Future exhibit will highlight importance of baseball to local Latino communities

The Railway Ice Company team, 1940.
The Railway Ice Company team, 1940. The Sauceda Family Collection

Picture historical baseball and you might think of Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth.

How about other giants of the game: Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente or Albert Pujols?

Latinos have played baseball for as long as the sport has been in existence, and a new Smithsonian project, Latinos and Baseball: In the Barrios and the Big Leagues, aims to explore the history of hometown teams.

The Kansas City Museum will be a collecting location for the exhibit and aims to give local fans a chance to remember the influence of baseball in the local Latino community.

Collecting events are scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the Kansas City Museum. The weekend will also feature panel discussions by experts in Latino culture and baseball, a reception, a bus tour of the community and a concert.

Gene Chávez, a curator for the Kansas City Museum, worked on its 2015 exhibit about Mexican-American fast-pitch softball. The 2015 exhibit, Chávez said, inspired him to look deeper into the influence of baseball and softball in Latino communities.

While many people first think of Kansas City’s Negro Leagues history, Chávez said the city, like other railroad towns, also had thriving Latino baseball and softball leagues.

“Latinos, and especially Mexican-Americans, have been a part of Kansas City history for many years,” he said. “It goes back not only to the Great Migration in the 1910s, but to the Santa Fe Trail, which started here. And when they came here, they already had a love of baseball.”

The collecting initiative wants to document stories from the United States and Puerto Rico and hopes to collect objects from Kansas City that could include equipment, memorabilia, photographs, movies and signs. Chávez said he will be looking for items that tell stories about people and communities’ involvement in the national pastime.

Artifacts will be part of a Smithsonian traveling exhibit, but donors can choose whether to give artifacts exclusively to the Smithsonian or the Kansas City Museum.

The collecting event is open to anyone who has an artifact or a story — and they don’t just have to be about baseball, Chávez said, but can be about men’s and women’s slow- and fast-pitch softball as well.

Nine other partner organizations across the country will collect items for the exhibit.

“Baseball has played a major role in everyday American life since the 1800s, providing a means of celebrating both national and ethnic identities and building communities,” said John Gray, director of the National Museum of American History, in a news release. “Through the lens of baseball, the Smithsonian seeks to illuminate the rich history and culture of Latinos and their impact on American culture and society.”

The Smithsonian hopes to develop a traveling exhibit about Latinos and baseball by 2020.

More information about the collection events can be found on the Kansas City Museum’s website.

Ruth Serven: 816-234-4201, @RuthServen