By Lee Kluck
We are living in a second golden age of baseball writing. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bubble of social media. In that space, educated fans mingle with new and old school professionals to cover the game in more ways than ever before. At any given moment, a fan may read a story from their favorite beat writer and then deep dive on the same game using information provided by a whole different set of writers using metrics that a newspaper columnist may avoid. This type of environment has made it possible for different voices to be heard loud and clear. This is the situation here at All Heels On Deck. This, as the mission statement points out, is a media outlet that is “changing the game” of baseball reporting by giving an outlet to various voices in order to promote inclusion not only among the media but also baseball fans by featuring women, women of color, and LBGTQ baseball writers. And, it does not stop there.
AHOD is also giving a voice to people like me. My name is Lee Kluck. I am a 37 year old white male from Wisconsin with a MA in history and a lifelong love of baseball. On the surface, I am the anthesis of everything that AHOD was set-up to do. I am a middle aged, middle class, white guy. People like me are the demographic for just about every baseball outlet imaginable. Except, when you dig deeper, I am not your average middle age, middle class white male baseball fan.
I was born in 1980 in the same small college town I currently reside in. I am the oldest of three children of loving, free thinking, parents born in the baby boom of World War II. I also have a serious set of disabilities, that effect both the way I learn, and my physical ability to do things. As one can imagine, these shortcomings have shaped every aspect of my life. Including, my baseball fandom.
Technically speaking, I suffer from dyscalculia (think dyslexia but with numbers), a spatial disorder that makes it hard to translate information taken in through my eyes to my brain and then to my hands (which are affected by a fine motor skill deficiency brought on by adolescent epilepsy and a mild case of Cerebral Palsy), and for good measure, Attention Deficit Disorder that is exacerbated by an underlying condition of anxiety. Oh, and I was born without depth perception too. What this means in the real world, as it relates to baseball is very simple.
First, I was not a very good player. I loved the game from an early age and my dad and uncle both went out of their way to teach me all the finer points of the sport. Except, the game is hard when you can’t judge how to turn your glove to catch a ball or you think the ball will hit you in the face as it speeds toward you. Not because you are afraid of the sphere, but, because you can’t tell how far away from you it is. Still I persisted. I played despite getting hit by line drives while pitching, backswings of teammates while warming up, and having easy pop fly’s land behind me with a dull thud because I misjudged where the ball was even though I thought I had it. And, when the game became too hard, I tried to find other avenues.
I became the most knowledgeable score keeper in my town. I knew the game cold and could compute even the most difficult scoring situations when quizzed. I was slated to be the bookkeeper for one of the best small high schools in Wisconsin. Only one problem. My disability affects the size and quality of my handwriting. In the days before apps that score at the click of a button, this sounded the death knell of my career because the coach couldn’t read what I wrote and my decisions didn’t fit in the boxes. I became discouraged even further but I stuck it out.
Then, something miraculous happened. I realized that I could, through the spoken and written word, educate others about the game I loved. This began by doing play by play. At first, I was the only person hearing my work as I announced video game contests to myself. Then, with the help of my college radio station, I got to work real games. I still couldn’t fill out a score card but I could describe the pinpoint control and nasty breaking ball of Jordan Zimmerman long before he got to Washington and Detroit. Maybe I had found my calling. Only one problem. My comm classes were boring and put me to sleep and my disability made the following of a radio schedule harder than it needed to be. So, I became a history major who didn’t have time for radio work.
Luckily for me, baseball, as you might know, has a rich history and is easily translatable to the written word. I learned my craft as an undergraduate. I even received an A on a paper about baseball history and memory during World War II. I then went on and honed my skills as a graduate student. This time, I realized that baseball makes a great topic for the realm of Public History. Public History is academic work that, as I like to call it, is designed for public consumption. For instance, the work of Ken Burns is a great example of public history. So are exhibits designed by teams for ballparks. Even the baseball hall of fame employs public historians. I don’t work in Cooperstown. I do keep busy however.
I actively write for the Society for American Baseball Research, I routinely present at an academic conference with some of the best baseball historians in the country, both men and women, and I am writing a biography of long-time baseball executive, Harry Dalton. And now, I contribute to a blog. This blog features educated, informative baseball discussions by women, Women of Color, Lesbians, Gays, Bi, Transgendered, and Queer baseball writers. And me. A white, middle aged, middle class, disabled American. For whom baseball fandom has not come easy. Like my counterparts however, I persevered. And now, like all of my other AHOD cohorts, I have a forum to discuss, revel in, and educate about the game I love. Despite the fact that other aspects of my fandom are so hard. If that isn’t inclusion, I don’t know what is.