Nationals Park is not the only place for baseball fans to go this summer. The Library of Congress has opened a wonderful new exhibit, called “Baseball Americana.”
The exhibit features 148 objects plus plenty of video highlights of the great and not-so-great (but always fascinating) moments in the national pastime. As “Baseball Americana” makes clear, the sport has grown up with the United States.
The exhibit has the first-known reference to baseball in America: a March 22, 1786, letter written by a student at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in part complaining that he was not very good at the game.
The exhibit also has the handwritten “Laws of Baseball.” These were 14 pages of rules negotiated by teams and players at an 1857 convention. Many of the rules are still used today.
For example, the convention’s rules set the number of players on the field at nine. Before that, many games had 11 or more players to a side. The rules also stated there would be nine innings. Early baseball games often ended after one team scored 21 runs.
And the 1857 rules set the space between bases at 90 feet.
There is so much to see and do at “Baseball Americana.” You can see (and touch) old baseballs, bats and gloves. You can see the first baseball card, featuring the Brooklyn Atlantics, who won the New York City baseball championships in 1861, 1864 and 1865.
You can listen to different versions of the national anthem that have been sung at ballgames, as well as radio and television broadcasts of some of the great moments in the game.
Think you are a baseball expert? There’s a wall of trivia questions as well as famous numbers associated with the game. Did you know that Major League Baseball teams use about 900,000 baseballs during a season?
One of my favorite parts of the exhibit is the video display of dozens of images — advertisements, magazine covers and paintings — with baseball themes. There are also highlights from several famous baseball movies, including Tom Hanks’s famous line from the 1992 film “A League of Their Own” that “there’s no crying in baseball.”
“Baseball Americana” stretches from the days when Mike “King” Kelly was the game’s first superstar to the present. The exhibit has the lineup card for Bryce Harper’s first game with the Washington Nationals.
So grab your favorite team hat and go. “Baseball Americana” is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through June 2019.
This story has been updated to include the closing date of the exhibit.