Pride and Passion at the Highland Park Public Library

Highland Park (Ill.) Public Library recently unveiled “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience,” an exhibit organized by the American Library Association and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, to a standing-room-only-crowd. It was opening day at the library, and crowds were waiting outside for the doors to open.

What brought in the crowds?

Sharon Robinson, the daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, was the featured speaker, but the day’s lineup included much more. We created an opening day at the ballpark atmosphere with a variety of events, offering an informative and fun and memorable day for patrons. To do this, we sought out baseball-related partners within our community and the greater Chicago area. Whereas some ideas didn’t pan out—the major rock star was unavailable to reprise his version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” that he had sung at Chicago’s Wrigley Field—others did:

  • Home Run Inn Pizza, a Chicago-area restaurant and frozen pizza manufacturer, provided samples of pizza in individual boxes, much like at the ballpark.

  • The high school baseball team conducted a baseball clinic for children outside the library, staffed by the youth department.

  • The local sports memorabilia store loaned a collection of baseballs, bats, and cards signed by players featured in the exhibit.

  • The park district provided bunting for outside and inside the library as well as baseball jerseys and hats for staff to wear the week prior to opening day and on opening day.

  • The local baseball training facility donated foam baseballs; in addition, the owner caught the first pitch thrown out to officially open the exhibit.

  • Thanks to lucky timing and a post on the Pride and Passion online discussion list by Bethany Bruns of Harper Woods library, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled their new Negro League Baseball Stamps and also designed a special pictorial postmark commemorating the day. Fritsch Cards provided postcards featuring Negro League players that patrons could use the stamps on. The Postal Service set up a station at the library where patrons could stamp the postcards with the Negro League stamps, and have them canceled with the special postmark.

  • The local theater donated enough popcorn to fill 200 bags. Teen volunteer vendors distributed the popcorn outside, like at the ballpark, along with programs featuring the day’s events. As suggested by the Postal Service, a limited number of programs featured the new Negro League stamps and the special postmark, making for a special souvenir of the day.

Other ballpark touches included a Cracker Jack treasure hunt and a recording of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” greeting patrons at the library’s outside entrances. (Our A/V manager found the music for a small fee so that copyright issues weren’t a problem.) Rounding out the day were multiple screenings of the documentary Only the Ball was White, and appearances by former Negro League players, who were introduced and honored and who visited with patrons at the exhibit.