Shortly after Thanksgiving I received a note from a design student named Bethany Heck, who was about to graduate from Auburn. Here’s what she had to say:
Hello, Mr. Lukas! I recently completed a project about baseball minutiae, centered around a web site called the Eephus League. The site is starting to gather content, though I want it to be a community-driven place eventually, where other minutiae lovers can submit their findings easily. I created a lot of merch to be sold through the site, like posters, a minutiae handbook, a scorekeeping set, buttons and T-shirts, and a celebratory cigar set. Do you think this would be something people like yourself and your readers would be interested in?
As I quickly discovered, Bethany has her own web site (which basically functions as her portfolio), along with a blog devoted to letterpress type, which is one of her obsessions. All this and baseball minutiae too? An interview was clearly in order.
In the seven-ish weeks since then, Bethany has graduated from Auburn and her Eephus League project has gotten some attention from other media outlets. In fact, several of you have submitted the Eephus project as Ticker contributions over the last few weeks. In each case, I responded, “Way ahead of ya — stand by.”
There were two impediments to arranging an interview with Bethany: First, we had a hard time getting our schedules to match up during the holidays. Also, having been raised with good Southern manners, she kept insisting on calling me “Mr. Lukas,” which was sweet but way too formal. Once we got those issues straightened out, we finally got together for a good conversation. Here’s how it went:
Uni Watch: You just graduated from Auburn. Are you an Alabama native?
Bethany Heck: Yeah, I’m actually from Auburn.
UW: How would you describe yourself as a designer, in terms of your aesthetic or approach?
BH: I really gravitate toward vintage typography. I don’t know if it’s just a phase or if it’s something I’m gonna carry with me for the rest of my time. And I like type in general — if I can make something purely out of typographical layouts and elements, that’s where I like to be. I do illustration or photography if a project calls for it, but typography is my main focus.
UW: And you’re particularly into letterpress, right?
UW: How did that come about?
BH: My dad had a collection of a lot of random wood type, and I got really interested in it. Then I started buying my own wood type, and now it’s grown into this huge obsession, and I’ve even talked the university into buying letterpress equipment. So it’s grown into this thing at Auburn, which is great — everyone’s excited about it.
UW: How big is your wood type collection?
BH: I probably have 10 to 15 full alphabets now, plus other random assorted stuff.
UW: One thing I’ve noticed in your work, and also in our e-mail correspondence, is that you seem to be a very solid writer and that you’re as comfortable with the written word as you are with imagery. That’s a great combination for a designer, and it’s pretty uncommon.
BH: Writing makes me nervous, and I don’t necessarily feel confident about it. But I’ve gotten that comment before, so it’s something I should probably start feeling better about.
UW: You’re good at it, trust me.
BH: Thank you. I feel like that’s something that’s really valuable, being able to write your own copy. Especially if I’m going to focus on typography.
UW: Let’s talk about the Eephus League project. That was a class assignment, right?
BH: Yes. At Auburn, you ideally take just one design class for your last semester — it’s your senior project, and you devote your entire semester to that. For me, that was the Eephus League.
UW: What exactly was the assignment? Like, were you supposed to create a brand, or what?
BH: It’s pretty vague. Some people create companies, some people create museum exhibitions — it’s really loose. Most people tend to create a brand.
UW: And was the Eephus League something you dreamed up specifically for that assignment, or was it something you’d been thinking about doing anyway?
BH: I’d been thinking about it beforehand. I wanted to do a baseball project, but I needed to narrow it down, give it some direction. I couldn’t just say, “It’ll be about baseball.”
UW: So you decided it would be about baseball minutiae.
UW: And can you describe that a bit more? If someone asked you to explain what the Eephus League is, how would you respond?
BH: I would say that it’s a safe haven for all the random bits of baseball that kind of floats around the edges. I would consider the weirdly obsessive stat culture that’s developed around baseball to be a bit of minutiae; the stuff you do with the uniforms, that’s minutiae; weird historical documentation of things that random people have said; all the little things that have sprung up because of baseball. All of that is in the realm of the Eephus League.
UW: And it’s celebrating those things?
BH: Yes, definitely.
UW: Any serious baseball fan knows where the term “eephus” comes from. Did you choose that term right away, or did you consider other names?
BH: None of my other names were really any good.
UW: Hey now, we’ll be the judge of that. What were some of them?
BH: I don’t even want to say.
UW: Oh come on, people love knowing what was left on the cutting room floor.
BH: At first I was focusing on terms that had to do with numbers, like Full Count, and just awful, awful ideas. And I was nervous about choosing Eephus League, because some people don’t know what means, or how to pronounce it. So anytime someone encounters the name and they tell me they like it and they know what it means, I’m like, “Yes!”
UW: Have you found yourself having to explain it to a lot of people?
UW: Even baseball fans? I mean, I can see that a professor looking at your project might not necessarily be a baseball fan to begin with. But don’t baseball people know about the eephus pitch?
BH: My father, who’s a casual fan, wasn’t that familiar with it. There’s been a few other people who’ve kind of looked at the project and squinted and said, “Wait, isn’t that the name of a pitch or something?” And inside I’m going, “Yes!”
UW: Where did your obsession with baseball minutiae come from? Like, have you always been a baseball fan, or always been a minutiae fan, or both?
BH: I think it’s a little bit of both. I’m a collector, I’m a hoarder. I like little printed things, old stuff, I’m into old stuff…
UW: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
BH: Right, I’m sure. So the minutiae thing is something I’ve always been interested in. And I’ve always been a baseball fan. Right when I started the project, I went to the library and checked out the Ken Burns baseball documentary, and I was almost getting emotional as I watched it. I was thinking, “My god, I’d forgotten how much I love baseball! I’m so glad I’m working on this project!”
UW: Do you play baseball yourself?
BH: I played softball growing up. I got to the point where fast pitch started, but nobody else around here played that, so I had to become a soccer kid to fit in.
UW: Tell me some of your favorite baseball details — things that you’re particularly happy to write about and celebrate in the Eephus League.
BH: I really love scorekeeping. I love the layout of the scorecard, the graphic nature of the shape of the diamond and how it combines with numbers that you write onto it, and how certain gestures mean certain things. It’s really intricate, but it’s easy to understand. That was definitely a pleasure to dive into.
Also, the Library of Congress has a photo archive of ballplayers from the turn of the century, with no rights restrictions. I love the old uniforms, I love the players’ nicknames…
UW: Those are the images you used for those posters?
UW: About scorekeeping: Who taught you how to keep score? That’s often a formative moment in a fan’s life.
BH: I don’t have anyone in my family who does it habitually. But I remember going to Braves games as a kid and asking my dad where David Justice was, because he was my favorite player, and having the scoresheet in front of me and my dad explaining the basics. We probably only did it for about three innings and got bore with it, but it definitely stuck in my mind.
UW: And when you go to a game now, do you always keep socre?
UW: Do you save the scorecard afterward? Do you have a drawer stuffed with all of them?
BH: Unfortunately, no. Usually they get lost.
UW: Any other details about the game that you especially like?
BH: I’m really interested in all the sabermetric stuff. I like that there are people who will dig into those numbers. Like, wins over replacement, I don’t even understand all of that, but it’s really fascinating to me that someone’s come up with this really complex formula. And there’s all these arguments about which stats are good or bad, and nobody can ever come to an agreement over which ones are most useful.
UW: Do your friends and family share your passion for these types of details?
BH: No, they don’t, unfortunately.
UW: And do they look at you kinda funny?
BH: Yes, they do. But this project is less weird than some of my other fascinations, so they tolerate it.
UW: You mean like the wood type?
BH: Yes. I’ve basically taken over a wing of the house with drawers and chests full of wood type. And I have all these typewriters lying around that don’t have ribbons, and they don’t work, but they’re old and I like them, so I keep them.
UW: What about uniforms — do you have strong feelings about the types of things that come up on Uni Watch?
BH: Oh, definitely. I like it when you run the wire images, especially from the first part of the 20th century.
UW: So you like the old flannels.
BH: Yes, sir.
UW: Do you have feelings about the “right” or “wrong” ways to wear a uniform? Any protocols that you think are particularly important?
BH: Stirrups are a must. As a Braves fan, I wish they’d go back to the blue stirrups with the red stripes. And I don’t like pajama pants, I don’t like the baggy shirts or the untucking of shirts…
UW: So you’re a classicist.
BH: Yes, definitely.
UW: Tell me about the Eephus merchandise line you’ve created. The scorekeeping pencils are obvious enough, since you like to keep score. What about some of the other products?
BH: Well, there are the posters, which are based on those Library of Congress photographs. I really wanted to do something eye-catching like that, because the handbook I made is a little restrained. The posters were more like a plaything for me, and they ended up being one of my favorite parts of the project.
UW: How many pages is the handbook?
BH: It’s just short of 100 pages. [You can click through the entire thing here. — PL]
UW: You wrote all that text?
BH: Not all of it. I wrote more than half of it. They don’t really require you to write your own content for the senior design project. I tried to as much of it as I could, but a lot of it’s from Wikipedia.
UW: You also designed your own scorebook. Since you feel strongly about keeping score, I assume this is your vision of how the perfect scorebook should look..?
BH: Yeah. I know some purists will say it’s missing certain things that the big spiral-bound scorebooks have, but I wanted to make something that was less intimidating to someone who’d never done it before. So I kinda dumbed it down a little bit and rearranged the way it lays on a page. And I added little stickers to indicate whether it was a day or a night game, a win or a loss.
UW: Everyone loves stickers.
BH: I love stickers too.
UW: What about all the “canned goods”? Why put pencils and buttons in a can?
BH: There’s just something great about it — something feels special if it comes in metal. Normal packaging is perishable. You have to be extra-careful to make sure it doesn’t get destroyed. But a can is so substantial! I like cans.
UW: What’s with the catcher’s mitt?
BH: That was something I got as a kid, at a yard sale in Johnson City, Tennessee. I remember my mom wanting to get me a new one, and I always said, “No, I like the old one.” I’ve always held onto it.
UW: Wait, so is it part of your merchandise line, or what?
BH: The idea is that Eephus League could have a marketplace where people could re-sell things. But I’m not looking to sell that actual glove.
UW: The cigars are a particularly interesting touch, especially since people can no longer smoke in most ballparks. Are you a cigar fan?
BH: Being a Braves fan, I’d see Bobby Cox smoking a cigar in his postgame interview, and I always thought it was an iconic baseball thing: Your team wins, you light up a cigar to celebrate. I felt like that fit the whole mood of the project.
UW: Now that the project is done, what grade did you get?
BH: I got “A, Commended,” which means best in class.
UW: Really! Congratulations.
BH: Thank you.
UW: And now that that’s done, what’s your goal for the Eephus League?
BH: I think it has the potential to keep going with some of the merchandise, especially the scorebook. I’m looking into whether any of the high school leagues around here would be interested. I don’t know how much of this stuff would be practical to market, but I’d like to try.
UW: And what about the web site? You had mentioned to me earlier that you hoped it would become a place where minutiae-minded fans could congregate and become a little community. Is that still your goal?
BH: Yeah, definitely. My baseball knowledge is very small compared to other people’s so I designed the site so that it would be easy for other people to contribute photos and share their own quotes, experiences, and so on. To just build up the site with all this expertise from other fans.
UW: I assume Auburn is much more of a football place than a baseball place. Are you a football fan too?
BH: Oh yes, definitely.
UW: Can you imagine doing a similar project devoted to football minutiae?
BH: Yes, I’m hoping to do that.
UW: And now that you’ve graduated, what do you plan to do career-wise? Aside from the Eephus League world-domination scheme, I mean.
BH: Yes, that’s definitely number one. I’m hoping to go to grad school, and then I’m hoping to do work on my own and teach. My father’s a graphic design professor…
UW: At Auburn?
BH: Yes. Nepotism, yes!
UW: Did you take classes with him?
BH: Just one.
UW: Will you go to grad school at Auburn as well?
BH: They don’t have a graduate design program here anymore, unfortunately, so I’ve applied to schools in Austin, Baltimore, and New York. Maybe I can do the football project for my thesis.
UW: Anything to add?
BH: I really love baseball typography — the combination of the scripts with the mono-spaced block lettering. I feel like baseball has a really rich typographic history, and that’s one of the things that led me to do this project.
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I think Bethany’s future looks bright. For now, though, she’s curious about trying to sell some of her Eephus products but doesn’t want to invest too heavily in mass-producing anything until she has a better idea of how big an audience there is for it. I figure Uni Watch readers would make a pretty good Eephus focus group, so if you think you might be interested in the posters, the pencils, the handbook, and so on — or if you’d just like to offer Bethany some feedback on the viability of selling this stuff — drop her a line. She’d love to hear from you.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Yesterday I asked why Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati is wearing the Blue Jackets’ anniversary patch. A reader who prefers to remain anonymous provides the answer: “Moeller is now part of the Capital Hockey Conference which is made up of the 13 varsity programs in Columbus and Moeller. All of the members of the Capital Hockey Conference were given the Blue Jackets’ 10th-season patches to wear on their jerseys this season.” … The new Reebok retail catalog is leading to lots of chatter about next season’s NHL uniforms. … Two North Dakota hockey fans are using a uni-based strategy to protest the upcoming retirement of the university’s Fighting Sioux nickname (with thanks to Matt Hildebrand). … A new Grand Slam tournament, a new sneaker design for Roger Federer (thanks, Brinke). … New soccer kit for France (with thanks to Patrick Runge). … Cort McMurray recently visited the Hockey Hall of Fame, where he took some good photos. … Yesterday I mentioned that John Kuhn’s helmet didn’t have a neck bumper, which exposed some uneven trimming on this stripe tape, but I didn’t have a visual. Now I do, thanks to Brendan Slattery). … A designer in Iceland has created a rather eccentric blog devoted to mascot design (with thanks to Mike Ennis). … Holy moly, look at this completely amazing Philly Warriors logo patch. “Sweet as bear meat,” says Warren Humphrey, and who could disagree with that? … Pretty sure I’ve never seen this White Sox BP jersey before. Doesn’t show up in Bill Henderson’s guide, either (great find by Chris Falvey). … Something else I haven’t seen: this Angels cap logo. “I’ve seen it before,” says Thomas White, “but only on kids’ souvenir caps, never on a player.” … Here’s the latest EPL kit report from Michael Orr. … Also from Michael: Leaks of the Colorado Rapids kit — home and road. … The Canadiens and Flames primed the pump for the upcoming Heritage Classic game by wearing touques during warm-ups last night (with thanks to Alan Kreit). … Neglected to mention that Oregon has been wearing new hoops uniforms to go with the new arena (but fortunately Jamin Svendsen reminded me). … When we say that someone “really pulled the string on that one,” we’re usually talking about baseball — but not this time. Where’s the holding call? (Great screen shot by Jason Kerzer.) … Good news from Jim Wooley, who reports that the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes are honouring the 1951 Lethbridge Maple Leafs with some dynamite throwbacks. … Coupla color-vs.-color games in the NBA yesterday, including Bulls/Grizzlies and Kings/Hawks. … Excellent find over on the Chris Creamer board, where somebody noticed that some Dolphins in the 1993-95 range had the team’s logo script on their socks. … Not sports-related, but hours of hilarity with these absolutely amazing communist industrial-safety posters. No wonder the glorious revolution failed: Everyone was laughing too hard. Tough to pick a favorite, no? And look, there’s another batch here. Since my own workplace has been accident-free for all of about 17 minutes (cats + gravity = crash!), I may need to wallpaper the joint with some of these, and I strongly suggest that you do likewise, just to be safe (life-altering submission by my buddy Shane Arbogast).