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July 11, 2011
GW’s Global Media Institute partners with the Washington Nationals on Jewish Community Day.
By Menachem Wecker
Instead of the National Press Club Ballroom, Sunday’s mini-Kalb Report was produced in front of the Nationals Park grounds crew watering base paths and chalking batters’ boxes.
Sitting on tall chairs behind home plate, Marvin Kalb, moderator of the Kalb Report, and his guest, Pulitzer Prize-winning sports reporter Ira Berkow, donned Nationals caps and discussed Mr. Berkow’s script for the new documentary Jews and Baseball.
“As we celebrate Jewish Community Day at Nationals Park,” a voice announced on the PA system, introducing Mr. Kalb, “we are pleased to partner with the George Washington University Global Media Institute in presenting a special interview.”
Mr. Kalb and Mr. Berkow discussed Jews and baseball, as their conversation was shown on the scoreboard and on television screens throughout the park.
What was it about baseball that gave it such a “magical grip on the American psyche,” Mr. Kalb wondered.
Mr. Berkow said baseball is called America’s pastime for a reason. “It’s ingrained in our DNA,” he said.
Mr. Kalb asked Mr. Berkow to respond to the quote, “If you want to understand America, you have to understand baseball.” Mr. Berkow answered that part of baseball’s national appeal is the stories of the sport’s immigrant stars. “To understand America, you have to understand immigrants,” he said.
Three of the Jewish immigrant athletes Mr. Berkow and Mr. Kalb discussed were Hank Greenberg, Al Rosen and Sandy Koufax, as clips of the three from the documentary appeared on the scoreboard. All three players refused to play on the Jewish High Holiday of Yom Kippur over the course of their careers, while Mr. Greenberg, upon the counsel of his rabbi who told him that playing ball was in line with the holiday’s festive nature, was given permission to play on Rosh Hashanah.
In a conversation before the broadcasted interview, Mr. Kalb said that although Mr. Koufax, Mr. Greenberg and their colleagues faced challenges playing as Jews, present-day Jewish athletes, like Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox, encounter a much more tolerant sport.
“Just as America has changed in the past 50 years, so has the American view of immigrants,” Mr. Kalb said.
Asked if participating in Jewish Community Day affected him as a Jew, beyond the ways it impacted him as a student of the history of the game, Mr. Berkow said it did. “Being a member of an underdog tribe, there is pride,” he said.
Though the country as a whole cares increasingly less about religion, Mr. Kalb noted the significance of sports teams, like the Washington Nationals, hosting Jewish community days. Mr. Berkow said it’s all about trying to bring new audiences into the ball park, a tradition that dates back to ball clubs hosting “ladies’ day” in the late 19th century.
“Whatever will attract fans,” Mr. Berkow said. “It’s like bringing the fences in to have more homeruns.”
In an interview during the game, in which the Nationals defeated the Colorado Rockies 2 to 0, Chris Gargani, vice president of sales and marketing for the Nationals, echoed some of Mr. Kalb’s and Mr. Berkow’s remarks about marketing the event.
“This is a little bit of cause marketing,” Mr. Gargani said. “There are baseball fans everywhere.”
Mr. Gargani estimated the club had already sold approximately 500 tickets for Sunday’s game, the third annual Jewish Community Day, and said the goal was 1,000.
He added that the team, whose owners, Ted Lerner, A.A. ’48, L.L.B. ’50, and Mark D. Lerner, B.B.A. ’75, are GW alumni, has an “extensive internship” program with the university, particularly with students of Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of tourism and sport management.
“We are very fortunate to have such a strong relationship with the university,” Mr. Gargani said.
According to Michael Freedman, executive producer of the Kalb Report and executive director of the Global Media Institute, the event came together thanks to Greg Foscato, B.A. ’97, M.S. ’07, a Nationals sales and marketing representative.
Mr. Foscato attended the October 2008 Kalb Report with sportscaster Bob Costas and so enjoyed the program that he invited the university and Mr. Kalb to partner with the ball club for Jewish Community Day. It took Mr. Kalb, who edited the sports section of his college paper, and Mr. Freedman, a one-time sports broadcaster, “exactly one second” to say yes, Mr. Freedman said.
Reflecting on the event Sunday evening, Mr. Freedman, who is also professor of media and public affairs, said the program offered “a very special opportunity” for viewers to share their appreciation for Jewish culture, journalism and baseball.
“This day, and our program, celebrated a spirit of community. The more we learn about each other, the closer we become,” he said. “From Hank Greenberg to Jackie Robinson to today’s stars, baseball has helped us break down barriers and emerge a more tolerant, stronger and better nation.”
The event also served as a “terrific exercise in logistics,” from research and script writing to production technique and event management.
“We were thrilled to have two current students in the School of Media and Public Affairs and two May 2011 graduates join our superbly talented Kalb Report producer Heather Date as part of our team,” he said. “And what a treat partnering with the Nationals, allowing us to show, once again, how GW makes all of D.C. our campus. The staff and management of the ball club could not have been more fun to work with or more accommodating to our students and staff.”
One of the most touching moments of the day may have come during the walkthrough, as GW and Nationals staff synchronized schedules and other cues. On the way off the field from a microphone check, Mr. Kalb passed a group of Cub Scouts, scoping out the lay of the field in preparation for its role – holding flags during the National Anthem.
“I salute you,” Mr. Kalb told them, smiling as he raised his right hand to his brow.
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