Take Me out to the Portraits: Hope-And Baseball-Springs Eternal in "Game Faces," Which Brings to Life the National Pastime's Men in Uniform

By Barrett, Wayne M. | USA TODAY, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Take Me out to the Portraits: Hope-And Baseball-Springs Eternal in "Game Faces," Which Brings to Life the National Pastime's Men in Uniform


Barrett, Wayne M., USA TODAY


MARCH and its "madness" annually serve as the pinnacle of the college basketball season, a time for dozens of conference showdowns, and then, of course, the "Big Dance," the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament, in which 64 hopefuls are whittled down to a precious two who meet in the title game to crown the new or repeat--champion.

However, long before late winter and the first days of spring were given over to the college hoop scene, March meant baseball. Spring Training, like the season it takes its name from, is a time for renewal and rekindled hopes. All across the country, countless baseball fans pray to the great sports gods that "This is the year my team finally throws off the shackles of mediocrity and shocks all the experts by going on to win the pennant and the World Series." Chicago Cubs (1908), Chicago White Sox (1917), and Boston Red Sox (1918) fans have been engaging in that fantasy for almost a century now.

It is fitting that the state of Florida is playing host to a quintet of art exhibitions this month that celebrate the arrival of yet another baseball season, for it was just a few short months ago that the Florida Marlins went from laughingstocks to world champions by sneaking into the playoffs as a wildcard team; knocking off the defending National League champion San Francisco Giants in the Division Series; overcoming a three-games-to-one deficit to the Cubs in the NLCS; and then stunning the mighty New York Yankees in the Fall Classic. Hope indeed does spring eternal.

While there are a myriad of elements that make the game of baseball our National Pastimes, none outweighs the impact of the players. Those who decry the greed of the modern athlete are fond of saying that them would be no sports without the fans who support their teams through thick and thin. True enough, perhaps; yet, there would be no teams to root for and no games to play without one irreplaceable element the players themselves. As such, we have dedicated the following pages to the Grand Old Game's most vital ingredient, the men who take to the diamond 162 times a year to play what still must be considered the greatest sport of all. "Game Faces: Portraits of Baseball Players from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery" showcases 16 images in oils, photographs, pen and inks, and serigraphs from the Gallery's "Champions of the American Sports Collection."

"Baseball as America," meanwhile, is a traveling exhibition organized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Coopers-town, N.Y., that examines the widespread influence of baseball in American culture, and features over 500 artifacts illustrating how the sport mirrors our national values, struggles, triumphs, and aspirations.

Balls, gloves, bats (including the lumber used by Bobby Thomson to slug his "Shot Heard 'Round the World," the famed ninthinning home run that gave the New York Giants the 1951 National League pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers), uniforms, baseball cards, and the advertisements tell the story of our favorite game through the lens of history, science, economics, and popular culture. After its stay at the Florida International Museum, St. Petersburg (through March 6), "Baseball as America" can be seen at the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. (April 3-Oct. 3), Missouri Historical Society, St, Louis (Dec. 19 April 4, 2005), and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (Tex., May 21,2005-Aug. 14, 2005.

In addition to "Game Faces," three other baseball exhibits are on view at the Florida International Museum through April 24: "A Lifetime Love of the Game: The Jack Lake Collection" (featuring the extensive memorabilia of the former publisher of the St. Petersburg Times); "PopArtPopFly" (baseball-themed works created especially for this exhibit); and "St. Petersburg Times Newspaper Covers" (large-scale baseball-related front pages).

So, let's Play Ball!

Marvin E. …

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