Don’t throw that home run ball back!

By     Nov 2, 2011

A bit of a longer leap than usual, but stick with me for a moment. Baseball fans have taken to throwing back home runs hit by the opposing team, a practice this author decries as "the worst tradition in baseball." This article on the trend made me think about one of the challenges we face every day in arts and culture.

The author is speaking as an expert, as a connoisseur of baseball. For him, you should keep the home run ball hit by your opponent because, in the bigger picture, it is a great souvenir. If you love baseball, you know the game, you follow the statistics, you care about the history and the records, then all home run balls are precious and great souvenirs. But the fans aren't coming at this from the perspective of the baseball expert and connoisseur. They are coming at it as ardent fans of their team. They get their value in the experience and in being part of that community. They are taking their reward in the immediate, emotional experience rather than a reflective, intellectual appreciation of the trophy or a monetary reward from selling the ball.

The article demonstrates a trap into which experts often fall. The expert's values are projected onto the audience rather than engaging with the participant's experience and values. This is where I think there is a  connection to the arts. Our institutions are run by people with exceptional arts expertise, but only a small portion of arts audiences approach their experiences as experts too. Most are more like the baseball fans throwing the "enemy's" home run ball back over the fence -- with their own motivations and values that are very different from the expert's. This article is a reminder of how hard we need to work to understand these fans and what our institutions do -- and do not do -- for them.

Don't throw that home run ball back!