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Bob Goepfert Reviews "Triple Play" At The Albany Institute

Michelle Checchi

It’s spring and once again Major league baseball is stating its claim as “the National Pastime.”

What better time to visit the exhibit “Triple Play” which is at the Albany Institute of History and Art on Washington Avenue in Albany.  It is three exhibits in one, with each focusing on the sport of baseball.

If you wonder what a baseball exhibit is doing at the Albany Institute of History and Art, pay attention to the section “Play Ball! A History of Baseball in the Capital Region.” 

Though there is little in the section that is still with us, the feeling is not about loss. Rather, the exhibit expresses the joy of what was. This is an exhibit that speaks to the importance that baseball has to the individual, the community and to the nation.

In this section you will learn about former Albany ballparks - Hawkins Stadium, Bleeker Stadium, Heritage Park, as well as the more modern Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy. But more than learning about structures, the exhibit makes clear their connection to the community. 

The teams that played in the ball parks are recalled in loving ways and it is pointed out that they drew amazing crowds and played host to so much talent. The exhibit includes a great photograph of Mayor Thatcher standing with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

There is information about the Albany Senators, the Albany-Colonie Yankees, the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs, and of course the Valley Cats.  Attention is paid to African-American teams like the Albany Black Sox and the Schenectady Blue Jays. There is a baseball card display of female ball players.

Too there is extensive information offered about Albany’s Twilight League – the longest continuing running amateur baseball league in the country.

Though specific to this region, the exhibit, to my mind, captures the fascination all smaller cities and towns have with baseball.  It is able to illustrate the way individuals identify with this uncomplicated American sport that can be played in any open field.

Emphasizing the individual’s connection to “the game” is the exhibit “The Clubhouse: Baseball Memorabilia.” Community members have contributed their sacred relics to the collection.  They include autographed baseballs and baseball cards. Uniforms, scorecards, ancient equipment and ball park seats that are clearly before the era of luxury boxes. It a fascinating display, not only for the memories they evoke but for the emotional connection that resonates from each item.

While “Play Ball!” focuses on the communities fascination with baseball the third exhibit “The Clubhouse” elaborates on the individuals connection to the sport, “Baseball: America’s Game” focuses on baseball as a national obsession.  It’s a snapshot of the sport as played at its highest level – the big leagues.  

It’s a reminder that though the essence of the game stays the same three strikes, four balls and three outs per side have remained the same for over 150 years, changes do take place.

The first thing that catches your eye is Jim Dow’s classic collection of photographs showing the 26 major league stadiums that existed in 1982. A side note points out that only six are still in use.   

It’s warmly nostalgic to see memorabilia that reminds of our heroes like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio Tom Seaver or Willie Mays. It’s thrilling to hear some of baseball greatest moments – Bobby Thompson’s “Shot heard round the world,” Stan Musial’s 3000th hit and Don Larson’s perfect game – replayed over and over. It’s fun to see original equipment small gloves, hot baggy uniforms and bats that look heavy.

There are works by artists like Norman Rockwell, J.C. Lleyendecker and Lonnie Bee that are almost mythological in their innocence. Photographs of young people, of all colors, playing in sandlots and city streets adds to the bucolic sense of nostalgia that permeates the exhibit.

“Triple Play” is a marvelous way to make “our national pastime” seem intimate. It is filled with nostalgia, pleasant memories and discoveries. Most of all, it is a reminder that even as places, people and things change - our memories stay intact.

Triple Play at Albany Institute of History and Art. 125 Washington Ave., Albany  open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., through 8 p.m. Thurs., noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission $10 adults, $8 seniors, $6 children 6-12, under 6 free. (admission free on Thursdays 5- 8 p.m.).    463-4478, www.albanyinstitute.org   

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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