Without a doubt, one the most pleasant and unexpected surprises of my now 2-year journey in baseball-themed art and craft, are all the incredibly talented and inspiring artists I’ve come to meet.
Instagram has been a particularly effective tool for finding like-minded artists, craftspeople and content providers. As a marketing professional, I’m always looking for creative ways to cross-promote with fellow small business owners, so as I’ve become more confident in my own product and branding, I’ve become more emboldened to reach out to the artists I admire. One such artist is Peter Chen of Jumbotron Art.
As a child of the 70’s and 80’s growing up in Los Angeles, Peter was first drawn to the big sideburns and mustaches of Dodgers like Ron Cey and Davey Lopes, before coming down with an incurable case of Fernandomania in 1981. A true fan of the game, he sees nothing wrong with pulling for both of his hometown teams and I have to agree with him on that point. Today, you’re more apt to catch him at an Angels game watching his favorite player, Mike Trout.
As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, and a Seattle Mariners fan since their inception in 1977, I happen to have a particular – perhaps unnatural fondness for baseball that was played on hard artificial turf, in huge multi-use stadiums, by characters with unruly hair and handlbars, in gaudy, too-tight polyester uniforms.
One of the most iconic features in the stadiums of “That Great Era” (as Peter calls it) of Major League Baseball, were the large “Jumbotron” scoreboards with simple images created from a grid of incandescent light bulbs. This is clearly the main inspiration for Peter’s art, which he began creating in 2012 as an “outlet for personal creativity.”
Since his first image of his old hero Ron Cey, Chen has created hundreds more and continues to explore new techniques, while adding emerging stars in his signature style. The eventual fruit of his labor of love, is his new book “Jumbotron Art – Baseball Portraits by Peter Chen” (2019, Edition One Books).
I recently reached out to Peter to see if he’d be interested in trading one of his books for one of my Curveball Keepsakes hand-braided rope bracelets and was thrilled when he accepted! I had a perfect bracelet for him, made from an authenticated MLB baseball that was pitched by Felix Hernandez of “my” Seattle Mariners to his favorite player, Mike Trout of the LA Angels. He immediately shipped the book and I immediately turned into little kid waiting for Christmas morning. I was truly giddy.
When the book arrived, I did what I do when I open a box of baseball cards… I savored it. Teased myself, really, stretching-out the experience as long as I possibly could. I texted Peter to tell him I got the book and he asked me if I could name the players on the covers, “Most of them” I replied, but soon realized that might not be true. I’d really only studied the 24 images on the front outside cover and had all of them but possibly one, figured out… top left corner…was that Ron LeFlore or Chet Lemon? But as I realized both inside covers were full of more unnamed images, my batting average quickly started dropping. I was still well above the “Mendoza Line” (Mario Mendoza is on Page 64) but nowhere near perfect.
I’m certainly not the first one to get my hands on this book. If you’ve heard of Jumbotron Art before, it might have been from one of the times it’s been featured by Harold Reynolds on the MLB Network. In fact, I recognized the old Mariners 2nd baseman – one of my all-time favorites – right off the bat when I saw him on the back cover, left side, 2nd from the bottom.
I quizzed myself, trying to recall each player as I scanned from one simple monotone image to the next. As I did, I traveled back in time, to the floor of my childhood bedroom. I wasn’t seeing monotone dots…I was seeing the bright splashes of color and wild, hairy characters on my Topps baseball cards, as my 11 year-old self thumbed through a well-worn stack.
I was still just looking at the book’s cover…
Continuing my biblio-foreplay, I then just flipped through a few random pages, abruptly stopping on p. 64/65 – but not for Mendoza and Mr. Met on p. 64. What I saw on the opposite page made me fall right in love with Peter Chen. There in the bottom left-hand corner of p. 65, surrounded by Major Leaguers Kevin Mitchell, Paul Molitor, and Rick Monday, is a Jumbotron portrait of Peter’s Mom.
Besides baseball and a deep admiration of our late mothers, I suspect another thing us two kids of “That Great Era” have in common, is a love of Star Wars because “Mom” is only one of several dozen “easter eggs” in “Jumbotron Art”, including Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and Yoda.
I went to bed after allowing myself only a few more pages, eventually finishing the book of more than 900 images the next day. This was just the first of what will sure to be many leisurely trips down memory lane with Jumbotron Art. There is no doubt in my mind that the corners of this book will soon become worn with love, like those of that old shoebox collection of baseball cards.
Peter’s unique and nostalgic take on 70’s and 80’s baseball and pop culture is an absolute gift to every 50ish year-old “kid” who ever stuck baseball cards in the spokes of their bike or stretched-out their stirrups as far as they possibly could before putting them on.
This old coach is giving you the “Hit and Run” sign. “Jumbtron Art” is a huge HIT and you should RUN to get it before it’s gone. Available now at jumbotronart.com. @JumbotronArt
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