Spring Renewal: America's Pastime Inspires Artists and Fans

Posted by | March 04, 2011 | News & Events | No Comments
Asama Baseball Exhibit

The spectacle of baseball has inspired great artists of every genre, and a rich sampling of those artworks now are on display at the American Sport Art Museum and Archives, located on the campus of the United States Sports Academy. The exhibit features the works of three prominent artists. The paintings on the wall are the work of Rick Rush, from left, A Series of Stars (Yankees), American Dream: Sammy Sosa (Cubs), and Will to Win (Red Sox). The sculpture depicting Lou Brock was created by Harry Weber. The face jugs, created by John Rezner, depict the top three greatest baseball players in history, as determined by our Mr. Baseball ballot, including Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come…

These memorable words of Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in the movie, “Field of Dreams” remind us that nothing thaws a frigid human psyche or raises our collective sprits like the hopeful beginning of a fresh, new season of baseball.

Spring training is a time when tulips bloom in southern climes and hope beats anew in the hearts of diehard fans of even the most unpromising teams. While winter snow may still blanket the Field of Dreams diamond in the cornfield in Iowa, the fresh sights, sounds and smells of America’s Pastime have blossomed in the Deep South and Desert Southwest.

The promise of a brand new baseball season seems to bring new life and hope to an entire nation, allowing us to rekindle a passion for living lost in the cold hearth of winter. Spring training also means that, at least until the first pitch is thrown on Opening Day, all 30 major league teams have a shot at the pennant, and every fan is cheering for a winner.

The History of Spring Training

Spring training is almost as old as baseball itself. The best evidence shows spring training first taking place in 1870, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings held organized baseball camps in New Orleans. Other baseball historians argue that the Washington Capitals of the National League pioneered spring training in 1888, holding a four-day camp in Jacksonville.

The specific origins really don’t matter. By 1900, spring-training was firmly established as a baseball ritual, with most American and National League teams heading out of town so players could train and managers could evaluate. Small Florida and Arizona communities were suddenly known across the nation because of the allure provided by major-league baseball. St. Petersburg. Fort Lauderdale. Tucson. Sarasota. Bradenton. (Source: www.springtrainingonline.com).

Spring Training Today

Today in Major League Baseball, spring training is a series of practices and exhibition games preceding the start of the regular season. Spring training allows new players to try out for roster and position spots, and gives existing team players practice time prior to competitive play. Spring training has always attracted fan attention, drawing crowds who travel to the warmer climates to enjoy the weather and watch their favorite teams play, and spring training usually coincides with spring break for many college students. (Source: www.wikipedia.com).

Spring training by major league teams in sites other than their regular season game sites began in the 1920s. They include the St. Louis Cardinals in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma; the New York Yankees in New Orleans and later Phoenix, Arizona, when the team was owned by Del Webb; the Chicago Cubs in Los Angeles when owned by William Wrigley Jr.; the St. Louis Browns and later the Kansas City Athletics in San Diego as well the A’s were in West Palm Beach, Florida; the Pittsburgh Pirates in Honolulu and other teams joined in by the early 1940s.

Spring training typically lasts about six weeks, starting in mid-February and running until just before the season opening day (and often right at the end of spring training, some teams will play spring training games on the same day other teams have opening day of the season), traditionally the first week of April. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training first because pitchers benefit from a longer training period due to the exhaustive nature of the position. A week or two later, the position players arrive and team practice begins. Teams will normally wear their batting practice uniforms for the duration of spring training and only first putting on their normal jerseys for Opening Day.

Spring Training Locations

Teams that train in Florida play other Florida-training teams in their exhibition games, regardless of regular-season league affiliations. Likewise, Arizona-training teams play other Arizona teams. These have been nicknamed the Grapefruit League and Cactus League, respectively, after plants typical of the respective states.

Grapefruit League (Florida) Spring training homes of Grapefruit League teams

  • Atlanta Braves: Champion Stadium, Lake Buena Vista at Walt Disney World
  • Boston Red Sox: City of Palms Park, Fort Myers
  • Baltimore Orioles: Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota
  • Detroit Tigers: Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland
  • Florida Marlins: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter
  • Houston Astros: Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee
  • Minnesota Twins: Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers
  • New York Mets: Digital Domain Park, Port St. Lucie
  • New York Yankees: George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa
  • Philadelphia Phillies: Bright House Field, Clearwater
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: McKechnie Field, Bradenton
  • St. Louis Cardinals: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter
  • Tampa Bay Rays: Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte
  • Toronto Blue Jays: Dunedin Stadium, Dunedin
  • Washington Nationals: Space Coast Stadium, Viera

Cactus League (Arizona) Spring training homes of Cactus League teams

  • Arizona Diamondbacks: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
  • Chicago Cubs: HoHoKam Park, Mesa
  • Chicago White Sox: Camelback Ranch, Glendale
  • Cincinnati Reds: Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear
  • Cleveland Indians: Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear
  • Colorado Rockies: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
  • Kansas City Royals: Surprise Stadium, Surprise
  • Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Tempe Diablo Stadium, Tempe
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Camelback Ranch, Glendale
  • Milwaukee Brewers: Maryvale Baseball Park, Phoenix
  • Oakland Athletics: Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Phoenix
  • San Diego Padres: Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria
  • San Francisco Giants: Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale
  • Seattle Mariners: Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria
  • Texas Rangers: Surprise Stadium, Surprise

Did you know?

The concept of spring training is not limited to North America; the Japanese professional baseball leagues’ teams adopted spring training and preseason game sites across East Asia such as South Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan; the Pacific Islands (most notably in Hawaii); and currently 2 North American cities of Salinas, California and Yuma on the Mexican border.

There are many websites devoted specifically to spring training, including cactusleague.com, springtrainingonline.com, and springtrainingmagazine.com. Individual teams also provide spring training updates on their team websites, and, of course, Major League Baseball records every ball and strike of spring training at mlb.com.

Baseball as Art

The spectacle of baseball has inspired great artists of every genre, including ceramic potter John Rezner, the American Sport Art Museum and Archives’ (ASAMA) 2011 Sport Artist of the Year. The Fairhope, Ala.-based artist is known for creating “face jugs” pottery from clay he digs from his own land. Rezner was commissioned to make face jugs of famous baseball players for the Academy’s “Mr. Baseball” campaign. Some of his works, including jugs depicting Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, are already on display at the Academy.

Something for baseball fans argue about while watching spring training games: Who was the greatest baseball player of all time? Nominations were accepted online for the United States Sports Academy’s “Mr. Baseball” competition. The purpose of the survey competition was to determine the greatest baseball player of all time, and to name the impending new addition to the Academy’s Sport Sculpture Park by Fairhope sculptor Bruce Larsen. Nominations were accepted until Friday, 4 February, 2011. Larsen’s new sculpture will be named after the winner.

Here are the three finalists for the Mr. Baseball award:

Hank Aaron — Baseball’s all-time career home run leader, Aaron electrified the nation when he surpassed Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs in 1974. He retired two years later with a career total of 755 home runs. A native of Mobile, Ala., Aaron’s playing career spanned 23 years, 21 years for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and two for the Milwaukee Brewers. In addition to his home run record, “Hammering Hank” also holds Major League Baseball’s records for the most career runs batted in (2,297) and the most career extra base hits (1,477). He also remains ranked in the top five for career hits with 3,771 (third) and runs scored with 2,174 (fourth).

George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr. — The first true celebrity of American sport, Babe Ruth’s career home run record (714) stood for 39 years, and his single-season mark of 60 home runs stood for 34 years. Widely regarded as the best baseball player of all time, Ruth was one of the original five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and is considered to be one of the best athletes of the 20th century. His .342 lifetime batting is 10th highest in baseball history, and in one season (1923) he hit .393, which still stands as the Yankees’ record. His .690 career slugging percentage and 1.164 career on-base plus slugging (OPS) remain the Major League records. He played 15 of his 22 seasons with the New York Yankees, helping them win four world championships and seven American League pennants.

Ted Williams — The two-time American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) winner, led the league in batting six times, and was a 19-time All-Star, in a career that was twice interrupted by heroic military service. He had a career batting average of .344, with 521 home runs, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966. Williams was the last player in Major League Baseball to bat over .400 in a single season (.406 in 1941) and holds the highest career batting average of anyone with 500 or more home runs. He served as a Navy pilot in World War II and flew 39 missions for the Marines in the Korean War.

Sport Artist of the Year – Call for Nominations

The Sport Artist of the Year Award is presented annually to an individual who captures the spirit and life of sport so that future generations can relive the drama of today’s competition. The recipient may use a variety of art media including film, video or sculpture, to depict the breadth and scope of both the agony and the ecstasy of sport.

Submit your nomination for the 2012 Sport Artist of the Year Award by emailing asama@ussa.edu.

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