When journalist and NPR host Scott Simon was young, his dad would take him to the park and hit ground balls to him.
There, he would tell Simon stories about baseball and famous players, referring to them by their first name, as he said “you do when you are a real fan.”
His godfather Jack Brickhouse, who Simon refers to as his Uncle Jack, was a Chicago Cubs play-by-play announcer for many years. What’s more, Simon’s aunt married Charlie Grimm, who was a first baseman for the Cubs.
“I can’t remember (sports) not ever being a part of my life,” Simon said.
For his first visit to Chautauqua at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, Simon will discuss how sports help people bond, the impact of sports on the history of the United States, and his concerns about the current state of the sports industry.
Simon sees a thread tying together the Week One theme “On Friendship” and Week Two’s “Games: A Celebration of Our Most Human Pastime.”
“At a time when we are looking for (connections), sports and enthusiasm for sports can provide a bond for people of different backgrounds, even different societies,” he said.
Simon warned he has a bias towards two of his hometown teams: the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Cubs.
Over several decades, Simon has covered natural disasters, political campaigns and 10 wars for NPR. His favorite assignments, however, were his reporting about Sarajevo, which he called “instructive, important, enlightening and moving.”
The siege took place in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnian War. It lasted for almost four years, from April 1992 to February 1996.
Simon said at that time, it was common to see Chicago Bulls-branded items “all over the streets of Sarajevo.” People there loved the team.
“Bosnia is very much a basketball enthusiastic society, but the Bulls, particularly during the war, represented … not just a successful basketball franchise, but also an example of how people from different backgrounds can work together and achieve something great,” Simon said.
Even though he had already lived in Washington, D.C., for a few years by then, Simon said he would tell people in Sarajevo that he was from Chicago, and in response, he would often be met with praise for the Windy City: “Oh Chicago, I love Chicago.”
In another example of the bonds that sports create, Simon recalled working at a home for mentally disabled people.
Baseball brought them together.
Rather than talk about food or medication, Simon could connect with them over daytime broadcasts.
It was “great fun to sit among them and talk about what was going on in the (Cubs) games,” he said.
Even for Chautauquans who might be skeptical of the value of sports, Simon said he hopes his visit to the Amp will teach them something beyond any game on a field.
“It’s an important experience for us as citizens,” he said.