Baseball players for the Tampa Smokers, Tampa, Florida, 1950s, Caption credit: Smithsonian Institute. Gift of Jean Plowden.
D.C., North America, Read About Can't Miss Places

America’s Pastime: Baseball at the National Museum of American History

Our nation’s treasures are on display at the various buildings that make up the Smithsonian Institute—the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex. Visitors can learn about art and design, history and culture, and science and nature. As you might imagine, the Museum of American History is a favorite place of mine to visit.

The Castle Museum of Saginaw County History is the first museum to host the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit, Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues. The actual exhibit will open later at the National Museum of American History.

Through the lens of baseball, this exhibit focuses on the history and culture of Latinos/Latinas and their impact on American society. The traveling show is comprised of 20 banners with bilingual text, photographs, and graphics. There is also a video and a soundscape to let visitors hear the sound of baseball.

Baseball is America’s pastime; it is an important part of Americanness and being included in American society. Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues shows the cultural and social force baseball has played in Latino communities. It shows how baseball brings people together regardless of race, class, or gender allowing us to be part of something larger.

In the big leagues, baseball could be an avenue to economic stability. Workers in agriculture and industry used baseball to make ends meet. Sometimes it was by playing the game and sometimes it was by incorporating baseball into the workplace. Baseball provided a “field of dreams” and a way to seize opportunities.

In a smaller sense though it was no less important since it provided a place to form community and challenge prejudice. It was also a place to organize and advocate for rights and social justice.

In the Smithsonian exhibit, you can learn about how baseball is a multidimensional migration story. Immigrants from the Caribbean (especially Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico), Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia, and Brazil knew baseball before coming to the United States. Latinos/as are present in baseball in every US state and territory.

Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues tells tales of baseball legends like Roberto Clemente and Anthony Rendon, powerful agents such as Linda Alvarez, racial discrimination, non-competitive players, the All-American Girls Baseball League (a professional women’s baseball league active from 1943 to 1954 in which 11 Latinas played), and much more. I’ve learned so much just from the traveling exhibit that I’m excited about when I can get back to DC to see the full exhibit in person.

After starting in Saginaw, Michigan at the Castle Museum in early 2021, the traveling exhibit will voyage through 15 cities through 2025. You can check out the Smithsonian website to see where it is going next.

Like what you just read? You can support me by following my blog and leaving comments–I love to hear from my readers. Happy travels! Amy

*There is a book associated with the exhibit, Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues, co-authored by National Museum of American History Curator Margaret N. Salazar-Porzio and baseball historian Adrian Burgos Jr., professor of history at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, with Robin Morey, curatorial assistant, National Museum of American History.

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