With the Major League Baseball season just underway, it's also batter-up this week for baseball-related cultural events in the L.A. area -- a triple play of sorts including a big museum exhibition, a theatrical production focused on baseball songs, and a program of chamber music interspersed with writer-actor Richard Montoya's reflections on the history of Chavez Ravine before it became the Dodgers' home.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum opens "Baseball! The Exhibition" on Friday, showcasing 800 or more artifacts documenting some of the biggest stars and moments in the game's history, including separate galleries on Dodgers history, on Babe Ruth, and on Reagan's connection to baseball, going back to his start in public life ad-libbing the play-by-play of Chicago Cubs games from a radio studio in Des Moines.
Reagan's radio gig, which included painting word-pictures out of his own imagination while waiting for game developments to come in via wire reports, took him to the Cubs' spring training camp in L.A. in 1937, during which he took the Hollywood screen test that landed him his first acting contract and set him on course toward much bigger things.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra's Westside Connections series at the Moss Theater in Santa Monica will spotlight 20th century Mexican composers Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chavez, with Montoya interweaving his thoughts about Chavez Ravine's history in the decades before the Dodgers' 1962 arrival. He and his two partners in the theater group Culture Clash documented the politically fraught history in their play "Chavez Ravine" at the Mark Taper Forum in 2003, telling how a Mexican immigrant community was bulldozed to make way for a housing project that never materialized, turning the ravine into vacant land available to lure the Dodgers from Brooklyn years later.
In Beverly Hills, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts debuts a family-oriented music-and-theater piece called "Baseball Swing." Running Friday to Sunday, it's the theatrical equivalent of a spring tryout for a potential major leaguer -- Annenberg Center spokesman Joel Hile said it's a new work, co-produced by the Center, that follows a less elaborate show that had toured previously. There are hopes it will develop into a new touring attraction.
The show takes the audience to a ballgame, where baseball buff Fred Willard is the stadium announcer and narrator, and four other singer-actors belt out a repertoire of baseball-themed hits and obscurities, backed by a nine-piece jazz band.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a partner in the production, providing video and photographic content. The show was first mounted by the Baseball Music Project, a group whose co-founder, Robert Thompson, is the production's conductor and music director. Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield was the announcer in its previous iteration as an orchestral program.
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, the Reagan Library and Museum's baseball exhibition figures to be this season's biggest showcase for ball-yard memorabilia outside the Hall's headquarters in Cooperstown, N.Y. Running through Sept. 4, it will occupy 12,000 square feet of exhibition space.
Most of the pieces come from L.A. collector Gary Cypres, who says he's loaning about 750 objects from his 30,000-square-foot private L.A. museum of sports memorabilia. The Reagan Library will bring out an additional 60 or so pieces from its own collection, including a Dodgers jersey with the uniform No. 1 that manager Tommy Lasorda and his team presented to the president in a White House ceremony after they'd won the 1988 World Series over the heavily-favored Oakland A's, three months before Reagan turned over the presidential reins to George H.W. Bush.
Dodgers fans pining for a repeat of that feat -- the team's last world championship -- also can gaze at the glove First Lady Nancy Reagan wore and the ball she threw to catcher Mike Scioscia in the ceremonial first pitch of the 1988 series at Dodger Stadium. That day that ended with a miraculous ninth inning pinch hit home run by Kirk Gibson to pluck victory not from the jaws of defeat, but from its very esophagus.
Cypres, who offers private tours of his museum, said this will be the first major show from his collection that will be available to the general public, apart from a few months in 2008-09 when his downtown venue tried to sell tickets in the face of a withering recession.
A 2012 exhibition at L.A.'s Craft and Folk Art Museum, "Baseball: the American Game," featured paintings, posters, carved figures and other paraphernalia from Cypres' collection; they'll be a component of the Reagan Library show, but the new lineup will feature many prized objects of the game itself, including balls, bats and gloves tracing the evolution of baseball gear from the 1860s to modern times.
The show will include a bat hefted by Babe Ruth and a uniform he wore in 1939 as a coach with the Brooklyn Dodgers, a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform jersey worn by Sandy Koufax, numerous artifacts associated with Jackie Robinson, and the ball Barry Bonds hit to tie Hank Aaron's career home run record at 755 (at least in the eyes of those willing to overlook Bonds' late-career indulgence in performance-enhancing drugs).
The batting record generally considered the most unbreakable of all will be documented with the balls Joe DiMaggio smashed to tie and set a new mark for hitting in consecutive games (games 45 and 46 of a streak that eventually reached 56, eclipsing Willie Keeler's mark of 45 set in the late 1890s).
Also on exhibit, Cypres said, will be the ball Joltin' Joe failed to get past the Cleveland infield in the final at-bat that ended the streak.