August 12, 2013

Steve Solloway: Hadlock Field sculpture a monumental winner

'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.

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.

click image to enlarge

Glenn Cecchini, father of Sea Dogs third baseman Garin Cecchini, remarks on the “American Baseball Family” sculpture at Hadlock Field in Portland recently. “I don’t get it,” he said “Who are these people?”

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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