WILMINGTON — The game of baseball with all its nuance and chess-like strategies is ripe picking for eliciting philosophical discourse. But throw in episodes from Rod Serling’s science fiction anthology, The Twilight Zone, and it is easy to believe that discussion might reach an otherworldly dimension.
That was the premise as nearly a dozen adult learners embarked upon this spring’s philosophy course instructed by Dr. Ron Rembert, professor of religion and philosophy at Wilmington College, in the WILL program.
WILL is the Wilmington Institute for Lifelong Studies, a continuing education opportunity, under the auspices of Wilmington College, designed for motivated adults aged 40-plus who are seeking an “educational outlet for learning and being challenged.” Each spring and fall since 2010, as many as two-dozen seminars have been offered on topics ranging from museums and musical theatre to navigating Medicare and Social Security, and hands-on learning about photography, winemaking and stained glass.
Rembert, a faculty member at the College since 1989, wished to share his enthusiasm for all three topics in the course “Baseball, Philosophy and The Twilight Zone.”
“I thought the range of interest might be appealing,” Rembert said. “It was a very discussion-oriented group and I appreciate their willingness to share their thoughts and passions.”
The Twilight Zone anthology, which ran on CBS from 1959 to 1964, features four episodes dealing with baseball in varying degrees. The one totally centered upon the sport, titled “Casey at the Bat,” featured a pitcher with superhuman pitching acumen, whose exploits vaulted a perennially hapless team into a contender — until he was challenged for being nonhuman.
“The Twilight Zone episodes were jumping-off points for our discussion,” Rembert said, noting that, in spite of production values that pale in sophistication to today’s, Serling’s 20-minute stories provided “philosophical questions to consider. They were succinct but focused enough to generate discussions.”
The “Casey” episode brought up the contemporary issue of steroid use in sport.
Rembert posed the question, “In a culture which provides medications for addressing so many physical and mental needs, does it seem surprising that athletes turn to steroids? Does it seem corrupt? Do you agree with those that want to ban players that used steroids from induction into the Hall of Fame? Does steroid use jeopardize baseball records?”
Others topics among the myriad of those addressed include trick pitches like the infamous spitball (fair or unfair?), the concept of free agency in which players can put themselves on the open market to the highest bidder (does this give wealthier teams an unfair advantage?) and the concept of “home” in baseball.
“’Home’ is a place for both leaving and returning,” Rembert said. “Leaving can involve risks and dangers like those faced by runners circling the base paths in an effort to avoid various obstacles (force outs, being left on base or caught stealing) to returning ‘home.’ Reaching there ‘safe and sound’ brings relief and reward.
“What does that say about a sport that ‘home’ is the key location on the field?” he added. “Why is the ‘home run’ so satisfying? Why is stealing ‘home’ one of the most exciting plays in baseball? Does the catcher’s unique view from ‘home’ make that position special?”
Rembert will return to baseball again in spring 2017 when he teaches a Wilmington College course on the philosophical aspects of the sport, but this venture into the WILL program provided him with the enjoyable deviation of teaching older students attending class solely for personal enjoyment.
“It was a nice opportunity to get together with no expectations and see where the discussion took us,” he said. “The adult students were enthusiastic for the topic and WILL provided a different setting that resulted in a fun experience.”
WILL’s fall 2016 schedule of seminars will be available in mid-August.