From class to baseball, then back to class

Dr. Darin Van Tassell served as the competition director for baseball during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

William Cheney

Many of us see our professors five days a week and know them as just the people who give us assignments and grade our papers. They have master’s degrees and Ph.D.s and have worked in their field for many years, gaining the knowledge they pass down to students, but some have incredible stories which have taken place outside the classroom that can shine a whole new light on the person taking roll at 8 a.m. on a Monday.

Dr. Darin Van Tassell is an associate professor of International Studies here at Georgia Southern. Students who have had him can remember his funny, yet simultaneously serious , metaphors for global issues and how they unfold. He began his career as a political science major at Georgia Southern in 1984 and already had a blossoming interest in international happenings.

“It’s funny because when I was an undergraduate at Georgia Southern, I was a political science major and international studies minor because we didn’t have an international studies major in those days,” Van Tassell said. “I always had interest in all things international, whether it came from my family or intellectually because my father taught political science. I had an international family. I had five adopted siblings from all parts of the world, so I was always very interested in things international.”

Van Tassell wasn’t just a student. He played baseball under legendary head coach Jack Stallings. He was a three-time Georgia Southern Scholar Athlete of the Year and the first ever Rhodes Scholar Finalist in school history.

“I had lots of opportunities to go play some places, easily the opportunity to play for Jack Stallings and Larry Bryant. I grew up around here just in awe of that program,” Van Tassell said. “He (Stallings) was the Bear Bryant of college baseball, so to be in that setting with the caliber of players that we had was terrific. It was such a teaching atmosphere and it was run like a big league club, and I think that environment caused us all to thrive.”

Stallings was one of the founders of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), which is the worldwide governing body recognized by the International Olympic Committee as overseeing, deciding and executing policy of baseball at the international level. It’s headquarters is located in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“First trip I ever took, it was me and my teammate Peter Velma to the Soviet Union in 1989. We were the second and third Americans to ever go there for baseball, Jack was the first. I loved it. Forty international trips later, which included stops in Nicaragua, where I was the Olympic coach in ’96, the West Bank in Israel, to events that took place in Costa Rica and Taiwan, Japan, the U.K., and all of those continued to open doors for me.”

After his many international baseball-related trips, Van Tassell believes baseball, equipped with his previous interest in the international community, sparked his career where the two subjects which used to be parallel are now intertwined.

“There’s no question baseball was driving it,” Van Tassell said. “So when I got my Ph.D., one of my areas of interest was the impact of sports on international relations. In addition to being sort of a practitioner on the coaching side and playing side of things, my own academic interests were on the same thing. In the classes that I do teach, there’s no question that those two stories merge and lead into everything I bring into the classroom.”

In the Summer Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, Van Tassell served as one of the eight technical commissioners for baseball competition. In the Beijing Olympics in 2008, he served as the baseball director of competition for the IBAF, which is a similar capacity to being a commissioner of the sport like Bud Selig is to the MLB or Adam Silver is to the NBA.

“Sport is a powerful way to understand the people of the world. It’s one of the world’s four global languages, the others being music, food and art. Those cut across all the borders of the planet. Sport is worthy of our time, not just because it’s entertainment, but it’s part of the thing that helps us understand the things that bind and things that also separate people.”

After the Beijing games and his contribution to the World Baseball Classic, you may wonder why Van Tassell is teaching classes at a university in Statesboro, Ga., when he could be traveling the world with a title like executive director for the IBAF. Well, the decision he made has much to do with said university in Statesboro.

“One, I wanted to think about where my own impact could be,” Van Tassell said. “The job as executive director for any international sport federation is enormous. Part of me wasn’t ready to stop parenting. My children were much younger than they are now. I wasn’t ready to not see them anymore. Two, I wasn’t ready to give up this university. I think being in the classroom, I’ve always found it to be one of the great ways of making an impact. They’re small, they don’t make headlines, but I think they’re just as meaningful, perhaps more powerful.”