As Yale students continue shopping for classes, one syllabus stands out for its diverse inclusion of classics like Jane Austen’s “Emma,” Homer’s “Iliad” and, perhaps most importantly, the film “Field of Dreams” featuring Kevin Costner.
Although catchers and pitchers don’t start reporting to their respective ball clubs until February, Yale students can start their spring training early by taking professor Charles Hill’s new class: “Baseball as Grand Strategy.” The humanities seminar will put into conversation the ideas of classic grand strategic texts into the context of America’s pastime.
“I grew up with baseball all over the place,” Hill said in an interview with the News. “I never thought of doing a course on this … it came about because of Artificial Intelligence. And that is that in the last two or three years, I’ve had pretty close connections with people in Google in the high realm of big money research … they keep discussing it in terms of games. ‘AI can win at chess. AI can win at Go. AI can design a game and then win at the game’. And I kept saying I’m not going to take you seriously until you stop talking about games. And then later I said, well, there’s a game you can’t beat, and that’s baseball.”
Hill explained that he believes Google and AI will never solve the game of baseball because the sport is, by nature, open-ended. His background in grand strategy allowed him to relate concepts from his field to the diamond. For example, during the fourth meeting of the course, students will talk about the importance of terrain in warfare taken from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and put it into the context of baseball parks. Students taking other grand strategy courses might learn that hills are great defensive terrain for battle, but Hill’s students will go one step further and talk about how left-handed hitters benefit from a short right-field in Yankee Stadium.
As of Wednesday, 37 savvy students are shopping the class, according to Yale Course Demand Statistics, but these visionaries will have to wait. The seminar meets on Fridays from 9:25 to 11:15 a.m. Because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, the class will not convene for the first time until next Friday, Jan. 24.
“The best thing about taking a seminar class with professor Hill is getting to know him personally and be witness to his gargantuan personal anecdotes,” said Stephan Billingslea ’23, a former student of Hill. “Any seminar course by Charles Hill is likely to be extremely intellectually stimulating. A considerable amount of reading is expected, as well as a high level of engagement in discussion. It is an experience worthy of being in any Yale bucket list.”
Professor Hill’s class is not the only one this semester dealing with the sacred art of baseball.
Ethan Meyers, a visiting assistant professor of statistics and data science, is offering a statistics course entitled “YData: Analysis of Baseball Data.” Meyers’ class — which is meant to accompany or follow S&DS 123: “YData” — will teach students how to use Python for analyzing data, explore statistical concepts and prepare result analysis through the sabermetrics lens.
“There are several nice aspects to using baseball to understand data science,” Meyers said. “The methods and ideas students learn in this class are applicable to a range of fields when students graduate. The disadvantage is that not everyone is interested in baseball, although for those students how are interested it can be very motivating. Since there are several YData connector classes that cater to students with different interests, having one that focused on baseball seemed like a could be a good complement.”
Last semester, Sterling Professor of Hispanic and Comparative Literatures Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria taught a new course, “Caribbean Baseball: A Cultural History,” and Alexandra Reider, a lecturer in the English Department, offered an English 114 seminar entitled “Baseball and the American Century.”
Students seeking sports-themed classes in the summer can look forward to two classes: “Race, Sports, and Social Change” and “Sports and Media.” The former will be taught by Daniel HoSang, associate professor of American studies and ethnicity, race, and migration. Meanwhile, the latter — a film class — will be taught by Charles Musser, another professor of American studies who focuses on film, media and theater.
“Learning about sports and how athletes think is a very interesting and rewarding experience,” Eli golfer Kaitlyn Lee ’23 said. “I’ve learned so many important life lessons from playing my sport that I probably wouldn’t have learned or experienced if I didn’t play. It teaches you how to problem solve, be confident and resilient and quick-witted. Even if you don’t have an interest in the sport, it’s important to acquire and apply these life skills, so I definitely think these types of courses should be offered here.”
Hill’s father made a baseball bat for him when he was a child.
Eugenio Garza Garcia | firstname.lastname@example.org