Marketing & Communications

The National Pastime

Tim Jurkovac

With summer in full swing, everyone turns their attention to seasonal activities - tanning, boating, pools, and of course, baseball. As our national pastime, each year thousands of people enjoy the thrills of their favorite ballpark during the warm summer months, but one Bowling Green State University Firelands College faculty member has incorporated his joy of the sport into his craft.

Tim Jurkovac, associate professor of sociology, was born and raised in Northern Ohio and has always harbored a deep connection to the Cleveland Indians. Yet this love for and loyalty to the team has been tempered throughout an academic career that has focused on a more critical analysis of the role of baseball in American social life.

These transformative dynamics have followed him into the classroom and most recently landed him a coveted speaking engagement at the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York for the 24th Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture.

Teaching at BGSU Firelands since 1990, Jurkovac offers students at the Bowling Green and Firelands campuses a glimpse into baseball and other sports through his popular Sociology of Sports course.

"Whether you are a sports fan or not, Dr. Jurkovac's course really provides insight," said BGSU Firelands student Jaymee Skelly, who recently took the class. "Understanding and learning about the sociology of sports really makes a trip to a game a different experience," she added.

Although Jurkovac touches on many sports during his lectures, baseball is his passion. "It is a timeless sport layered with nuance," said Jurkovac. "Baseball provides a sense of community and brings people together - it provides a sense of commonality."

For most baseball players, their ultimate goal is to join the ranks of the sport's heroes whose memories now live in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Similarly, Jurkovac's inclusion as a presenter at the Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture - touted as the most prestigious conference on the subject matter - was a major achievement and honor.

The conference is host to academicians, journalists, lawyers, and historians and this year featured more than 50 presentations selected from academic papers which were submitted across the country.

Jurkovac's paper, Celebrating Nostalgia, Legalizing Extortion and Subsidizing Greed: The Hegemony of the Retro Ballpark, sheds a revealing light onto the sinister side of the new ballparks being constructed in such cities as Cleveland, Baltimore, and Denver.

"Ballparks are sacred places," said Jurkovac. "They are national treasures rich in history and nurture the collective conscience of the area by creating a deep seated identification between the team and the community it embodies." However, his work suggests that when these emotions are exploited by owners to secure public tax dollars, jobs are not created and vital areas of public life such as schools and infrastructure suffer.

In his paper, Jurkovac argues that the promises of economic growth and community rebirth which are extolled by the proponents of building new retro ballparks have never been realized. In fact, just the opposite has occurred. In Cleveland, lost revenues due to tax abatements for the stadium have cost the county $9.7 million and unemployment more than doubled from 1970 to the mid-1990s.

Jurkovac contends that a community's love of baseball has been exploited by the leagues monopolistic owners over the past twenty years when they threatened to move "their" team if the city or county didn't build them a new ballpark.

What followed was a dramatic rise in revenue for the owners and a massive amount of debt incurred by the public. He argues that owners exhibit little in the way of being responsible members of a community. The fact that such wealthy individuals are subsidized by communities that are often in fiscal crisis is for Jurkovac the epitome of a "reverse Robin Hood effect."

Yet, Jurkovac's concerns about the construction of retro ballparks do not diminish his love for the true essence of the sport or for the Cleveland Indians. "Baseball allows an individual and the community to identify with something bigger. In Cleveland, it instills a sense of pride to be able to claim the moniker of 'major league city'. I just wish having a team in Cleveland didn't come with such a problematic economic cost for the city. "