Tuesday, February 19, 2008

My Conversation With Frank Ceresi

Flying well below the radar screen--Frank Ceresi of FC Associates in Arlington, Virginia has been retained by Our Washington Nationals to assist Principal Owner Mark Lerner in "Dressing" New Nationals Park. Along with his partner, Carol McMains, FC Associates specializes in Museum Consulting, as well as, appraisals of sports artifacts and memorabilia. Educated as a lawyer and a former judge--Frank's passion for artifacts, baseball and sport relics--eventually led him down a different career path. Not only does Frank Ceresi appraise collections and artifacts--he also works for Sotheby's Auction House with SCP Sports Auctions (East Coast) as Director of Consignments and Acquisitions. Back in 1997--Mr. Ceresi's knowledge of artifacts changed his life when he was approached by a staff member of Abe Pollin (Owner of The Washington Wizards) looking for a curator in the planned National Sports Gallery at MCI Center in downtown DC. Eventually, Mr. Ceresi realized he was the person for the job--becoming the Curator and Executive Director of Collections for The National Sports Gallery--until it closed in 2001. Now--he's on his own, working full time in the world of artifacts. A job that keeps him constantly on the move. Experience that did not go unnoticed by Our Washington Nationals.

"Courtesy of FC Associates (Not to be reproduced without permission)"

Frank sat down with me at his Arlington Office Building this past Sunday Night--February 17th. What he revealed to me brought great joy to my baseball loving heart. How many times have Washington Baseball Fans asked, questioned or flat out wished for displays depicting the wonderful heritage of Baseball in Our Nation's Capital. Well, dream no longer--Frank Ceresi is helping to bring Washington Baseball History Back To Life at New Nationals Park.

His professional approach and enticing descriptions thrilled me during our chat. Mr. Ceresi's accounts were breathtaking at times. What made this conversation so special--was how quietly this artwork has been produced. How--just because little publicity is being written or spoken about this project--does not mean--nothing was going on.

This conversation will be a two parter. Frank Ceresi and I hit it off well. Having both grown up in Northern Virginia--We shared our High School passions. Frank attended the now defunct Ft. Hunt High School in the Fairfax County portion of Alexandria. A sorrowful ending for a good school that deserved better. While I attended T.C. Williams High School in the city--after The City consolidated George Washington and Francis C. Hammond into TCW. We were rivals.

So--with the preamble out of the way--here we go.

Like many people, your career track did not turn out as originally planned? (SBF)

"Courtesy of FC Associates (Not to be reproduced without permission)"

“I had done your volunteer work when I was practicing law and even while I was growing up at some of the museums—-like The Smithsonian. I was always interested in sports. One day, I did get a call from one of Abe’s (Pollin) associates about putting together The National Sports Gallery. Eventually, that led me to changing professions and that particular Sports Gallery for a number of years. (The then MCI based Museum—folded in 2001). After that—I formed my own business. I am an attorney and I do appraisals for collectibles—including sports. I am very involved in museum consulting for exhibits. And, I acquire artifacts for Sotheby’s Sports Auctions. So, all of these jobs kind of coalesced into this interest I have for the history of baseball.”

It’s amazing how many times passion comes to the forefront and becomes your life's way? (SBF)

“Yes, I have been pretty fortunate having a vocation that is tied into something I so much enjoy doing. And that’s how The Nationals really contacted me to see if I can assist them in putting sustenance into the historical context of baseball in the Washington area.”

In this project, Mark Lerner has told me that, eventually—there will be some sort of Washington Baseball Hall of Fame. Is this what we are talking about—or is your involvement--just the various items to be placed in and around the new ballpark—including the clubs—for atmosphere? (SBF)

"Courtesy of FC Associates (Not to be reproduced without permission)"

“I am mainly involved with artwork, images, illustrations for the first year (of New Nationals Park). And Mark has talked about—how at a future time—we would be doing something akin to a Museum Hall of Fame with artifacts. That will be Part Two—if you will. There has been no decision on quite what they (The Nationals) want to do. What I understand, and Mark (Lerner) would know more than me--they are concentrating on getting the stadium built, getting the artwork completed. And, doing what I am doing now. Then, the second wave will be to formulate some kind of Museum/Hall of Fame. But, what shape that will take—I am not sure.”

"Courtesy of FC Associates (Not to be reproduced without permission)"

But, what we are concentrating on right now and what I have been very, very heavily involved with—is basically decorating the interior of the stadium with historical illustrations, images, exhibits. There is a lot you can do visually. So, we have a number of exhibits that tie into baseball—not only with the DC area for The Old Washington Senators, and The Old, Old, Washington Nationals—but The Homestead Grays—as well. They are doing a special exhibit on Presidential First Pitches—and some of the more obvious things. Plus, there is a special exhibit we are doing on—and this is GREAT!!—Some of the greatest images from Sport Magazine. (Really? —SBF). Yes, this is going to be fantastic. You remember Sport? (Yes, I do. The Younger Set may not—SBF).”

"Courtesy of FC Associates (Not to be reproduced without permission)"

“So, let me babble here for a minute. Sport started in 1947 and its heyday was the early 1970’s. A time frame, which I think, is The Golden Era of Baseball. As it turned out, I had the opportunity to appraise the archives of the original photos, the negatives and hard photos from the magazine. So, I knew where they (those photos) existed. As a result, one of the things we are going to do is a Special Exhibit—on some of the fabulous, even non-Washington Golden Age Photos of Baseball’s Past. (That’s really good—SBF).”

"Courtesy of FC Associates (Not to be reproduced without permission)"

“Here are some examples. I am going to give you these. This is an article I wrote that was just published. These articles are published in Beckett Elite--Sports Collectors Digest--occasionally for one of the newspapers, also on my website.

Why do you use the name “National Treasure”? (SBF)

"Courtesy of FC Associates (Not to be reproduced without permission)"

I have used that byline for years and years. And, I chose it—well before the movie (both of us chuckling). The reason why I chose it was because of the way I look at some of these artifacts. These are original photos (pointing to The Sport Magazine Pictures), but artifacts that you may have on exhibit are the story behind the story. Like I had Mickey Mantle’s first home run baseball. I had Shoeless Joe Jackson’s baseball bat--‘Black Betsy’. The story behind those artifacts I always think of as “National Treasure.” And that's what I wanted my stories to reflect.”

You need the artifacts to tell the story—otherwise its just myth. (SBF)

“There is no question about that. The artifacts bring everything together--especially here in Museum Heaven (Washington, DC). We have The Smithsonian, The National Archives, The Library of Congress, and Mt. Vernon—one of the nicest museums I have ever seen. But, the artifacts do tell the story. They bring everything together.”

John Odell (Director of Research & History at The National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum) was telling me how when Major League Baseball bought a portion of The Halper Collection—they wanted this particular baseball—a signed championship ball from The Troy Haymakers. What was significant was that a fellow named Steve Bayon--actually Esteban Bayon—-a Cuban’s name--was scribbled on that baseball. Esteban Bayon was one of the first Cuban’s to play the game. And eventually—along with other Cubans, returned to their homeland to introduce the game. Thus, Cubans introduced baseball to Cubans—not ex-patriots. That baseball will go on display next year at The Hall explaining Latin America’s first involvements with the game. (SBF)

“That’s a very interesting story. There is so much of that great stuff to be found in artifacts. Even in Washington, we are also going to be doing—probably sometime in June or July—-some exhibits that will be coming in on Walter Johnson. Which reminds me--One of the things we had in Sotheby’s that was auctioned off—-was a baseball signed by Johnson. It was the ball from the last out, the last inning of Game 7 of The 1924 World Champion Washington Senators. It was an interesting piece.”

I guess that ball is not coming for display at Nationals Park anytime soon—right? (SBF)

“You know what—it just might—because I know who the collector is—the guy who bought it at auction. So, maybe—you never know.”

So—going back to the stuff that will be placed in the new stadium. I was there two weeks back—and again glanced at a painted mural of Walter Johnson on a column. Is that artwork something you are involved in? (SBF)

“Yes, in fact, we are having 25, 26 or 27 murals where The Washington Nationals are saluting Hall of Famers. Not only Johnson, Goose Goslin, Harmon Killebrew & Joe Cronin (Sam Rice? —SBF). Definitely, Sam Rice. But, we are using images from paintings from a gentleman by the name of Art Miller. I got a hold of Miller because—in trusting the folks at The Hall of Fame—we discussed who paints the most realistic portraits of some of the old time ballplayers. We both agreed that Art Miller is the best. If you were to go online at Miller’s work (where I found these examples of Johnson, Gibson, Gehrig & Aaron--SBF)-—you will clearly see how good this man is. But, we are not only doing Washington Greats—but Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson from his paintings. The one Non—Hall of Famer we will depict is (no doubt, Frank Howard—SBF). Yes, of course—Frank Howard. How did I know you would know that (chuckling)?”

So—those columns will not just be Washington Centric—but Baseball Centric? (SBF)

“Yes, The Nationals wanted to honor, not only DC’s Greats, but Baseball’s as well.”

Now—what about the Sport Magazine Pictures? (SBF)

“They will be in The Presidential Area (Oval Bar & Club). That will be called “The Golden Age of Baseball.” What is Washington Centric (In Photos) will include an exhibit on The Homestead Grays, another on The Washington Senators. We have an exhibit on Baseball In The Military—in The Stars & Stripes Club. A very patriotic theme—both Washington and Non-Washington. We will have The Presidential First Pitch.

We will have an exhibit dealing with Congress & Presidents actually playing ball—as opposed to just the first pitch. So, The Congressional Game will be depicted."
"Courtesy of FC Associates (Not to be reproduced without permission)"

"We have this great shot of George Bush (the elder—41st President of The United States). A great ballplayer as you probably know (Yes, at Yale—SBF). He played in the first College World Series in 1947 and 1948. We have this great picture of Mr. Bush receiving from Babe Ruth the original paperwork that Ruth had Ghost Written about his career--his stories, shortly before his death. Coincidentally, those stories were given to Yale. Yale, coincidentally, was in The College World Series. And George Bush was the first baseman, but more importantly—was The Captain of the team. So, he received this paperwork. This is a GREAT, GREAT PHOTO.”

If Stars & Stripes Club is going to be Military in Baseball, Presidents Club will have The Sport Magazine Photos, and Diamond Club will have The History of Washington Baseball—including The Homestead Grays—what else is expected to be on display? (SBF)

“There is this very cool idea called “The Nats Bar”. N-A-T-S. So, it’s not only Nationals, but also SeNATors. What we were able to do there is very special. I contacted Topps (The Baseball Card & Chewing Gum Company) and was able to put together a collage of vintage Washington Senators Players who were featured on Topps Cards from 1952, all the way through 1971. We have Mickey Vernon, Eddie Yost, Roy Sievers (Herb Plews—SBF). He might be (laughing). But, there is only so much you can do. Now, this is a different concept that I thought was very interesting. We'll see it people are going to say ‘Huh?’ or not."

"We are also going to have a series of cards—very rare—those Topps Cards from 1974 which show The San Diego Padres as Washington, National League—with Willie McCovey.”

How much will be completed by Opening Night and how much will be added on later. This seems to be, very much, a work in progress? (SBF)
"Courtesy of FC Associates (Not to be reproduced without permission)"

“We hope to get all of the displays up on March 30th. Everything I am saying—except for some of the Walter Johnson stuff, which is coming in during the course of the year—should be ready by Opening Night—that is what we are shooting for. Also remember, these images, photos, and illustrations—are not original memorabilia—lets make that clear. We are working off the originals. Every exhibit I have mentioned so far—we are expecting to be up by Opening Day.”

Then, have most of these displays been completed yet? (SBF)

“No—they are in the process of being completed. Whether being produced, or framed—we are doing everything we can to be done in time. But, it is going to be done in time. We have been working on these projects for eight months. Individually, in the suites, the clubs, the interiors, the restaurants and the concourses—we have over 400 different framed items coming in and going up—including some very cool stuff in The Shirley Povich Media Center (The Press Box).

And that's where My Conversation With Frank Ceresi will leave off until tomorrow. In Part Two--Frank Ceresi will not only touch on The Shirley Povich Memorabilia, but also--Special Photography to be placed in The Visitors Clubhouse, A Baseball Timeline, T-3 Turkey Reds (baseball cards), as well as--the Kids Zone. And, to conclude--Mr. Ceresi will name off--all the various displays to be installed at New Nationals Park. More than anyone believed possible--in such a short time frame.


Chuck B. said...

Great stuff SBF. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

Anonymous said...

As always first rate interview.
My question now is when do the stadium tours start? A lot of these displays will be located in places the general public will not have access.

PS Good seeing you and talking with Sohna on Monday.

SenatorNat said...

SBF - you are the RNA to the DNA of good concepts; by pursuing these type of good concepts, you are helping ensure that they are not ultimately scrapped or scaled back into generic dribble; and you are connecting dots, like translating to Mr. C your recent conversations at Cooperstown.

Mark Lerner would appear to be a True Fan, and he is in the right age bracket to understand and appreciate Mr. C's emphasis. I had a subscription to Sport from 1959 until it folded. And, he is so right that it had the right photos during the Mantle-Mays era, so-to-speak, the halcyon period for modern MLB.

Plus, and this is an embarassing admission coming from none other than SenatorNat, but I NEVER thought about Senators having the word "nat" captured in the middle. Always presumed it was just short for Nationals!

Herb Pleus is fine; but let us not leave out the 1959-60 cards for Chuck Stobbs; Tex Clevenger; Dick Hyde too. Now that was a bullpen! (They stunk!)

While Walter Johnson did end up doing tobacco ads,as depicted with Tuxedo herein, part of the folklore when I was growing up and attending Walter Johnson High School, was that, when first approached, he responded: "Why would I do that, when I don't smoke?" A baseball sort of version of George Washington's "I cannot tell a lie."

Trust in a true Nats fan. And the magic of blending the old with the new...All Good.

Edward J. Cunningham said...

As a former member of the Washington Senators Fan Club (I must have been the only one who went to meetings with no living memory of Senators games) I was surprised to learn that the unofficial nickname for the Senators was "Nats." When MLB chose the name "Nationals" for the Expos once they moved the team here, I was also amazed at how quickly the nickname "Nats" was so easily embraced, as if the team had never left.

Interestingly enough, the Ottawa Senators have the nickname "Sens" rather than "Nats"...

SenatorNat said...

Interesting: I would have thought they might have had the nickname "Otta's" like that for the Redskins these days: e.g., they "Otta" have a new owner and an actual GM"!!

Trust in an ability to make "Sens" of this pathetic attempt at humor. All Good.

paul said...

The Lerners are really trying hard to make up for all those dark years, aren't they. I am really impressed.