Photographer creates ballpark portraits

June 19, 1993|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Staff Writer

As most fans consider baseball a religion, photographer Jim Dow believes that ballparks are modern-day cathedrals.

"Especially the older, minor-league ballparks," he said. "They are placed right in the middle of town just like churches. They capture the atmosphere of the neighborhood."

And Mr. Dow should know.

He has photographed every major-league baseball facility and nearly every minor-league one as well in a 13-year, self-supported mission. In each photograph, Mr. Dow attempts to capture the landscape, architecture and vernacular of the area.

In conjunction with the All Sorts of Sports exhibit, which opens today at the Maryland Science Center, more than 60 of his ballpark photographs titled "Major League/Minor League: Photographs of America's Baseball Stadiums" will be displayed.

The "All Sorts of Sports" exhibit, a four-month project, presents hands- on equipment and live demonstrations that attempt to answer questions of physics in sports. Both exhibits will be open until Labor Day.

Mr. Dow, a Boston native who teaches at the Boston Museum of Art, began photographing soccer stadiums in England in the late 1970s. Then a friend urged him, in 1980, to take a picture of Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

"It's an awful place. It's placed in the middle of a parking lot," Mr. Dow said. "But it is still one of my best photographs. I usually get the best pictures out of the worst places, and my worst photographs are from the most interesting places."

After the Vet, Mr. Dow captured the next 25 major-league parks on film that same year. He continually sells his major-league works to pay for expenses.

The following year, Mr. Dow expanded his interest to what would become his personal favorites, minor-league ballparks.

"Major- and minor-league ballparks can be compared as a field of dreams and a field where dreams are played," Mr. Dow said. "Plus the food is so much better in the minor leagues. The stuff they serve at Fenway Park, I wouldn't give to a dog I hated."

Mr. Dow's panoramic works include an arching bridge draping the right field of John O'Donnell Stadium in Davenport, Iowa; a mountainous, white-capped outfield backdrop to Derks Field in Salt Lake City, and a sunset framing the now-demolished McCormick Field in Asheville, N.C.

Orioles fans can catch a glimpse of familiar settings seen by the pros rising through the minors.

One can observe two outfield wall signs at Bluefield, W.Va., a rookie affiliate for the Orioles. Also displayed is a home plate view of Silver Stadium in Rochester, N.Y., which houses the Orioles' Triple-A farm club.

One of Mr. Dow's favorite locations is the abandoned Dudley Field, the former home of the El Paso (Texas) Diablos. The entire stadium is decorated in a fire red and yellow, and fan cheers and boos are shouted in Spanish.

"Since it was less than 100 miles from the border, it gave the feeling of watching a game in Latin America," Mr. Dow said. "Now they have replaced it with some antiseptic place on the highway."

Mr. Dow next returns to England and will focus on its small urban shops for his next project. But on this trip, he will take with him all the memorabilia and memories of the past 13 years spent with America's pastime.

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