Spartan Strong

Rose Jacobs lives in Munich, Germany, where she works as an English teacher at the Technical University of Munich and as a freelance editor, writer, and reporter. She’s back in her hometown of East Lansing, Michigan for the current academic year, making sure her husband and daughter get a full exposure to American life — including to some of the baseball fields that formed her.

But the family was exposed to the worst of American life in February, with the tragic campus shooting of eight MSU students, three of whom died. The city is still reeling.

Vigil at The Rock – Pic via the Detroit Newsalthough the campus icon itself hasn’t been free from controversy


Read Rose’s full bio at the Conversations page


Steve It’s the off-season, so we aren’t at a game; but if we were, where would we be? What’s your favorite place to watch baseball?

Rose I’ve already got tickets for one of my go-to venues. I’m taking some friends who will be visiting from Germany soon to the Lansing Lugnuts’ first home game of the season, at Jackson Field, a few blocks from the state capitol building.

Family legend has it that my mother is the reason the stadium was built where it now stands; she wrote to city planners suggesting the spot after sending my younger brother and father to measure the lot by foot. Lansing is hardly in a full-throttled revival, but the stadium does now lie at the center of a regenerating zone, and it’s a great place for a fun, relaxed night out. No-one’s sitting far from the field, the corny stuff t-shirt tosses, pizza giveaways, etc isn’t too over-the-top, and tickets are cheap. I recently read a profile of the poet Sharon Olds in which she is described as a devotee of the NBA, and it struck me as kind of affected, and yet I hypocritically imagine spending my seventies and eighties with season tickets to the Lugnuts.

Anyway, I’m hoping my Germans won’t be too baseballed-out by their minor-league game, as the next night the Michigan State Spartans play, and I’d like to take them there, too. Kobs Field is a very different experience, a beautiful setting at the heart of the green, green MSU campus, and I spent many happy afternoons of my youth there, watching practices or, on packed game days, collecting cans with friends for the 10-cent deposits.

But my favorite venue lies between those two locations: Municipal Field on the east side of Lansing, where my dad used to coach a city league summer team. The concession stand paid a dime for every foul ball returned, and on warm summer evenings my friends and I would team up against other sets of kids to compete for each one. My father had taught us where to position ourselves based on the batter, and so we were already at an advantage, but I was fast and ran shoeless, I remember and my friends unafraid to check the other shrimps on the chase, so we usually made enough to cover a significant portion of our Dum Dum purchases each night.

Municipal Field is glorious, even those memories aside bright lights in inky darkness, battered old metal bleachers, watching for the detail of what happens on the field, little concern about standings or stats.

Kircher Municipal Field- (pic via Lansing Stars)

Steve What was the first baseball game you went to? Who took you and what do you remember about it? Also, what was the first election you voted in? What do you think have been the most significant changes in both institutions since then?

Rose I don’t recall the first, but I guess it probably involved sitting on the sidelines of one of my older brother’s Little League games. Later, family outings to Tiger Stadium were a ritual; I remember the excitement of parking in Corktown, and the intimacy of the stadium — that steep incline of seats that kept you close to the game even in the upper decks.

I became eligible to vote in September of 1995 so would have probably cast my first ballot in the following year’s presidential contest. I don’t remember the details at all. (My first political memory is more interesting — attending a rally for Geraldine Ferraro twelve years previously. I remember sitting on my dad’s shoulders to see the stage.)

As for what’s changed in politics and baseball? Well, I’m sorry that I’m more alone than I used to be in my enthusiasm for baseball, partly because it’s just a little lonelier, partly because it’s such a quiet, slow, meditative game that I can’t help but think that watching more of it would help all of us to stop, observe, consider, meditate, appreciate.

Maybe that would help our politics, too. I know studies show that while we’ve always been very divided as a country, the last 30 years have seen us come to loathe our opponents. But I have to say, I personally recall finding Republicans inexplicable even back in the 1980s and 90s. In fact, I probably have more time for them now, though my politics haven’t changed much. And while I don’t like the coarsening of the language in the public sphere, I’m not sure polite George H. W. Bush was any better than his jocularly bullying son, or W, in turn much better than Trump, in terms of making many people’s lives miserable.

I do wonder sometimes if something like consensus-based decision-making might be more appropriate than majority-rule in this atmosphere. Instead of the uphill battle of changing someone’s mind, everyone is forced into the sort of co-operation that, starting with Newt Gingrich, the Republicans have basically rejected. Of course, my main knowledge of consensus-based decision-making comes from being part of a parent-initiative pre-school in Munich — very small-scale, in other words — so I would need to read up on its advantages and pitfalls much more to take a firm stance.

If we’re talking about the presidency in particular, I’m not thrilled about the increased use of executive orders; it reminds me of the UK, where one party comes in, makes all the rules, and the next comes and undoes them, a sort of whiplash that can’t be good for anyone.

Steve How has it been watching US politics from abroad in recent years? How noticeable do you think it has been that the crisis in Ukraine has strengthened the transatlantic alliance? And comparing ‘here’ with ‘there’, how much of a sense is there that what’s happening at the moment is defining the future of Europe, if not the future of democracy itself?

Rose To generalize from my conversations with individuals which probably overstretches those conversations’ broader interpretability even the Americans most engaged and informed about Ukraine are not nearly as engaged as the average German. (I can’t speak for Europeans more broadly, but I’ve found the English closer on the spectrum to Americans than to Germans.) To the Germans, this feels existential; to the Americans, it’s still distant. Here in the US, the more pressing issue often seems to be whether Trump’s going to be indicted. And while I suppose the defence of Ukraine has depended on the transatlantic alliance, I’m not sure it’s strengthened it. I don’t see an enormous amount of trust on either side of either side.

Steve East Lansing was the focus of national attention – and an outpouring of love – recently for all the wrong reasons, after the tragic Valentine’s Day shooting on campus. What’s the mood a few weeks later, with classes resumed and an emotional return for the basketball team?

I think Tom Izzo’s tendency to break into tears speaks for all of us. Making it to the Sweet Sixteen has made a lot of us happy. But I don’t think you could describe the mood on campus or in town as happy, generally. The shooting, the awful deaths of those students and injuries of the others, and even the deeply troubled killer’s suicide, remains very much on everyone’s mind. It keeps breaking our hearts every day.

Steve One of the most tragic things, it seemed to me, about that day’s events was hearing about MSU students who had also been caught up in the incident at Oxford High School just over a year ago. No-one should have to go through one, let alone two, days like that in their short life.

What do you think might be the lasting impact on their generation of this seemingly relentless wave of gun violence – not just when it comes to accepting active shooter drills as normal, but in terms of political engagement? While they could justifiably believe that the system has failed them, do you think they might be more inclined to vote to change it?

Rose I’m not sure I have enough contact with these kids to say much about this: my daughter is only seven. (Before the MSU shooting, at least, she described the active shooter drills at her US school as preparing for if “thieves” come; unfortunately, she probably isn’t so innocent now.) In Germany, I do think Generation Z — or my Gen Z students, at least — seems ready to think really differently about our most intractable problems. But despite shootings here and there in Germany, including the recent killings in Hamburg, gun control is not an issue there that demands such revolutionary shifts in thinking and action as it does here.

What I can maybe speak about here has less to do with generation than location. In the late 1970s, MSU faculty and students helped make this city a leader in opposing apartheid in South Africa through divestment, and maybe that’s a model of some sort for trying to reduce gun violence: recognizing that a vote for one policy or another, one party or another, might not be enough, and that new models need to be developed and pursued — humbly, from a place where the goals are certain even if the means of getting there remain imperfect works in progress.

I wonder if the tragedy at MSU could prompt the state’s Democrats to engage with a critical mass of responsible gun owners in the form of hunters to find and test a comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence that includes gun control but also more intelligent sentencing, a head-on look at mental health and other social services, and, I don’t know, whatever else it is that Republicans seem to think would do a better job than gun control at getting us out of this mess.

Steve – Michigan Gov Gretchen Whitmer has advocated for stronger gun control measures – as you say, never an easy sell in a big hunting and Second Amendment state. But then again she recently handily won re-election (just before the men convicted of attempting to kidnap her were sentenced). Amid fresh stories of how increasingly polarized Michigan politics seem to be, what do you think are the prospects for the coming election cycle, especially with Sen Debbie Stabenow deciding not to seek re-election in 2024?

Rose – I’ve always thought Michigan is bluer than it gets credit for, and Elissa Slotkin is an incredibly strong candidate to replace Stabenow. That said, I thought Brexit would never win majority backing, and on election eve in 2016 was wondering if I could rustle up a pantsuit to wear in celebration the next morning.

Steve – As an educator and writer, you must be as unnerved as the rest of us by the recent surge in the use of Artificial Intelligence. Have you experimented with ChatGPT or other bots and what implications do you think they have for content creation, particularly in a learning environment? Has your institution developed a collective policy on the issue yet?

Rose – I haven’t experimented with it a whole lot but was waiting for this to come: a friend has been using generative AI for some time to create images, and through him I got interested in the art of writing prompts. In fact, when I get back to Munich, and to teaching there, I am hoping to develop a class with a few colleagues called something like “The Art of Editing,” where we learn how to use generative AI as a tool — responsibly, transparently, critically. It’s a science-and-tech university, so I expect my students will have an advanced and subtle understanding of the technology, and for my part, I hope to be able to persuade them that writing is not just a communication tool, but a way of thinking more deeply and subtly about your subject — and that their science will get better if they write a thing themselves. And I’ll also, of course given my career, emphasize how much of good writing is good editing!

I haven’t followed closely whether the TUM is going to develop an overarching policy about generative AI and schoolwork, but my general feeling is that the students who want to learn don’t cheat, and they don’t need a policy to tell them what cheating is. Outside academia, I do think some sharp regulation of the technology is not a bad idea; in other words, I think generative AI poses dangers to society, but I don’t think college students cheating on take-home essays is the worst of these by a long shot.

Steve – Related to that, you and I both worked through what was probably the most tumultuous quarter-century in the media industry. What are your big picture thoughts on the changes we’ve seen? What do you think have been the most fundamental shifts in the previous business model for news – and what, in turn, are the implications for democracy?

Rose – Oh God, these are big questions! I’m more impressed right now with the quality of journalism than I’ve been in a long time; I don’t have to look far to find deeply reported, original pieces. (And there I wouldn’t worry too much about ChatGPT; it can write a good timeline piece using already published material, but the tick-tocks – not TikToks! – we want to read after a big event are the ones that include new information that only a human can reveal, gathered by talking to other humans.)

I should also note that the local journalism here in East Lansing has pleasantly surprised me— the Lansing State Journal, State News, and the Lansing Pulse, but also the local reporting by WKAR, the public radio station. And there has been a lot to report on! MSU’s administration has been a mess  since my arrival in August, or earlier, and there are several reporters here and in Detroit who are very much on the case.

I must admit haven’t thought deeply about the best ways to fund all of this; I worry about distribution — who’s reading this stuff — less because of what it means for ad revenues, and more because I think we as a nation really, really need to step up our awareness of what’s going on, not in terms of which party is winning, or which celebrity politician is annoying us, and more in terms of the issues at hand. As I said earlier, I think the US is getting to be more like the UK in terms of governing, and yet the media here cannot play its fourth-estate role well if it is not more critical in a non-partisan way. That strikes me as a bigger problem in national broadcast media than local radio and print, which adds to the urgency of making sure local radio and print remain alive.

Steve –  Finally, back to baseball, and with the World Baseball Classic – featuring several current and former Lugnuts – under way (Germany unfortunately failed to qualify this time, losing out to Great Britain and the Czech Republic in the qualifiers in Regensburg) what do you make of the increased push towards globalization and marketing of the game outside the US?

Rose – I haven’t been following this but I’m delighted to hear that there is a push like this going on! Germans love their off-the-global-radar sports like handball, so why wouldn’t they embrace baseball, too? I plan to do my small part by playing more catch with my daughter in the park out in front of our Munich apartment. My husband and I kick a soccer ball there, but maybe I can convert even him to the pleasures of a hard, worn baseball thumping into a soft, worn glove. Speaking of soccer, though, I wonder if the genuine disgust in Germany with the world football organizations — their corruption, their lack of moral compass — might make some space for baseball as a spectator sport.

As for another classically American sport — and this one’s for you, Sharon Olds! — which is increasingly popular abroad, my sister-in-law recently pointed out that former Spartan star Cassius Winston is now playing basketball for Bayern Munich, and I do wonder if I shouldn’t invite him over for dinner once we’re back in town. Maybe he would even come! Michiganders are like that.

Rose and her daughter recently in California


You might also enjoy these other Conversations:

John Wesley Fountain – Crossroads:

“The truth is, and this is unpopular to say, that legislation does not remove weapons from the hands of “bad guys” nor prevent them from obtaining them. Law-abiding citizens who might seek to purchase are the ones who are most affected. So you keep them from owning these guns. So what. The bad guys still have them. And based on the number of mass shootings each summer and the use of assault weapons during carjackings, it doesn’t measurably make Chicago’s streets any safer.” 


Danny Knobler – Relief:

“We get quite a few Americans in the bar, and even those from other countries often have strong opinions on Trump and Biden and other US leaders. So we can’t completely remove ourselves from it. But it’s not a daily issue here, and for some reason it seems much easier to be friendly here with people who hold diametrically opposed political views. So yes, it does feel like a relief to be half a world away from it. Even though I could watch US television news every day, the fact is that when I’m here I very rarely turn it on.”


Beth Ely Torres – About-Face:

“Local politics may not be able to solve the big issues, but they can certainly feel the pulse of what constituents need. But local politics can also hurt the country. Like primaries, many people don’t see the importance in voting in the local elections. We often get left with radicals on both sides that care more about their personal agenda than what is good for their constituents. In the long run, this shapes how people view the larger areas and creates a larger divide.”