To appreciate Charles Camp's lifelong devotion to baseball, you need know only this: When he and his family moved into their three-story Catonsville home two years ago, the first boxes to be unpacked -- even before those holding forks and spoons -- contained his 400-volume library of baseball fiction and fact. Collected since childhood, these books filled six groaning shelves across an entire wall of his third-floor study.
"Every six months I rearrange them for no good reason," he says, caressing a treasure from his boyhood entitled "Babe Ruth -- Baseball Boy," by Guernsey Van Riper Jr.
Many people know Mr. Camp through his work for the Maryland State Arts Council, where he acts as both state folklorist and grants administrator. His interest in teaching in off-hours has led him to teach an array of subjects on campuses throughout the Chesapeake region.
Amid a backdrop of the literature of baseball, we began discussing Mr. Camp's latest project: a 10-week anthropology course for the Johns Hopkins School of Continuing Studies that will explore the game's unique place in society. Using lectures, films, panel discussions and readings, Mr. Camp has stitched "a varied sampler of perspectives on the game that shows how it's woven into the fabric of American culture." Lecture subjects include baseball and American foodways, a history of team uniforms, and the art and vocation of keeping score.
Word about the course spread quickly. "Before the spring brochure was actually distributed, 16 people had signed up for the course -- sight unseen -- on the basis of two sentences about it that ran in Baltimore magazine," Mr. Camp said. "It's the first time they've had a new course reach the required enrollment so early in a semester; you can't get much earlier than before you actually open registration."
College officials have changed the room assignment for the course twice to satisfy an unexpectedly high demand. Mr. Camp calls the sign-up crush "an eye-opening, happy experience."
He and his wife, Andrea, who's the press secretary for U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, are renovating their home, built in the 1890s. Art deco treasures abound and a 1958 turquoise-and-chrome jukebox sits majestically in the front room.
On the morning we visited, Mr. Camp cradled his 10-day-old daughter, Zoe, in his arms as she hungrily drained a bottle of formula. He talked passionately about many aspects of baseball, including the importance of handing down baseball lore and legend to future generations, including his 5-year-old son, Nick, and 15-year-old daughter, Dana.
Q: "Diamonds Are Forever" is listed as an anthropology course, but it could have been listed under any number of disciplines, right?
A: Yes. Physics, American history, the arts, literature, film studies and, I suppose, physical education.
Q: Since you've never taught a course on baseball before, are there any apprehensions?
A: When I was in high school, I worked briefly at an ice cream shop, and was dismayed to find that I didn't like ice cream so much after working there for a while. In the back of my mind is the worry that by taking something I love and turning it into something I teach, it may diminish my affection for the game.
Q: How long have you been working on this idea of a baseball semester?
A: Four or five years. The first few proposals at Hopkins didn't succeed. It's difficult to take something you know is deep and wonderful and try to artificially re-create it in a course proposal, conveying that sense of value to someone who may not share it.
Q: So how did "Diamonds Are Forever" get on the spring course catalog?
A: The amount of attention and public outpouring that attended the closing of Memorial Stadium to the Orioles -- and the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- persuaded the people at Hopkins this was the right time.
Q: I take it your participation began at 5 or 6 years old with that book, "Babe Ruth -- Baseball Boy."
A: Baseball opened up the joy of reading for me and reading opened up a greater appreciation of baseball.
Q: When did you begin to get the idea that baseball was more than just a game?
A: Growing up in Canton, Ohio, 60 miles from Cleveland, I thought of baseball not in national terms but as something that was like 40 little parishes in the country. We had our territory and our teams. Other teams from other places came in to play the Indians, but they only came into existence when they played the Indians. The Indians would then take reality to other parts of the country -- not very much reality, actually -- and then they'd come back to Ohio. It was through writers like [the late] Red Smith of the New York Times that I learned baseball was bigger than any one team or any one fan's appreciation. I learned baseball was something people cared about in a global way, and that it was every bit as real and important as anything else in the newspaper.
Q: Name one of baseball's least appreciated attributes.
A: It gives kids something to talk to their parents about. A neutral topic.
4 Q: As a parent, how do you raise a baseball fan?
A: I learned a lot about that from my 15-year-old. I've had Sunday season tickets to the Orioles for 15 years, and I started taking Dana to the games when she was a baby. I insisted on taking her to games during the period she was between 5 and 9 years old, so much so that I inadvertently turned it into a class she was unwillingly enrolled in. She kind of pushed away from baseball for a while, but came back to it when I stopped pushing. I was well-meaning, and it was nice to have someone to go to the ballgame with, but it almost backfired. In the last few years, though, she's requested going to certain games.
It's like religion. You take the kids to church when they're little. Then after a while they push away. Then, if you've raised them right, they come back to the church.