Chasing Dreams: Baseball & Becoming American is a pop-up exhibit currently on tour from the National Museum of American Jewish History. Recently, it came to the Sherman Miller Museum of Jewish Art in Tulsa, and I leisurely enjoyed a walk in the field of dreams.
Naturally, the exhibit prominently featured the cards of big names like Lip Pike (the first professional ballplayer in the US), Tigers great Hank Greenberg, and HoF’er Sandy Koufax.
However, the curators didn’t short the way that baseball filled the daily life of Jewish Americans — especially kids (boys) in urban areas — historically either.
The exhibit broadly touched on how, historically, Jewish citizens embraced the game and immigrants adopted our national pastime for themselves — thus, becoming quintessentially American. The game is part-and-parcel of the Americanness of Jews in our country. Baseball is a commonality that connects Jews with Americans of other religious persuasions.
Sports heroes hold a variety of meanings for different communities. The exhibit posits that American Jews take pride in notable Jewish players like Greenberg because they help them recognize themselves in national sports. Jewish players contribute to a public identity. Most significantly, Koufax serves as both a favorite son and a religious ambassador — as one of the few Jewish players many non-Jews can name and a shining example of putting religious observance before career and title.
Aesthetically, the main of the exhibit is attractive and creatively presented like a baseball diamond. An umpire’s gear hangs on the wall; immediately across from that is a display of catching paraphernalia facing a pitcher’s “mound.” Behind that lay various pieces located around the “bases.”
The items featured at the different stations included gloves, cleats, and the like. There were tickets to notable games as well, including this one for a Negro League game at Comiskey Park.
Obviously, the curators were not restrictive in featuring pieces that pertained only to the Jewish perspective on the game. One of the interesting (if awkward) inclusions was the exhibit’s nod to Negro League teams. It wasn’t clear why in a narrative about Jews as insiders to the game, there were features about black players, who were definitely outsiders to MLB. Similarly, the pieces about our local baseball history were a nice addition to the small exhibit, if not thematically congruent. Mostly, that meant a nod to the Oilers and (later) Drillers, but I enjoyed the regional touches too.
The other substantive part of the exhibit was a feature on Team Israel, and having items from the 2017 World Baseball Classic made it happily relevant.
I particularly enjoyed the beautifully inscripted line-up card in Hebrew. The jersey (shown next to the card) belonged to Ty Krieger, who played second base for the team during the rounds in Korea and Japan. (I thought @renaado would be especially interested in that.) According to the display text, it will be worn again during the European Championships in Belgrade this July.
At the end of the exhibit, there were two artistic representations relating to Jews in baseball. The first was an illustration of all the Jewish people who have played in or been associated with baseball. Note that Beautiful Brad Ausmus is featured clearly in the middle. The second was a poster entitled the “Aleph-bet Team,” which depicted the Hebrew alphabet with baseball cartoon characters. There is a touch of humor to this part not as apparent in the more earnest previous pieces.
Of final note, the local museum staff decided to add a little baseball-themed humor of their own to the facilities. The bathroom located near the exhibit was appropriately designated as the home team locker room:
It appears that the home team is co-ed too. Yea!
This summer the exhibit moves on to Cincinnati, OH and closes the year in Providence, RI. I’d be interested in seeing the more extensive permanent exhibit (which probably fleshes out the themes about the game integrating Jews into American culture more), but for those of us in the provinces, it’s a nice little baseball-themed historical presentation we wouldn’t get otherwise (and in the opening video, Joe Torre even says something insightful — not about baseball, obvs).