The Baseball Star Vs. The Climate Scientist


I love baseball, especially the St. Louis Cardinals, and my deep passion is climate change.  I had two very different experiences recently meeting the most recent World Series MVP and America’s most renowned climate scientist.  Both experiences were a thrill of a lifetime.  Both experiences also speak volumes about America’s priorities, especially when it comes to celebrities, sports, science and climate change.
November 22, 2011 was my first day of work this winter at the St. Louis Science Center.  I was scheduled to leave at 5 pm, but I could not leave any earlier because my boss wanted to show the proper way to close.   I did not leave work until 5:15 pm.  I was totally in a rush to leave because the newspaper kept advertising that St. Louis Cardinals World Series MVP, David Freese, was signing autographs at the FVE video store, less than 2 miles from the Science Center at 5 pm.  Without mentioning it to my boss, I bolted out to leave as soon as she released me for the day.  I then drove straight to FYE to try to get an autograph.  The traffic was jammed driving to FYE.  It took well over 15 minutes, in what should have been a five minute drive.   There were even two minor car accidents on the way to FYE.  Apparently local Cardinals fans really wanted to see David Freese.
As my car approached the store, it was obvious that I would not be able to park on the store parking lot because of all the chaos.  I parked on a nearby side street and then ran towards the store, crossing an extremely hectic street to do so.  When I got by the store at 5:25 pm, there was a very long line inside to the cash register to purchase the $27.95 World Series DVD that Mr. Freese was willing to sign.  There was another long line of a couple hundred people wrapped around the inside of the store to get David’s autograph.  I waited in the cash register line for about 15 minutes.  Then a store clerk told me, “I am sorry, but Mr. Freese had reached his contact obligation to sign the DVDs.  He will not be autographing any more DVDs today.”
Oops.  It looks like this drive is going to be for nothing.  It felt like such heart deflating disappointment.   I was not going to meet David Freese.  However, I am very tenacious, very stubborn, and overly optimistic.  I walked over to the barriers just to try to get a glimpse of David Freese.  At 5:50 pm, the autograph line was down to just a handful of people.  I noticed a friendly store clerk, John, who was watching the end of the line for security reasons, slip a few more people into the line to get David’s autograph.  I respectfully and meekly asked John, “If I buy the DVD, will you still let me slip in line to get David’s autograph.”  Very surprisingly, John said, “Yes” to my request.
I then ran to the cash register with the DVD, plopped down my credit, ran back to where John was holding a place at the end of the line for me.  I then got David to sign my DVD and get my picture taken with him.  Out of the hundreds of people who showed up that day, I was the last one to get David Freese’s autograph.  I felt like I had just lived an amazing Indiana Jones-like adventure to obtain this autograph.
Exactly two weeks later I was attending a lecture about communicating the science of climate change at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco.  While I was listening intently to the lecture, a friend I met at the conference, Kaitlin Alexander, slipped me a note that Dr. James Hansen from NASA was speaking at 12:30 pm.  He is considered to be one of America’s top climate scientists.  He is a huge hero of mine, and I never thought it my wildest dreams I would be able to meet him.
At 11:20 am, Kaitlin and I left the lecture we were attending at the Moscone South Convention Center to race a whole city block to the Moscone West to hear his talk.  Understandably, the room was packed with several hundred scientists, grad students, PhD candidates, and others wanting to hear Dr. Hansen speak.  During his lecture, Kaitlin, turned to me to announce, “I want to shake Dr. Hansen’s hand after his lecture.”  I thought great idea.  I want to shake his hand too.  However, I also thought ‘no chance.  This guy is very famous.  He is going to be mobbed by the admiring scientists after this lecture.  I will probably not be able to get within yards of him.’

To my complete surprise, only 6 people including me approached Dr. Hansen after his lecture. A couple hundred dedicated scientists must have attended this lecture too. I am still shocked how easy it was to approach him and how accessible & friendly he was.  Dr. Hansen was very warm and personable. He even enthusiastically allowed me to take my picture with him.  I thanked him for his efforts protesting in front of the White House in October against the XL tar sands pipeline. Dr. Hansen seemed pleased by my comment, but then stated, “Unfortunately we have not done anything yet to stop the increase of greenhouse gases.”

This was in such striking contrast to when I stood in line in November with hundreds of people to wait over an hour & pay $27.95 to get the autograph of local World Series baseball hero, David Freese. There was even horrible traffic and a couple of minor car accidents for people to race to see this baseball player. Granted, Dr. James Hansen is a diehard Yankees fan, so he might understand my deep love for baseball & meeting the stars. On the other hand, this shows how upside down our priorities are as a society. When are we really going to hold scientists with great esteem & respect and stop idolizing music, pop, movie and sports stars to an insane level?

David Freese grew up in St. Louis and will now be a local legend here forever for his crucial hits to enable the Cardinals to win the 2011 World Series.  On the other hand, people worldwide will never forget all the efforts of Dr. James Hansen for alerting the world on the dangers of global warming since the 1980s.  Baseball fans will always be entertained by the stories of David Freese rising to the occasion as a World Series hero.  If humans find a way to resolve climate change, future generations will look Dr. James Hansen as one of the biggest heroes of the planet.  By the way, with my passion for climate change, if I had a choice to meet David Freese or James Hansen again, I would very easily pick James Hansen.  I would love for another opportunity to talk baseball with him and pick his brain more about the science of climate change.

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