Comedian George Carlin pointed out years ago that baseball's goofy, childlike soul (Caps! Parks!) contrasts starkly with football's martial combat (Helmets! Stadiums!). And perhaps the game's playful quality is what captures the imagination of stage performers. While football frequently turns up as the subject of film and TV treatments, from Knute Rockne All American to Friday Night Lights, baseball is what seems to fire the theatrical synapses. Last year the Purple Rose presented Honus and Me, and while this baseball season winds down, you can get your baseball-theater fix at Eastern Michigan University as the theater department reprises its revue Diamonds in the D, which premiered in June.

Inspired by Diamonds, a 1980s New York baseball revue, Diamonds in the D was written by Jeff Duncan (an English professor at EMU) and R. MacKenzie Lewis (a former EMU student who just last year turned faculty) as an homage to Tiger baseball. It's part vaudeville, part game show, and part history lesson, something old, something new, something borrowed (but nothing blue — it's squarely in family-entertainment territory). Abbott and Costello's beloved "Who's on First" and Wayne and Shuster's "Shakespearean Baseball Game" are such rollicking and perfectly timed genius, you kind of wonder who let the air out of everyone's tires on some of the other bits like "Pickup Game" and "Bleacher Bums." The priceless archival pictures of Tiger Stadium (formerly called Briggs Stadium) projected on the set show you why baseball is almost (almost?) a religion in some quarters. The three-piece band led by the multitalented Lewis is stellar.

Huge talking-head reminiscences on Tiger baseball by governor Jennifer Granholm and actor Dann Florek — of Law & Order; he's an EMU theater alum — periodically project from on high. Their reminiscences are perhaps no more poignant than those of any Joe Sixpack off the street (though if you've ever watched Law and Order, you won't be surprised to see Florek wringing every last drop of bathos out of his). At any rate, you can't help being impressed that they wanted to be a part of this production.

Diamonds in the D returns for three nights, Thursday through Saturday, September 6-8, at EMU's Sponberg Theatre. Bone up on your Tiger history, because if you're brave enough to sign up as an audience volunteer, you can win some great prizes.

[Review published September 2007]