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Batavia’s Nellis relishing opportunity at Baseball HOF photo archives

University of Texas graduate student Rachel Nellis, a Batavia alumna, is interning in the photo archives department at the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer.
University of Texas graduate student Rachel Nellis, a Batavia alumna, is interning in the photo archives department at the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer.

A decade after joining her family pilgrimage to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Rachel Nellis calls the seamheads’ mecca her temporary workplace.

The Batavian, a graduate student in archival studies at the University of Texas, is one of 19 members of the 2015 Frank and Peggy Steele Internship program, a 10-week study that provides a playground for Nellis’ photographic memory.

Makes sense. She certainly handles her share of images each day.

Now in her fourth week in Cooperstown, Nellis’ primary responsibility involves processing photos provided from major league and minor league baseball clubs, titling and describing them and placing each in the Hall of Fame’s catalog record.

“I thought it would be perfect to learn more about baseball and also learn about another aspect of archives that I haven’t studied yet,” Nellis said.

Nellis graduated from Batavia High School in 2010, and, like her older sisters, Alaine (Class of 2006) and Leslie (Class of 2007), recalls watching White Sox games with her dad, James, growing up.

James and Karen Nellis instilled in their daughters a penchant for studying and appreciating history. Family vacations, Rachel Nellis recalls, often incorporated the “big historic sites around.”

The “around” had a greater proximity than usual, and could be taken to mean the United States. The family hit many of the regional historical venues, but also spread its scope outside the midwest.

There was the time the Nellises visited colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, when the sisters each got time period dresses from the trip.

The Cooperstown voyage followed a visit to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the iconic Civil War battle site.

“We grew up loving history,” Rachel Nellis said. “It’s just a shared family interest.”

When dovetailed with baseball, it’s a labor of love.

While her father’s Sox fandom may be difficult to explain – he was reared in West Chicago, the son of a Cubs fan mother – Nellis calls hers instinctual.

In 2005, she was in the first few months of eighth grade at Rotolo Middle School when the Sox won the franchise’s first World Series title since 1917.

“I remember staying up to watch the whole thing and then going to school the next day and hearing (Journey’s) ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ in the morning,” Nellis said.

Nellis admittedly “kind of converted to the Cardinals” while an undergrad at St. Louis University, from which she graduated with a double major in history and French in 2014.

Still, her baseball roots in Batavia never strayed too far from Nellis’ mind.

Ditto for memories of Joseph Cranston, an especially influential social studies teacher at BHS.

The Steele program has groomed more than 300 interns since its 2001 inception. Interns complete 40 hours of work a week for each of the 10 weeks, attending seminars on such business tactics as networking, communication and leadership along the way.

Each intern also delivers a brief presentation highlighting an item in the museum collection.

“I really like it,” Nellis said. “Everyone here is very nice, and everyone works together really well here, so it’s a great environment to be learning and experiencing what it’s like to work in an archive.”

Ultimately, being an archivist at this time next year, when she’s set to conclude her graduate studies, entices Nellis the most.

Leslie Nellis works in that field at American University in Washington, D.C.

Rachel Nellis differentiates between archivists and historians this way: “You could say that we’re providing access for the historians to do their research,” she said.

In about a month, from July 24 through 27, the Hall of Fame will host its annual induction weekend.

It’s one year after longtime former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas was enshrined, but Nellis is giddy just the same. Interns have an opportunity to work induction weekend and be on site for the festivities.

“Definitely some perks,” Nellis said.

Experiencing them sure beats picturing it.

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