Two Tampa art exhibits celebrate baseball in time for spring training

Published March 22 2018


Americaís favorite pastime is up to bat in exhibitions at two art institutions.

One show is full of the fun and obsessiveness that devoted fans bring to baseball. The other focuses on the solitary intensity of young players trying to break into the major leagues. Both are filled with the love of the game.

Yogi Berra, the iconic New York Yankees hitter and catcher, once said, "Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too." Thatís what George Sosnak must have felt when he started creating his colorful baseballs now on view at the Tampa Museum of Art. "Having a Ball: George Sosnakís Striking Portraits From Americaís Pastime" features Sosnakís detailed sketches of players in action as well as his listings of baseball stats, all drawn on regular, manufactured baseballs.

Sosnak, who died in 1992, wanted to be a player but found that he was better at being an umpire in the minor leagues. He went to umpire school in Florida, settled in Lakeland and supplemented his minor league income with stints as a baker, construction worker and corrections officer. With no formal art training, he began decorating baseballs with his love of the game.

He was hoping to make a baseball commemorating a special moment in each teamís history. His self-assigned task was to "create balls for every player in the Baseball Hall of Fame." He didnít get every player, but he did manage to finish quite a few, as well as have a lot of fun.

The exhibition, organized by the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va., includes 43 of his baseballs. Painting across the seams on the baseball surface, he caught a great action moment in the minor leagues when a player for the Cedar Rapids Braves struck out before he could reach base.

Another baseball features a moment he knew personally: the fury directed at an umpire after an unpopular call. Close to his heart is the image of a halo-wearing umpire getting yelled at by Casey Stengel of the New York Yankees and Jack Tighe of the Detroit Tigers.

There are also baseballs here signed by the giants of the sport: Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and more.

The passion and power of the sport are on view across Curtis Hixon Park at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts. Thatís where photographs reveal the silent but burning intensity of young players as they reach for a spot in the major leagues. As usual, Yogi Berra said it best: "Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical."

In her exhibition "Minor Leagues," celebrated photographer Andrea Modica shines a revealing light on the "90 percent mental" as she focuses on young men filled with a passionate desire to get in the game. Modica, whose work is collected by such major institutions as New Yorkís Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, uses light and shadows to expose the pent-up mental energy as these hopefuls strive.

Andy Croghan of the Oneonta Yankees is seen momentarily at rest, but he is wound up tighter than a spring. His face is half-hidden in the shadows, but the sun reveals his fingers clutching a baseball with a pitcherís grasp. Seen together but suffering separately are Sandi Santiago and Mike Buddie of the same minor league team. Santiago holds onto the grill and looks sideways at the camera while Buddie folds his arms self-protectively. Their postures are more expressive than their tight, wary faces. How they perform that day might determine their fates in the big leagues.

These photographs were taken in 1992. As baseball fans know, one of the hopefuls would make it to the big time and beyond. Catch a fresh-faced Derek Jeter among those players.

Modica, who uses a bulky 8- by 10-inch view camera, is an artist who is masterful in the use of light. Because she needs to get long-term exposures, she cultivates an empathy with her subjects. That extra time spent allows her to get closer to their feelings. She further orchestrates these delicate moods by manipulating the platinum-palladium prints in the darkroom. Taken together, these two exhibitions bring to life the agony and the ecstasy of the game.