“Feeling the Heat: Cuba’s Baseball Heritage,” Aug. 6-Sept. 29, Burbank, CA

Exhibition: August 6-September 29, 2016

Curated by Terry Cannon and Mark Rucker

Cigarette wrapper (known as "manquilla"), ca. 1885.

Cigarette wrapper (known as a “marquilla”), ca. 1885. (Photo courtesy of The Rucker Archive)

Almendares baseball club, 1908. (Photo courtesy of The Rucker Archive)

Almendares baseball club, 1908. (Photo courtesy of The Rucker Archive)

The Baseball Reliquary presents “Feeling the Heat: Cuba’s Baseball Heritage,” an exhibition utilizing photographs, artworks, and artifacts to document aspects of Cuba’s fascinating baseball history, at the Burbank Central Library, 110 N. Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank, California.  Curated by Terry Cannon and Mark Rucker, the exhibition will run from August 6-September 29, 2016.  Library hours are Monday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Friday, 9:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.; Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.; closed Sunday.  For directions, phone (818) 238-5600 during library hours.

Many of the photographs in this exhibition are courtesy of The Rucker Archive, which has collected some of the finest museum-quality pieces from Cuban baseball history.  The following statement is courtesy of Mark Rucker, President and Curator of The Rucker Archive:

Pitcher Conrado "Connie" Marrero with Cienfuegos, 1938.

Pitcher Conrado “Connie” Marrero, Cienfuegos baseball club, ca. 1938.

Baseball in Cuba is tantamount to a religion. This has been true since the game’s inception in the 1870s. Cuban baseball fans also work to retain and protect their historical records whenever possible. This instinctive desire for preservation is continuously at odds with a sauna-like climate that destroys materials over time. To find paper memorabilia of any sort in acceptable condition is difficult, and to find important visual documents in fine condition is almost impossible. It took ten trips to Havana to gather enough material to produce the first pictorial history of the game in Cuba, Smoke: The Romance and Lore of Cuban Baseball, which was co-authored with Peter Bjarkman in 1999.

The 19th century game in Cuba was quite localized and often was used as a means to bait the occupying Spanish, who preferred and attempted to enforce soccer as the national game. These early contestants and the leagues they formed were comprised of mostly lighter-skinned Cubans. This practice began to change quickly at the turn of the 20th century when Cubans with African ancestry joined in the play and boosted the quality and athleticism of the game.

The key and most exciting feature of the early game in Cuba is the interracial nature of the sport. While the United States was mired beneath segregationist laws that concealed the finest black ballplayers from common view, Cuba was booming with the exploits of dark-skinned island stars and American Negro Leaguers alike.

"Baseball on the Malecon" (Photo courtesy of Byron Motley)

“Baseball on the Malecon” (Photo courtesy of Byron Motley)

Baseball in Cuba appears exotic, mysterious, and unknown. Why? The basic reason is that America’s National Pastime was played in a place where Americans were forbidden to visit, after the regime of Fidel Castro was denounced in the U.S. Recent decades have seen tobacco collectors from Europe and baseball collectors from North America buy everything interesting in Cuba that found the light of day. Intrigue, politics, culture wars, imperialism, and sport all play a part in the popularity of Cuban relics. The early cards and memorabilia coming out of Cuba record the visits of America’s black stars of the past, creating an irresistible allure for historians and collectors alike.

It must be recognized, however, that the exciting days of discovery are over. The island of Cuba is about the same size as Florida, and has been raked from end to end by antique dealers and scouts until very little remains. The reason for this can be found in the desperate days in Cuba after the Russians left, when families were forced to sell whatever was of value in order to sustain themselves.

Feeling the Heat: Cuba’s Baseball Heritage is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

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Various installation views for the exhibition, Feeling the Heat: Cuba’s Baseball Heritage

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