It’s 1947. The door to the Dodgers clubhouse in Brooklyn is cracked open by a 28-year-old second baseman just called up to the big leagues. Still dressed in his Montreal Royals uniform he raises his glove as if to say, “Here we go,” his face beams with both pride and uncertainty. Jackie Robinson had no idea what was waiting for him inside that room but he went in with his eyes wide open.
That image of Robinson is displayed on the entrance door of the exhibit “Dodgers: Brotherhood of the Game” a new exhibit inside the Japanese American National Museum nestled in the Little Tokyo section of downtown Los Angeles.
Curators hope that like Robinson, patrons who visit also walk in with their eyes wide open.
“He walks through that door and he has absolutely no idea what’s going to happen,” says Mark Langill, Dodgers team historian and one of the architects of the exhibit. “It’s sort of like, the adventure is about to begin.”
The organization’s legacy and international reach is told primarily through the intertwining stories of seven figures: Jackie Robinson, Walter and Peter O’Malley, Tommy Lasorda, Fernando Valenzuela, Chan Ho Park and Hideo Nomo. But what visitors won’t see is a shrine to championships and awards.
“You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the exhibit because we’re not just talking about a baseball team,” says Langill, “We’re talking about what a baseball team can mean to a community and what a community can mean to a baseball team.”
The exhibit housed in the museum’s Weingart Foundation Gallery has 90 artifacts donated by the Dodgers, 45 from private collections, and 30 from the collection of the O’Malley family.
The room is not just a timeline of Dodgers feats but of cultural history told through the lens of baseball. That theme is displayed vividly in the timeline that runs along the midsection of the walls, where one can see that in 1899 the first Japanese American baseball team was formed in what would eventually become the U.S. state of Hawaii.
The glass-encased Japanese kimono with the trademark “Dodgers” emblem inscribed on the back and given to the the 1966 team on its goodwill tour is a piece of colorful history.
One of the most indelible pieces is not an artifact, but a rarely seen quote from Jackie Robinson next to a photo of the statue of he and Pee Wee Reese, which depicts the historical moment on May 13, 1947 in Cincinnati when Reese quieted hecklers by putting his arm around Robinson on the field.
It reads in part: “The heckling stopped and the bench cleared in no time. Pee Wee Reese by his simple gesture said simply, ‘Yell and scream all you like. We are a team. We came to play together’.”
The interactive space also has a short-set of bleachers for kids to sit and watch videos.
It took about three months to put the entire exhibit on display in the museum. It’ll be open through September 14.