Cooperstown, N.Y. Baseball season isn't even close to the dog days of summer, and James Yasko already has put in a full year of work.
Yasko is manager for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's visitor education program. Through video conferencing with schools around the country, Yasko and his staff use baseball to teach kids in 16 subjects - from math to geography to civil rights to labor to pop culture.
"We bring a new way of learning, and we're proud of that," said Yasko, who had delivered 250 presentations by early June. "We teach them before they realize they're learning."
And it's a big hit.
"Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and, in fact, has exceeded our expectations," said Jeff Arnett, director of education and public programs for the Hall of Fame. "We would never have expected when we started this that it's now to the point where we're probably going to be doing somewhere around 400 video conferences in 2007."
Begun five years ago, the program already has reached school kids in all 50 states, and Yasko recently completed a session with a school in the Dominican Republic.
"We realized the education value baseball can provide, but we had no idea it would be so educational," Yasko said. "We're having to turn schools away. It's a nice problem to have."
The Hall of Fame staff has created more than 100 questions, and more are in the works. Classes are divided into teams, and the object is to score the most runs. Teams can try for a single, double, triple or home run, and the questions increase in difficulty with each extra base. Calculators can be used for math.
Q: What player won the most games in his career?
A: Cy Young.
Q: He won 61.8 percent of his 827 decisions. How many games did he win?
Q: Ichiro had 242 hits. 34 were doubles, eight were triples and eight were home runs. How many singles did he have?
Q: Connie Mack began managing the Philadelphia A's in 1901 when he was 39 and retired when he was 88. What year was that?
Last fall, fifth- and sixth-graders from Caroline G. Atkinson Intermediate School in Freeport, N.Y., took part in a math video conference, and excitement in the classroom reached fever pitch heading into the bottom of the ninth. Kids stood with their arms raised skyward, jumping up and down while trying to get called on as Samantha Faria, Yasko's predecessor, guided the blue team into its final at-bat.
Trailing the red team 5-2, the blues loaded the bases and went for it all.
"Going for the home run?" Faria asked, smiling. "All right, but keep in mind if you don't get it, the red team will win. This is a tough one: In the 2004 American League playoffs, in 60 at-bats Manny Ramirez had 16 singles, three doubles and two home runs. What was his slugging percentage?"
After some furious calculating, the blues answered the question correctly (.500) for a grand slam and won the game by a run.
"The kids loved it. They were able to understand it, and it really does incorporate into the stuff they're doing in the classroom. It's using the technology of the day," said Margaret Taboada, technology staff developer at Atkinson. "We talked about the kids learning and making the schools relevant to the kids. This is one of the great ways you make it relevant. Otherwise, they're not interested, not motivated."
Organizers say it's not just a gimmick to entice more people to visit the Hall of Fame.
"If we create interest in baseball, that's secondary," Yasko said. "The primary thing is getting kids to learn."
"It just gives kids more of a real-life experience, something that's enjoyable, not just, 'Take out your textbook,"' Faria said. "It actually puts them in contact with something they could use. They could go to a game and actually keep track of someone's hits and at-bats."
The Hall of Fame has wireless Internet capability, allowing Yasko to conduct sessions from anywhere in the building and permitting the use of exhibits and artifacts from the Hall's vast collection to aid the learning process.
During a video conference about former New York Yankees star Lou Gehrig and what he endured in his career and life, a man in a wheelchair stopped with his wife and watched.
"He was fascinated," Faria said. "We had a long conversation, and as it turned out, he had Lou Gehrig's Disease. I did a later program that day on the same topic, and he came back, joined in and talked to the students and shared his experience of what it was like to have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The kids would never have had that opportunity (in the classroom)."