PORTLAND – Glenn Cecchini stood for long moments in front of the sculpture of a man holding baseball tickets in the air, joined by a young boy and a woman with a little girl in her arm.
Cecchini’s hand was at his chin and he was deep in thought. Around him, baseball fans walked quickly to the entrance of Hadlock Field, their own game tickets in hand. The start of another Portland Sea Dogs game was 15 minutes away.
“I don’t get it,” said Cecchini, a visitor to Portland. “Who are these people?”
Why have they become a monument? What are their names? What’s their story?
You may know the story. The bronze sculpture placed near the Sea Dogs’ ticket windows at Hadlock Field was unveiled at the start of the 2007 season. It was commissioned by team owner Dan Burke, who asked noted sculptor Rhoda Sherbell to create a thank-you gift. That’s how “American Baseball Family” came to be.
The four people are Sea Dogs fans, Cecchini was told. The adults and the children have no names. They could be your family, they could be mine.
A smile lit up Cecchini’s face. He became animated, pointing out the boy’s baseball glove and the tickets. He discovered the Sea Dogs logo on the boy’s shirt and the sunglasses in the man’s shirt pocket. Maybe he saw his own family in the sculpture. I didn’t know who he was until I asked for his name. His older son, Garin, joined the Sea Dogs last month and is a touted prospect for the Boston Red Sox.
Younger son Gavin is in the New York Mets minor league system. Glenn Cecchini is a successful high school baseball coach in Louisiana.
“I see it,” he said, studying the sculpture again. “I like it.”
Not everyone did. As public art, the sculpture was subject to review by Portland’s Public Art Committee, which recommended almost unanimously in 2006 that “American Baseball Family” not be added to the city’s collection. That the Sea Dogs logo was visible violated a city ordinance regarding public art, said Peggy Greenhut Golden, an art gallery owner and then a committee member. The logo was one issue among several.
The sculpture could have been “a little more evocative,” said Golden. An opportunity for a home run turned into a long fly-ball out, so to speak. Personally, she didn’t see much in the sculpture that was unique.
“I understand that we come to look at art from different backgrounds,” she said. “I know there is no right or wrong.”
The committee was charged with a review and a collective opinion. Portland’s City Council overruled the committee’s rejection and accepted the sculpture. As public art, the city became responsible for the sculpture’s maintenance and its protection from vandals. Golden resented that the committee was portrayed as the bad guys and that it was expected to rubber-stamp its approval.
She’s happy that the presentation of “American Baseball Family” was changed. At first, the committee was looking at a sculpture set on a relatively high pedestal. Where was the interaction with real people, real fans?
When it was unveiled the sculpture sat virtually at ground level. It is accessible, which is what caught my attention over the past six years. “American Baseball Family” may just be part of the scenery for some longtime Sea Dogs fans, but others are drawn to it on game day.
“I see something new every time I look at it,” said Rita Smith of Westbrook, stopping by the ticket window hours before a recent game. She’s attended games for 18 years. She pointed to the Teddy bear held by the woman in her free hand. “I love it.
“I don’t think the city appreciates what they have here.”
Patty Jaynes of Portland stood by the sculpture checking her cellphone before the gates opened. “They look so real, so detailed, so appropriate. They look like a traditional family going to a game. But what is a traditional family?”
Initial criticism focused on the race of the fans. Some critics saw a lack of diversity. On this night, several fans said they believed the woman to be African-American. I wondered how someone could find race in this sculpture. But then, much of art is open to interpretation.
Judy Ryan of Wells and her sister Irene Peters, who was visiting, took photos. The four may not be a traditional family, they said. Maybe it’s simply a man and a boy and a woman and a girl coming together for a baseball game and for the next three hours became part of a bigger family.
A group of adult friends, maybe a dozen in all, formed rows in front of the sculpture for a photo. A couple, David Wert and Holly Shost of Sanford, watched as several of their five children clambered over the sculpture. Families of baseball fans interacting with another.
A youngster with a baseball glove stood with the boy in bronze with his glove. Life imitating art?
More recently, one critic looked at the boy and his gesture and believed he looked “fiendish,” and that the man appeared to be trying to scalp his tickets.
I thought the boy was caught in the timeless act of throwing a baseball into his mitt and the man was showing everyone he had the prized tickets. Maybe he bought them from a scalper.
The point is, any form of art or expression is personal and should stir passions. That sports can be intensely personal to its fans and stir the same emotions creates the visceral collision.
Until Golden mentioned the city’s stance on commercial logos appearing on public art, I didn’t see that problem. Neither did fans who identify with teams for reasons that have nothing to do with making money. This is Portland, Maine, and the home team is the Sea Dogs of the Eastern League. Rather than Portland, Ore., where the home team once was the Beavers of the Pacific Coast League.
A vacationing family from upstate New York near the Canadian border stopped at the sculpture. Like Glenn Cecchini, they were puzzled. Who are these people and why are they immortalized?
They’re the thank-you from the man who brought minor league baseball to Portland some 20 years ago.
A plaque saying that is needed, not that Dan Burke ever asked for your thank-you.
You cheered for his baseball team and now many of you have connected with his gift. To Burke, that was always enough.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: