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William Drenttel

Any Baseball is Beautiful



Photograph by Don Hamerman, "Rawlings," 2005

Spring training opens Wednesday, February 27. I'm not personally a baseball fan and I barely follow the sport, but I hear about this date every year as millions of fans look to the coming season. It is in this spirit of national reawakening that I stumbled upon the photographs of Don Hamerman, a photographer in Stamford, Connecticut. For the past few years, as he's walked his dog at a local park, he's picked up lost and forgotten baseballs. There are dozens of them now, all lovingly photographed.

We've run a number of recent essays on Design Observer about "things" — objects that are saved or collected or perhaps, on some level, simply fetishized. Most things, though, are made of something, or constructed by someone, or maybe even designed. Often, in their decomposition, they reveal themselves as having parts and materials, a mode of making, and perhaps even a soul. This is the territory of these photographs.


On the subject of baseball — not the sport but the ball itself — no one has written more eloquently than Roger Angell. To accompany these amazing photographs, here is the first paragraph from Angell's essay, "On the Ball: Spring 1976," excerpted from his 1976 book, Five Seasons: A Baseball Companion:

It weighs just over five ounces and measures between 2.86 and 2.94 inches in diameter. It is made of a composition-cork nucleus encased in two think layers of rubber, one black and one red, surrounded by 121 yards of tightly wrapped blue-gray wood yarn, 45 yards of white wool yarn, 53 more yards of blue-gray wool year, 150 yards of fine cotton yarn, a coat of rubber cement, and a cowhide (formerly horsehide) exterior, which is held together with 216 slightly raised red cotton stitches. Printed certifications, endorsements, and outdoor advertising spherically attest to its authenticity. Like most institutions, it is considered inferior in its present form to its ancient archetypes, and in this case the complaint is probably justified; on occasion in recent years it has actually been known to come apart under the demands of its brief but rigorous active career. Baseballs are assembled and hand-stitched in Taiwan (before this year the work was done in Haiti, and before 1973 in Chicopee, Massachusetts), and contemporary pitchers claim that there is a tangible variation in the size and feel of the balls that now come into play in a single game; a true peewee is treasured by hurlers, and its departure from the premises, by fair means or foul, is secretly mourned. But never mind; any baseball is beautiful. No other small package comes as close to the ideal in design and utility. It is a perfect object for a man's hand. Pick it up and it instantly suggests its purpose; it is meant to be thrown a considerable distance — thrown hard and with precision. Its feel and heft are the beginning of the sport's critical dimension; if it were a fraction of an inch larger or smaller, a few centigrams heavier or lighter, the game of baseball would be utterly different. Hold a baseball in your hand. As it happens, this one is not brand-new. Here, just to one side of the curved surgical welt of stitches, there is a pale-green grass smudge, darkening on one edge almost to black — the mark of an old infield play, a tough grounder now lost in memory. Feel the ball, turn it over in your hand; hold it across the seam or the other way, with the seam just to the side of your middle finger. Speculation stirs. You want to get outdoors and throw this spare and sensual object to somebody or, at the very least, watch somebody else throw it. The game has begun.

Roger Angell © 2004. Published by Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press.
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Comments (19)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

I have seen some of these photographs before and in my personal collection am honored to own a couple. They 'speak' to me in a timeless and transitory sort of way. I remember my youth as a little league pitcher, taking the mound with a fresh new ball and fingering the seam getting ready for the pitch. I remember coming home with old baseballs that I found walking the field after practice much the way Don has found his subjects, delighted that I have more practice balls to toss through a tire hung from a tree. Baseball is part of our culture and for those that played as children something more personal. When I see these images I feel like going out and having a catch and wanting to get a new mitt and oil it up and wrap it around a ball to form a catching shape. Thanks for publishing this.
David
02.24.08 at 07:50

Some beautiful photographs...

Excuse me for my immaturity, but I couldn't help thinking of these.
Kevin Lo
02.24.08 at 08:28

Bill, Home Run!!!

VR/
Joe Moran
02.24.08 at 10:23

Right now I really want to set that quote in metal Franklin Gothic.
james puckett
02.24.08 at 10:47

For the past few years, as he’s walked his dog at a local park, he’s picked up lost and forgotten baseballs.
FUNGO
Carl W. Smith
02.24.08 at 10:52

That excerpt bleeds the very pretentiousness that is the reason I despise sports (and sportswriters).

I will counter with the words of my late Grandfather, who was a baseball fan and really knew what the sport was about. He said, "the best thing about baseball is that on a hot summer day, I can turn the TV to a game, sit in my recliner, open a beer, fall asleep, and wake up just in time to find out who won."
Charles Eicher
02.25.08 at 01:42

Sounds like your grandfather didn't like baseball.
Ron Jones
02.25.08 at 09:07

Beautiful photos that capture the abject "worlds"
of those things that are recovered from anonymity,
being lost, and overlooked.
I especially love the balls which expose the inner workings, or those that have been partially
reclaimed by nature with moss and lichen.
Peter
02.25.08 at 09:11

Thanks for the help you have given me
And congratulations for the site
bruna
02.25.08 at 10:21

Reminds me of the Ball Walk project by Boston-based artist Danny-O, which was exhibited at MASS MoCA in 2002. Danny-O goes on 'ball walks' and collects lost balls. He is really good at locating bends in rivers where old lost balls collect. The results are amazing.
Doug Bartow
02.25.08 at 12:08

Doug,

You beat me to it.

Danny O is a dear friend of mine. I have been on a few of those ball walks. Thanks for mentioning it!

(I have forwarded this link to Danny --he's appreciate this story, thank William)
Joanne Kaliontzis
02.25.08 at 06:06

roger tells it so beautifully! baseballs are awesome!
foust
02.25.08 at 11:39

My family has an old cloth softball that we've used for backyard play for years. No matter how hard you whack it it stays in the yard, like a Whiffle ball, but because of its weight and softness it's easier and more satisfying to catch...wonderful for kids.

Over the years I've stitched it up and patched it...it's stuffed with string and old rags. It's a mess now, but seeing these photos makes me see its decrepitude in a new light, as the physical embodiment of years of play and love and history. Thank you for opening my eyes.

(If anyone knows where to get another cloth softball, please let me know!)
Janemar
02.26.08 at 12:16

Angell also makes the very interesting observation that baseball is the only major sport in which points are NOT scored with the ball. The ball in fact often leaves the field of play when runs are scored. More evidence of the paradox and perfection of baseball.

But for my money, "A Mickey Mantle Koan" by David James Duncan is the greatest piece of writing about a baseball--specifically a perfect baseball and its becoming imperfect. (Don't worry, it's not about the game of baseball in any way, really.) Seems a nice complement to these lovely trashed pills. And well worth a Harpers sub--sorry it's behind the pay wall.
Sam
02.26.08 at 01:56

Baseball, and baseballs, are beautiful. From Ken Burns "Baseball"

It is played everywhere. In parks and playgrounds and prison yards. In back alleys and farmers' fields. By small children and old men. Raw amateurs and millionaire professionals. It is a leisurely game that demands blinding speed. The only game in which the defense has the ball. It follows the seasons, beginning each year with the fond expectancy of springtime, and ending with the hard facts of autumn. It is a haunted game, in which every player is measured against the ghosts of all who have gone before. Most of all, it is about time and timelessness. Speed and grace. Failure and loss. Imperishable hope. And coming home.
Lou
02.26.08 at 02:59

I played baseball when I was young. All the kids in our neighborhood, boys and girls alike, gathered at a field on our farm after supper every summer evening. We played until the light faded and we could no longer see the ball. It was fun. It was a lot of fun.

Today, forty years later, when I smell fresh-cut grass, and see sparkling fireflies light up our yard, my thoughts go back to those hot summer nights in that field, all of us playing like it was game seven.

Several years ago I was at the Brimfield Antique Market in Mass. and I came upon a man selling used baseballs. He had a giant barrel filled with them. Probably close to a thousand balls in it. "25 cents each", he said. I asked him, "how much for all of them?" He said, "I don't know, no one's ever asked me that." I bought 25 of them.

Today there's a black metal Alessi fruit bowl on my conference room table brimming over with these scuffed-up balls. During long meetings I like to practice my four-seam fastball grip while my thoughts wanders back to that field at my parent's farm and the memories of hitting one into the cornfield in deep center, circling the bases and inhaling the cool evening air. Now that's baseball.
Steve
02.28.08 at 07:55

I played baseball when I was young. All the kids in our neighborhood, boys and girls alike, gathered at a field on our farm after supper every summer evening. We played until the light faded and we could no longer see the ball. It was fun. It was a lot of fun.

Today, forty years later, when I smell fresh-cut grass, and see sparkling fireflies light up our yard, my thoughts go back to those hot summer nights in that field, all of us playing like it was game seven.

Several years ago I was at the Brimfield Antique Market in Mass. and I came upon a man selling used baseballs. He had a giant barrel filled with them. Probably close to a thousand balls in it. "25 cents each", he said. I asked him, "how much for all of them?" He said, "I don't know, no one's ever asked me that." I bought 25 of them.

Today there's a black metal Alessi fruit bowl on my conference room table brimming over with these scuffed-up balls. During long meetings I like to revisit my fastball grip and the memories of hitting one into the cornfield in deep center, circling the bases and inhaling the cool evening air. Now that's baseball.
Steve
02.28.08 at 08:40

To paraphrase a quote I read a long while back:

For so long I gripped a baseball, but for so many years realized, it was the other way around.

My younger years were abashed as a baseball player, but the game never made me resent it. I knew the grander scheme of the game would always put me at ease and that picking up a baseball when I needed an escape was much better than needing it to compete.
Nick C.
03.04.08 at 01:14

Bill, I love seeing this every time it runs. Thank you.
Don Whelan
04.15.13 at 12:25



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ABOUT THE SLIDESHOW

A collection of photographs taken by Don Hamerman of baseballs.
View Slideshow >>
William Drenttel is a designer and publisher, and editorial director of Design Observer. He is a partner at Winterhouse, a design consultancy focused on social change, online media and educational institutions, and a senior faculty fellow at the Yale School of Management.
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