’s been a slight uptick in posts about baseball. Slight. Uptick. Long story short: I haven’t followed baseball for decades, but I’ve recently been drawn back into it, thanks in part to my oldest kiddo. You can read more about that–and the recent #ReverseBoycott by Oakland A’s fans–right here.

I’m not an ‘anthropology of sports’ person per se. I have mixed feelings about sports. I grew up loving baseball, but walked away from it in the mid 1990s because, mostly, of the terrible politics, particularly labor politics, of Major League Baseball (see link above). There’s a long history there, and it’s not a good history. So I shifted from baseball, which was rigid and organized, to surfing, which I came to see as a kind of anti-sport that had basically no rules. The tension between baseball and surfing–one rather strictly governed by bounded rules, the other characterized by a kind of anarchic freedom–animated most of my teen years. I remember some of us used to ditch baseball practice–which included things like running laps for punishment–in favor of many, many cool saltwater-laden afternoons in Southern California. But, as much as I saw baseball and surfing as opposites, there were plenty of rules when it came to the latter as well. Just different.

When it comes to sports overall, I vacillate between thinking of them as an ideologically problematic opiates of the masses and vital, fascinating endeavors that humans have engaged in for thousands of years. It’s complicated, right? I mean, I know that professional sports is an overly commercialized juggernaut that commodifies human achievements and experiences and extracts tremendous wealth from loyal fans. But, at the same time, I like going to baseball games, buying overpriced mediocre hotdogs, and reveling in all that can happen on those well-manicured and tremendously striped green lawns. Anyways, sports are weird, odd, complicated, beautiful, and problematic all at once.

So…I’ll be writing about baseball, and beaches. We will see how it goes. There are a few things I have in mind, like looking into some of the deeper histories of human migration and to what extent we might want to think of Homo sapiens as an intrinsically coastal species. I might bring up Carl Sauer on that point. I also want to use baseball–and some recent social media exchanges with hall-of-famer Rod Carew–to think through the age old debate about quantitative versus qualitative views of the world. Short version: some of the overly quant-focused folks in baseball may be…missing a few things. I also have a short piece in mind about language and coastal management, specifically the whole idea of ‘beach nourishment.’ What else? Magic and gift economies and foul balls? Whether or not Polynesians made it to the Americas? The deeper histories of stadiums and what they tell us about human society (baseball economists like J.C. Bradbury tell us they don’t justify public subsidies, for starters)? Why coastal homes listed on Zillow don’t make any mention of the obvious risks they face (even when they show up in the photos)?

As you can see, I have a sort of grab-bag of topics in mind. That’s what blogging is all about. Or was, back in 2005. Maybe, considering the implosion of Twitter, it’s time to revive the art form. Regardless, the ideas I have in mind all come back to beaches and baseball. I don’t know if I’ll be able to actually bring both together at once, but it’s worth a shot.

I’ll leave you with this: Every summer when I take my kids to the beach, we play this game where we build a big wall and then see how long we can resist the rising tide. It’s key, for this game, to time things right. If you build your wall when the tide is dropping, you have a long wait ahead. So check your tide charts. Anyway, the futility of this game always gets me thinking about human coastal occupation overall…and why people build in place–and stay in places–despite the known risks and dangers of the sea. In our little game, my kids sometimes get attached to the little ‘houses’, walkways, or bridges they create, and they do everything they can to save them. The game we play is about engineering, force, and the corrosive power of water (especially against sand). But it’s also about attachment and keeping what we have in the time we’ve got. Humans: we’re complicated.

So it goes with life on the edge of the sea.

2 Replies to “Summer anthropologies: beaches and baseball”

  1. Looking forward to this, as a coastal dwelling anthro; you’ve got some great topics lined up – and congratulations on escaping Twitter. I often feel Twitter exemplifies strong vibes of toxic masculinity (LISTEN to ME! And I’m clever, cynical and pissed off). Insta is more toxic femininity ( LOOK at ME! Am I gorgeous? But am I gorgeous enough? And do you like me?) Blogging feels much more authentic and wholesome. Tell us tales of the sea and the folks who live there – we’re listening.

  2. Thanks Caroline. I haven’t escaped Twitter completely, but I’m getting there. There’s all the misinfo and toxicity, and then the fact that some of the valuable networks on there that used to be in place are almost completely gone. A few years back there was a pretty solid anthro and academic community there, and while people are still on there, it’s pretty different these days. Maybe something else can eventually come along to replace it. In the meantime, some old school blogging sounds good to me.