Fair Ball

Love of the national pastime, on display at a downtown art gallery

Paige also figures in a Thomas Crawford homage to the days when major leaguers visited Havana for exhibition games and winter baseball. Crawford is a self-taught Bay Area painter and former Peace Corps director in the Caribbean. There he absorbed the naive painting traditions of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and his works commemorate the Afro-Caribbean and Latino heritage that has produced so many baseball heroes. Crawford's Baseball in Cuba portrays three players on that country's 1930 Santa Clara Leopards and documents an obscure chapter of baseball history, as does his portrait of Jackie Robinson signing an autograph for a fan during a 1950s Havana exhibition game. In Jackie Robinson in Cuba, the player stands like a colossus before a cannily observed group of Cuban sports reporters and spectators. Among them, a mustachioed, pre-revolutionary Fidel Castro smokes a cigar as he waits in the wings to hurl his own set of strikes.

Angelica Villegas is one of half a dozen women artists whose works appear in Krevsky's celebratory show. Roberto Clemente, her acrylic portrait of the Pittsburgh Pirate right fielder fans called "the great one," is a study in stoic, heroic intensity. Clemente, a child of Puerto Rico's barrios, was baseball's first Latino superstar, a status he achieved through more than the prowess of his fielding arm and his hitting. At the height of his career, Clemente left a 1972 New Year's Eve party in San Juan to fly a rescue mission bringing food and medical supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Soon after takeoff, the plane went down in a storm, and Clemente's body was never recovered. Villegas' portrait transforms a classic pose of baseball-card iconography: the head shot of a power hitter gripping his diagonally cocked bat as he stares down a pitcher. Villegas turns Clemente's fiercely focused attention into a statement about his unflinching moral character and physical courage.

Tina Hoggatt is a Washington-based sports artist acclaimed for her set of large, porcelain-enamel-on-steel panels commissioned for the upper concourse of the Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field in 1999. In the Krevsky show, Hoggatt's exceptional graphic skill is apparent in a precisely rendered watercolor action study (Billy Martin Turns the Double Play). Hoggatt shows the Yankee second baseman sidearming a throw, with a runner belatedly sliding under his legs just as the dexterous Martin releases the ball to complete a double play. The same artist displays her social and historical understanding of the game in a haunting memorial, Christy Mathewson, for one of baseball's first Hall of Famers. Mathewson's pitching career -- he set a modern record of 37 wins in one season -- was tragically interrupted in 1918, when he enlisted as a captain in World War I and inhaled mustard gas during a munitions training exercise in the U.S. Army's Gas and Fire unit. A college-educated member of a literary society, he once told a reporter, "You can learn little from victory. You can learn everything from defeat." He was baseball's Gentleman Jim, pitching in an era when players were as ready to fix games as they were to knock out a rival's teeth in a barroom brawl. Hoggatt's watercolor and cameo collage of the genteel pitcher is menacingly juxtaposed with his cane and bat crossed over a skull-like gas mask -- as timely a political statement as appears in this extensive show.

Over the Foul Line: Thomas Crawford's Jackie 
Robinson in Cuba.
Scott Barber
Over the Foul Line: Thomas Crawford's Jackie Robinson in Cuba.

"I love baseball," wrote Krevsky in an announcement for "Diamonds and Dust," an earlier incarnation of this annual show. "I find that an afternoon at the ballpark with my daughter on Father's Day is as meaningful and relaxing as an evening at the symphony." Spend an afternoon in his gallery and see if it changes how you view the game. High art, indeed.

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