I had mixed emotions as I attended the official press event for the opening of the new Baseball Americana exhibit at the Library of Congress last month.
I'm pretty sick of Major League Baseball. I gave up my Baltimore Orioles season ticket plan two years ago -- not just because they're inept but because it's too painful for me to watch professional baseball at large. The O's batters and those of seemingly every other team are instructed to just close their eyes and swing for the fences and, if that doesn't work, to close their eyes tighter. Manufactured runs are extinct species. Halley's Comet passes by more often than a team demonstrates solid fundamentals.
On the other hand, the Library of Congress is my favorite place on Earth. Anything that the LOC hosts is something I want to see and something I want to support.
I viewed the exhibit after the opening speeches and struggled to connect to it emotionally, the way I would have as a younger man. I felt slight hints of my old love as I watched video of Hank Aaron, the real baseball homerun king, hit homers at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium -- just as I witnessed there in real life as a kid. Hearing Vin Scully's voice brought me back to all the nights I secretly stayed up late listening to AM radio stations beam through the skies the maestro's gift for painting pictures with words. I stood awestruck at the part of the exhibit dedicated to Jackie Robinson, a true American hero who like Aaron after him endured more than any man should just to be able to play a game.
I exited the exhibit and headed to view others feeling unable to rekindle my old love for the game.
My brain, though, kept replaying some of Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden's words from earlier in the day. She said that one of her hopes for the Baseball Americana exhibit was that it would make the Library more open and accessible to a new audience -- an audience that she hoped would go on to become active users of the Library. She spoke of the exhibit's potential for building bridges.
My blood started pumping as her words sped faster and faster and I perused my old favorites and new exhibits. Hayden's hope is mine, too. I said hello for at least the tenth time to the Thomas Jefferson library of books that's adjacent to America's pastime. Maybe baseball fans heading in or out of Baseball Americana will get hooked on regular ol' Americana, I thought. I checked out a special summer exhibit about Alexander Hamilton. I got tears in my eyes when I read the actual goodbye letter he wrote to his wife Elizabeth before his fatal duel (pictured above).
I glanced at the breathtaking Jefferson Reading Room, where I've spent countless hours researching the American Revolution and other subjects. I thought of the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room that also feels like a second home to me.
I remembered the day so many years ago when I stumbled into the Library on a tour to see something else and heard a tour guide explain that I could use the Library myself. I thought that you had to be a member of Congress or an official student to use its resources. I promptly obtained my library card and dove in to topics for magazine articles, blog posts and future book projects. I spent a few weeks enhancing my family genealogy research and learning more about the life and times of my ancestors in France, Canada, and Minnesota. I read newspapers that they may have once held in their hands.
A lot of people fail to realize that they, too, can actually use the Library of Congress -- that it's not just a giant building for tourists to meander: It's a wildly exciting, mind-opening, life-affirming place. If Baseball Americana can attract legions of new visitors and give them the chance to cross Hayden's bridges and inspire them to become active users and fans of the Library of Congress -- then by all means, buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!