W, November 3, 2016
Colleagues: I’ll begin with a disclosure: this message has nothing to do with current events at Colorado State University. If you choose to delete it, you will likely go on to live rich, full lives without any detrimental effect. It is my hope that my sending it falls under the university’s “Incidental Use” policy and that those of you who choose to read it will find an item or two to smile about or ponder.
Over the years that it’s been my privilege to work with all of you here at CSU, many of you have come to know that I’m a lifelong Cubs fan. I’m not sure how this became so widely known as I don’t recall putting something about that in, say, every campus email I’ve ever written… Still, however it became known, many of you have been asking what I would write to the campus if the Cubs won. So it is with no small smile on my face that I type these words:
The Chicago Cubs have won the World Series.
To Cleveland fans: Great game and team. Proximo anno.
Baseball, like most sport, at its best offers many of us a fascinating mixture of a reprieve from daily life and pressure, entertainment, and wonderful lessons about competition, sportsmanship, teamwork, perseverance, pride, and a host of other aspects of our human condition. For those of us who grew up baseball fans, it reminds us of times and loved ones now in our past. Like most things that involve people, it isn’t perfect, and its best can be contrasted with a side that reflects the full slate of human weakness. But, and I admit that I am totally biased here, the 108 years since the Cubs last won a World Series is one of the most interesting stories in sport. And it’s in that amount of time that I think there is something interesting for us to consider.
39,420 days. Really.
Barton Aylesworth was the President of what then was called the Colorado Agricultural College, where students could choose from nine different majors. Enrollment was such that the entire sophomore class was able to meet at one professor’s house for dinner. The Collegian was celebrating its 18th birthday, and there was talk of organizing a student government.
Yet baseball didn’t change much over those years. Sure, equipment was improved, there were minor adjustments to the playing field, a few rules got tweaked, athletes improved and the effect of money on sport is as evident here as anywhere. But the basic premise of 9 players on a wedge-shaped field playing a team sport based on reaction where each individual takes a sequential turn (there is, to my mind, no other team sport where at a crucial moment you can’t draw up a play for your very best player) is essentially the same now as it was when my father attended games at this new place called Wrigley Field as a young boy, coming into Chicago with his father to the Union Stockyards to sell livestock. A massive upright piano that stands in our home was purchased for my grandmother by my grandfather on one of these trips, and I like to imagine my father and grandfather coming back from a game, seeing that piano in a shop window, and making a purchase (that in those days involved shipping by rail and delivery by wagon on dirt roads) with some of those livestock proceeds. That piano eventually led to my mother being a piano accompanist and my brothers both being music educators.
It’s tempting to argue that during that same time our world has changed by orders of magnitude more than baseball. Communication: The radio gave way to television and the internet, and we used to communicate in more than 140 characters (see this email as an example); access to instantaneous information has transformed our lives. Transportation: The automobile and airplane became ascendant and a human being stood on the moon. We developed vaccines, antibiotics, cracked the genetic code, split the atom and Einstein drew conclusions we’re still working on.
Hunger, poverty, disease, ignorance, racism, sexism, war. All of these have remained. We’ve made progress. Medicine, agriculture, education have all made great strides. The Women’s Movement and the Civil Rights Movement have both made wonderful, hard-earned progress. When Wrigley Field opened, women could not vote. When Dexter Fowler led off this World Series, he was the first black Chicago Cub to play in a World Series because baseball hadn’t been integrated in 1945. But few of us would argue we don’t have a lot more work to do on many of these same issues that faced our ancestors in 1908.
What will the next 108 years bring? Of course that’s unknown to us – and difficult to imagine. But I imagine some things will remain constant. I believe Colorado State University, in some form, will continue to offer life-changing education to anyone with the talent and motivation to earn a degree from a great research university and, armed with that degree, our graduates will go on to lead lives that make a difference. I think our faculty will be making progress on issues we may not yet know exist. And it’s my hope that we all use the time that we have to continue to chip away at the problems that have stubbornly affected generation after generation.
I’d like to come back here to see CSU then. I imagine there will be baseball. I hope Wrigley Field will still be standing. I hope we’ve used those years wisely and with purpose and that whomever has the honor of communicating from the President’s office (however that communication occurs) will be writing about the amazing progress that is being made. And I hope that the Cubs winning a World Series is so routine that it won’t occur to them to write about that!
Those next 108 years begin today. Let’s make day 1 of that time period a good one.
Dr. Tony Frank
P.S. No, classes are not canceled. There is no snow day without actual snow.
P. P. S. Only about 106 days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training.