Robert T. Hayashi is associate professor of American Studies at Amherst College. He was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is the author of Haunted by Waters: A Journey through Race and Place in the American West.
Americans love sports, from neighborhood pickup basketball to the National Football League, and everything in between. While no city better demonstrates the connection between athletic games and community than Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the common association of the city’s professional sports teams with its blue-collar industrial past illustrates a white nostalgic perspective that excludes the voices of many who labored in the mines and mills and played on local fields. In this original and lyrical history, Robert T. Hayashi addresses this gap by uncovering and sharing overlooked tales of the region’s less famous athletes: Chinese baseball players, Black women hunters, Jewish summer campers, and coalminer soccer stars. These athletes created separate spaces of play while demanding equal access to the region’s opportunities on and off the field. Weaving together personal narrative with accounts from media, popular culture, legal cases, and archival sources, Fields of Play details how powerful individuals and organizations used recreation to promote their interests and shape public memory. Combining this rigorous archival research with a poet’s voice, Hayashi vividly portrays how coal towns, settlement houses, municipal swimming pools, state game lands, stadia, and the city’s landmark rivers were all sites of struggle over inclusion and the meaning of play in the Steel City.