Letter 7

The NFL may be the highest grossing sports organization, but (in my opinion) baseball is America’s game, if only because it is everywhere. Ball fields are a common sight for me as I ride, and often they are the most bustling part of town in the late afternoon. And, beyond the little leagues of smaller communities, the larger cities I pass through almost always have a minor league team. From Charleston to Bowling Green, Peoria to Omaha, every city has had a team, ranging from Rookie League to AAA. I spent Fourth of July in Grand Junction, CO, and joined the community in celebrating Independence Day in a most fitting way: A Grand Junction Rockies (Minor League) game.

While some in the Duke community have been to Bulls games, few have been to this kind of Rookie League baseball game. Rookie League implies that that the teams consist of players just in the beginning of their professional development. So, the play is volatile. Some nights, there are great pitchers, and it’s close to the very end. And, as with my case in Grand Junction, some nights the game is a blowout. The Pioneer League, in which the Grand Junction Rockies compete, spans much of the route I will travel on my way to Washington, with teams in Utah, Idaho, and Montana. Additionally, the character of the game, from the spectators to the ads read over the P.A., takes on a purer, unguarded form, compared with a Pirates game in Pittsburgh.

I am not the biggest baseball fan, but I was excited to walk into Suplizio Field on Wednesday. When I ascended the rows to the top of the stands, I was shocked by the sight of a packed crowd. Below me spread a sea of red, white, and blue, and, beyond them, the Rockies played the Ogden Raptors on the dirt and grass. On the outfield wall were splattered my favorite kinds of advertisements: The ones for the local car dealerships, the local funeral home, and Alpine Bank. I sat back, beer in hand, and felt an energy that I knew wasn’t coming from the score–the Raptors were shredding the Rockies. Instead, it was anticipation of the fireworks that would follow the game.

Given the fires raging throughout Colorado, I knew it was a treat to have fireworks tonight. They would rise up above the hulking mass of Grand Mesa to the east, a mountain so impressive that it’s religious importance to local Native American culture was not surprising to me. The game wrapped-up and the fireworks began, but what struck me about my third firework show of the summer wasn’t the light bursts themselves, but rather the musical accompaniment that flooded the stadium.

Various songs came on, but “I’m Proud to Be an American” elicited the greatest crowd reaction. The song details some of the American values most admired in the areas I’ve travelled through. And, hearing the loud voices of what felt to be most of the crowd, I knew that Grand Junction agreed. Freedom and family, pride and service, and, especially, respect and admiration for the armed forces: These are the things that called out from the stadium speakers and the people’s voice to the Mesa beyond. I couldn’t help but sense a dissonance between this set of American values and those that seem to dominate the Duke community: Minority rights, political sensitivity, and respect for all segments of the American populace (except for those who are subjugating others). I am a believer that these two belief systems naturally coalesce, but something about the current national discourse seems to suggest an irreconcilability between these two segments of the nation. Perhaps, at least, a few firework shows above the Capitol building could provide us with a shared reason to come together.

John Benhart, T’19, is the 2019-2020 Kenan Postgraduate Fellow. As an undergraduate, he was a 2018 Kenan Summer Research Fellow and a participant in the Institute’s Citizenship Lab.

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