PHILADELPHIA -- Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio are among the baseball pioneers featured in a new exhibit that opens to the public on Thursday at the National Museum of American Jewish History.
Hailed as the first large-scale exhibit focused on the role baseball plays in the lives of immigrant and minority communities seeking to express or challenge American culture, Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American features 130 baseball artifacts, including the original sheet music for "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and a collection of uniforms and other baseball equipment used by Koufax, Robinson, Aaron, Greenberg, DiMaggio and Ichiro Suzuki. The exhibit also has a database of Jewish Major Leaguers and an interactive portion that allows users to simulate batting practice.
"It's fantastic, it blows you away," said author and former Major League outfielder Doug Glanville, who attended a special unveiling of the exhibit on Tuesday. "It's really powerful to see the trials and tribulations that these players endured just to do something that we all take for granted."
Koufax is the centerpiece of the exhibit, which is open to the public until Oct. 26. The pitcher's 1963 National League Cy Young Award is on display, as well as scorecards and tickets from his perfect game against the Cubs in '65, the cap he wore during his no-hitter against the Phillies in '64 and a ticket from his first no-no against the Mets in '62. There's also a mound where fans can put on a replica Koufax jersey and try to pitch like the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner.
Although immigrants and minorities are the focus of the exhibit, Glanville believes anyone can find a connection with the accomplishments and struggles those players experienced.
"Any time you have experiences where you're a small segment that evolves to a place where you integrate into such a cultural powerhouse as baseball, you're going to have some unique stories of heroism and breakthroughs, and that's a story that everyone can relate to," said Glanville, who played nine big league season with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. "It's compelling to look at these stories of inspiration. They became ambassadors of the game that really transcended race and religion."
Along those same lines, Dr. Josh Perelman, the museum's chief curator and director of collections and exhibitions, says baseball is a representation of American culture.
"Since the nineteenth century, baseball has been an exhilarating metaphor for America, a land of so much promise and opportunity," Perelman said. "And for minority communities in this country, the sport has long served as a path to learning and understanding American values, representing a shared American identity and sometimes highlighting our differences. It is, in short, a mirror of America."
For more information about the exhibit and its upcoming events, visit http://chasingdreams.nmajh.org.
Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.