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History Professor Finds Passion Studying Intersection of Politics and Baseball in Latin America
For assistant professor April Yoder, it was an adviser in graduate school who helped spark her interest in studying sports and their impact on society.
January 15, 2019
By Jackie Hennessey, contributing writer
When she’s not teaching classes on "Sport in Latin American History" or leading trips for her students to the Dominican Republic and Cuba, April Yoder, an assistant professor of history, is busy finishing a book about how baseball was used to explain democracy in the Dominican Republic during the cold war.
She’s traveled to the DR many times, spending summers doing her research and teaching college courses on the globalization of baseball.
It was a series of political cartoons that "used baseball as a way to explain and support democracy and to illustrate the showdown between communism and democracy," she said, that set off her investigation.
She’s delved into government documents from the Secretary of Sports, read sports writers from the 1960s, visited baseball academies, attended games, and interviewed some of the elder statesmen of Dominican baseball, like two-time World Series champion Jesus Alou and Ozzie Virgil, the first Dominican to play in the major leagues.
"It’s fascinating the places a research question can take you," she says.
Yoder grew up in basketball country in Indiana and "didn’t follow baseball at all.
"I first became interested in Latin American culture when an immigrant from Mexico joined my third-grade class because my teacher was one of the few in the district who spoke Spanish," she says.
In high school, Yoder took Spanish, and an inspiring teacher led her to study Latin American history in college.
"It’s fascinating the places a research question can take you."April Yoder, Ph.D.
As a graduate student at the University of Arizona, she met a baseball player, a pitcher from the Colorado Rockies minor league system who was playing in the instructional league, and, before long, she discovered an interest in the sport.
Soon, she was going to games, learning and, then loving, baseball. When she arrived at her history class sunburned from watching games, her professor/thesis adviser – who wrote about sport and leisure in Mexico – encouraged her to "Write about baseball!"
Yoder did just that as she pursued her Ph.D. in history at Georgetown University. "I was always interested in how politics infiltrate popular culture," she says. She found a rich source in the Dominican Republic, where baseball is such a part of the fabric of society.
"I love getting lost in different stories and curiosities that you find in the archives and discovering the ways Dominicans shaped baseball there and in the United States," she says.
"Part of my job is helping my students discover their passion and instilling in them the skills and the confidence to see where it takes them."April Yoder, Ph.D.
These days, she is still very into baseball, married to a Mets fan, and following Dominican baseball writers on Twitter. Next summer will take her to Cuba with students, and an upcoming research project will explore how the ideological back and forth of the 1960s and 1970s led to more opportunities in sport for Latin American women.
She’s also looking forward to returning to the Dominican Republic. "It is my home away from home," she says.
She’s grateful that her professor’s suggestion led her to research sport and to the DR, and she encourages her students to find their own exciting paths.
"Part of my job is helping my students discover their passion and instilling in them the skills and the confidence to see where it takes them," she says.