Turn Opening Day Baseball into an Educational Experience
There’s nothing quite like Major League Baseball’s Opening Day to signal that spring is truly upon us. Even casual fans become caught up in the excitement of a new season with new hopes.
Oh, those Cubs. They’re famous for several things.
Although they won a record 116 games in 1906, they haven’t won a World Series title since 1908, when Teddy Roosevelt was president. With a revamped roster full of young and talented players, the team is rolling in optimism for the 2015 season, hoping to end the longest title-less streak of any professional sports team in North America.
While we’re not encouraging students to skip school like Ferris (they probably should leave Dad’s prized Ferrari in the garage as well), there’s a lot to be said for an early season trip to the ballpark, both from family bonding and educational perspectives.
No sport opens the door to more thought-provoking questions or socially enlightening discussion than baseball.
Whether you’re actually at the ballpark, watching a game on TV, or simply talking balls and strikes at the dinner table, parents and teachers might consider combining some math, science, language, or social studies with their peanuts and Cracker Jacks.
Some educational topics to consider—
From a math perspective:
- How does one calculate a hitter’s batting average (the ratio of hits to official times at bat) or a pitcher’s earned run average (total earned runs multiplied by nine, then divided by the number of innings pitched)?
- What is the perimeter of a baseball diamond (90 feet along each baseline times four) or the pentagon that is home plate (it’s 58 inches)?
- If it costs $30 to park and $10 in fuel to drive to and from the park, how much will a family of four save by taking public transit at $3 per ride? And how many $4 sodas will those savings buy?
- Do you know how to keep score during a baseball game?
For history purposes:
- Learn which U.S. President was the first to toss a ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day? (Howard Taft, 1910). Which Hall of Famer is the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter on Opening Day? (Bob Feller for the Cleveland Indians in 1940).
- Why do all players wear No. 42 on April 15? (Jackie Robinson Day, honoring the anniversary of Robinson becoming the first African-American player to appear in the big leagues in 1947).
- Discover what was on the site of your favorite ballpark before it became a stadium site and how the facility has impacted the surrounding area in and out of baseball season.
- Why does a curve-ball curve? (It’s thrown with topspin which adds additional gravitational force and exaggerates the ball’s drop on its way to the plate).
- Consider the sun, the shadows, and changes in weather as the game progresses. How can these elements influence a game?
- Note players who are returning to action after surgery or who might be out of action due to injury. It’s a great chance to talk about conditioning and advances in sports medicine.
From a language viewpoint:
- Discuss commonly used expressions in our lexicon that have baseball roots (Even though you’ll be “coming out of left field,” you’ll “hit a home run” if your kids “take their best hacks” at this one).
- After the game, compare post-game reports from the newspaper or local online site about the contest just witnessed. Was the reporting accurate? Was it based on fact or opinion?
- Have your student(s) write a brief essay or poem about their day at the ballpark.
Social topics to consider:
- Note the breakdown of the home team’s roster. Where were the players born? Use this opportunity to locate those cities, states, and countries on a map.
- What are some of the characteristics about the area surrounding the ballpark? Who lives there? What kinds of businesses depend on baseball for their success?
- Check out the signage inside and outside the park. Think about what companies are advertising and why.
Half of the major league teams will not play their home openers until this Friday or later. So, seize the opportunity.
Turn your favorite team’s baseball Opening Day into an educational experience for students of all ages. The lesson is bound to be a hit.
Seth Livingstone is a veteran writer and editor who has spent much of his career in sports journalism covering multiple Olympic Games, Super Bowls, World Series, and Daytona 500s. He covered the Boston Red Sox throughout the 1980s and 1990s before joining USA Today and Baseball Weekly in 1999. He maintains his membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America and is a Hall of Fame voter. Seth holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and has also worked as a substitute teacher (all grades and subjects). He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and has two grown children.