As baseball attracts players from more and more cultures, players are called on to function in an increasingly diverse environment. Scholars of baseball and culture have been following these changes from various perspectives. Several presentations at the Nineteenth Annual NINE Spring Training Conference on the Historical and Sociological Impact of Baseball, for example, looked at the roles of owners, media, league officials, and governments in promoting or stifling diversity in baseball. (1) One presentation, however, alluded to players' approaches to diversity: Ila Borders described how her on-field performance improved following her move to a culturally diverse minor-league team. She attributed much of her improvement to the communication among team members, which she characterized as supporting and embracing cultural differences. (2)
Her story was thought-provoking and leads to a number of questions. What aspects of being in a multicultural context influence communications among team members? What significance does cultural identification hold for professional baseball players? In what ways might culture affect performance? In an initial effort to address questions such as these, prior interviews with culturally identified minor-league players were analyzed and results were interpreted with reference to relevant and instructive approaches from the field of organizational communication.
To explore what culture means to players, thirty-seven minor-league players were interviewed during the 2011 season. Of the thirty-seven players interviewed, six were playing Class AAA ball, eleven were playing Class AA ball, an additional player was interviewed twice--at both the AA and AAA levels--and nineteen were playing Class A Short Season ball. They included seventeen Jewish players, fifteen African American players, and three Spanish-speaking players born in the United States--two additional players, native speakers of neither Spanish nor English, were born outside the United States.
The predominance of Jewish and African American interviewees reflects the original goals of the study: to understand the phenomenological meanings of cultural identification in baseball among members of two minorities, one visible (African American), one not (Jewish). During the course of the interviews, and in light of Ila Borders's story, players' comments suggested a different research question: How do players react to cultural diversity within their teams? To help address this question, data from interviews with an additional thirty Spanish-speaking minor-league players were also included in the analysis. These latter interviews were conducted in Spanish during the 2009 and 2010 seasons as part of a separate study. (3)
Semistructured interviews were conducted with players individually, with the exception of three two-player interviews and one three-player interview that included two players who had previously been interviewed separately. Indeed, four of the thirty-seven players were interviewed on two separate occasions. All players were at least eighteen years old, and all were informed that (a) the researcher was affiliated with a college and not with any team or league, (b) participation was voluntary, and (c) no information would be shared that could identify a particular player or team. The inferred trustworthiness of responses is also based on observations that players were accessible and generous with their time and expressed interest in the research; many actually thanked the researcher for addressing the topic of culture in minor-league baseball. Many players requested contact information to obtain a copy of the results or additional information related to cultural identification. In addition, it was possible to observe a number of the players' interactions with other culturally-diverse teammates, and thus to validate their statements.
Players gave their consent to have the interviews audio recorded. …