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SPECIAL EVENT : BACK TO BASES : You Can't Get to the Game, but Stadium Photos Let You Go Home Again

October 06, 1994|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to the Times Orange County Edition.

There's a photo in the Fullerton Museum Center's "Major League/Minor League: Photographs of America's Baseball Stadiums by Jim Dow" that's more than a little eerie.

The wide-angle shot captures the Detroit Tigers' ball field but nobody's in sight, except for one lone stranger roaming through the emptiness.

With the season over, and big league stadiums across the country seating more memories than spectators, the picture hits home. That awareness welled up in Paul Hernandez, a longtime fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers and California Angels.

"I look at that and think about how I'd love to be there, or at the Dodger park or the 'Big A' and it makes me uncomfortable," said Hernandez, who lives in Orange and recently visited the museum to, as he put it, "recall some of the good feelings" he has about the game.

"I really care about it and so do my two young sons," Hernandez added. "I enjoy (the photographs) but they left me thinking of what we're missing . . . well, at least it's still baseball."

Baseball mixed with wanderlust. Dow, who used to be a printer for renowned American photographer Walker Evans and has exhibited his own work across the country, including at the Library of Congress, traveled across the states to document stadiums big and small, from both the major and minor leagues.

The dozens of shots include Chicago's Wrigley Field, Boston's Fenway Park and Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Those are just some of the majors; there are also photos from College Park in South Carolina, where the minor league Charleston Rainbows of the South Atlantic League play, and from Legion Park in Montana, where the Great Falls Dodgers pitch, bat and field.

Selections range from the gleaming (Dodger Stadium) to the rickety (Sam Lynn Field in Bakersfield).

"I have an old-fashioned, romantic approach to picture-making and architecture," Dow explained. "But I'm not interested in making specimens. I'm interested in synthesizing an experience."

To do that, Dow used a tripod-mounted, 8-by-10-inch view camera, usually set for long exposures in both daylight and dusk. The shots tend to be wide-angled and panoramic, taking in the diamond and the seats and fences that wrap cozily around it.

According to the exhibit's program, Dow accomplished something special by searching for the essence of each park.

"Baseball's best (stadiums) are full of odd angles and nooks and crannies," writes David Lamb, the author of "Stolen Season: A Journey through America and Baseball's Minor Leagues" and one of those who contributed to the program.

"Rather than being architectural intruders, they appear to be part of the cityscape" in Dow's photographs.

The traveling show, which was produced by the Smithsonian Institution with Dow and curator William Dunlop, will remain in Fullerton through Nov. 13. In conjunction with the exhibit, baseball writer Richard Beverage will talk at 3 p.m. Oct. 15 about the old Pacific Coast League. Beverage has authored two books on the league, which operated in California from 1903 to 1957.

Besides the full-view stadium perspectives, Dow focused his camera on familiar corners of the parks, such as concession stands. An image of a vintage popcorn machine from Alumni Coliseum in Butte, Mont., takes you back to the '50s; even the bags, with their old-fashioned images of clowns against a red-striped background, seem right out of the past.

But the ballpark expanses are what intrigue most people. Samuel Rickard, a 71-year-old Fullerton resident, kept staring at the shot of Tiger Stadium. He'd never been there, but he'd been to many others, including Fenway, the Astrodome, Dodger Stadium and the Big A.

Rickard, like many fans, had been watching Ken Burns' monolithic PBS series on baseball and was still in a flush of nostalgia. While gazing at that photo of Tiger Stadium, the nostalgia deepened.

"They really are beautiful, the way everything goes together so well, from the diamond to the green" of the outfield, Rickard said. "I don't think you have to be a baseball nut to appreciate a stadium. All you have to be is someone (who appreciates) part of our history."

* What: "Major League/Minor League: Photographs of America's Baseball Stadiums by Jim Dow."

* When: Through Nov. 13. Noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays.

* Where: The Fullerton Museum Center, 301 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton.

* Whereabouts: Take the Riverside (91) Freeway to Harbor Boulevard and head north to Pomona Avenue, then turn right.

* Wherewithal: $2.50 for adults, $2 for seniors, $1.50 for students and free to children under 12.

* Where to call: (714) 738-6545.

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