Truth be told, the entire volume of knowledge I possess about the world of art wouldn’t fill an upturned bottle cap. There, I’ve said it. I wouldn’t know a Matisse from a bottle of Mateus, and a lot of that — actually, all of it — is my fault.
In my college years at Miami University, I remember taking exactly one fine-arts class, that, not by choice, but to fulfill a requirement needed for my degree. The course name, I seem to recall, was Introduction to Art Appreciation, and I was steered to that course by some of my Sig Ep frat bros who guaranteed minimal sweat equity and an A.
Now, since that was a time in my life before I began to embrace the notion that work is the salve that heals all wounds, and since I knew my parents would be thrilled to see the rarest of all letters for me come grade-card time, I signed up. I figured if you counted the one found at the top of the grade card in the name of the school that would make two A’s on the card, right?
While I was thrilled with the minimal homework and did my best to follow the lectures of a rather hirsute instructor who wore sandals and holey blue jeans to class and tried to appreciate the overheads he was showing us so we could see the artistic nuances he saw so clearly, I realized I had no greater understanding at the end of the term than I did at the beginning as to what differentiated great artwork from scribbled stick figures. That probably explains why I got a B.
So, you get the idea that I have no acumen when it comes to the art world. However, thanks to my interest in sports, and particularly baseball, over time, while visiting a pretty good cross section of MLB ballparks, I’ve come to appreciate, and even embrace, the artwork that I’ve seen on the outside concourses surrounding the parks’ entry points.
I loved that wonderful Willie Mays statue depicting the completion of his violent swing with head and eyes up and following an imaginary rawhide sphere in front of AT&T Park perched on the San Francisco Bay, where the play.
Likewise, I stood for close to a half hour studying every aspect of the Roberto Clemente statue just outside the centerfield gate of Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, a short relay throw from the Allegheny River and the bridge that spans it, a bridge bearing the name of the great right fielder and even better human being.
Of course, outside PNC, there is also a statue that represents the childhood tears I shed when I saw on my black-and-white TV Bill Mazerowski homer off my Yankee pitcher, Ralph Terry, in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series to make the Pirates champs. The statue captures Maz’s jubilant homerun trot with right arm extended above his head and the batting helmet he wouldn’t need again until 1961 in hand just seconds after he’d crushed my youthful spirit with one swing.
Of all the statues I have admired and studied outside my ballparks, from Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez outside Cincy’s Great American Ballpark to Bob Feller and Larry Doby outside Cleveland’s Progressive Field and so many others, there is none that has the poignancy of the one I saw outside Miller Park in Milwaukee.
Ironically the three images the sculpture captures never wore a Major League uniform for either the Brewers or the city’s predecessors, the Braves.
The artwork honors the workers who built Miller Park and particularly the three workers who died tragically when a crane collapsed in July of 1997. The three figures are the images of Jeff Wischer, William DeGrave and Jerome Starr, iron workers all, who died at work building a place where others could play.
Finally, for those who’ve seen the artwork in front of Great American Ballpark, I think you’ll agree as to the distinctiveness of the four statues honoring former Reds because of the distance between the statues that form one scene. In perpetuity Joe Nuxhall will always be following through after releasing his pitch, and 60 feet, 6 inches away, Frank Robinson will always be in mid-swing while catcher Ernie Lombardi will always be squatting behind and, on the other side of the wide walkup to the front of the park, in the on-deck circle, Ted Kluszewski will always be waiting a turn at the dish that will never come.
While once upon a collegiate time, I just may have been the only one in that fine-arts class not to get an A, I’m going to give myself one in baseball art appreciation.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.