Ten years before the first Little League® game was played, the cover of the Saturday Evening Post featured a father and son playing ball.
The artwork for the Post cover on June 1, 1929, originally titled “Batter Up” and later renamed “Dad at Bat,” was painted in oil on canvas by Alan Stephens Foster, a contemporary of Norman Rockwell and fellow master of American Illustration Art. Mr. Foster’s 40 covers for the Saturday Evening Post are second-most only to Mr. Rockwell himself.
The whimsical painting shows the father in a bowlegged stance as he waits for a pitch from an unseen hurler, a wide grin on his face, a wooden bat in his hands. He’s wearing a vest, a bright red tie, and a fedora hat.
His son, the catcher, is in a high crouch, smiling behind his mask and mitt. He’s wearing a white shirt with red suspenders, knee breeches, and argyle socks.
“Home plate” appears to be a piece of rumpled newspaper on a sandlot ballfield.
That original painting, which had been displayed for a number of years in the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum prior to its 2013 renovations, has since been rediscovered in the archives. It was sent away for conservation earlier this year, and will re-debut on Father’s Day, June 19, at the museum.
Tom Daly, Curator of Education at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., will be on hand at noon to discuss Mr. Rockwell’s interest in baseball, and the sometimes mystical connections baseball provides between fathers and sons (and daughters). He will show Rockwell’s work and the work of other American illustrators that helped us form the idea that baseball is a family game.
“It is hard to image the 20th century without thinking about the illustrators who captured the spirit of that time period,” said Mr. Daly. “Norman Rockwell’s paintings showed us to ourselves. In the early years we saw children playing baseball and in later years we see how baseball brought kids together – just as Little League captures those same feelings of comradery today.”
Also on Father’s Day, all dads will be admitted free to the World of Little League Museum. And for the third consecutive year, fathers/mothers and their sons/daughters who tour the museum will have the opportunity to play catch on the playing surface of Lamade Stadium – site of the annual Little League Baseball® World Series – from 1 to 4 p.m.
Alan Foster, born in 1892 in Fulton, N.Y., graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Art, along with future movie star Edward G. Robinson. After a brief acting career, he turned to painting. He died in 1969.
The museum also will debut a letter from the boy in the painting. John L. Foster, Alan Foster’s son, at age 13, posed as the model for the catcher at the artist’s studio in New York City. John L. Foster, born in 1916, passed away in 2009.
The letter from John Foster was sent to Little League in 1984, when the painting was donated to the museum by H.C. Sallee of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It is not known if the father in the painting is the artist himself, or some other model. An original copy of the June 1, 1929 Saturday Evening Post will be displayed with the painting.
“It was an amazing discovery of something that was there all along,” said Lance Van Auken, Little League Vice President and Museum Executive Director. “We were working in the museum archives and noticed the painting in a corner. I had remembered seeing it before, years ago. So we did some research on it, including our document archives. Once we knew what we had, we sent it away for evaluation and conservation.”
The painting had developed some minor damage over more than eight decades, with some paint beginning to lift from the surface of the canvas. A film of discolored varnish covered it. The frame, original from 1929, was removed and rebuilt using the original wood.
“The conservation process took some time,” said Mr. Van Auken. “But now ‘Dad at Bat’ is back home, is stunning, and ready to be seen by the public. In terms of American Illustration Art, this really is a masterpiece.”
Although not as well-known as Mr. Rockwell, Alan Foster’s work appeared in and on the covers of dozens of magazines starting in the 1920s. However, very few of his original artworks for the Saturday Evening Post are believed to exist.
And while youth sports was a frequent subject of Mr. Foster’s work, “Dad at Bat” may only be one of two such paintings known in the world.
The Post was the first national magazine to reach a weekly subscription of three million, and by 1959 its circulation had grown to over six million. It was an article in the May 14, 1949 Post regarding a fledgling youth sports program called Little League that helped propel the organization into American homes like nothing else could have.
The World of Little League: Peter J. McGovern Museum and Official Store, 525 Montgomery Pike (U.S. Route 15), is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. General admission is $5. It is $2 for children (ages 5 through 12) and $3 for senior citizens (ages 62 and older). Children four and younger are admitted free of charge.
Additional information about the museum, events, and its inclement weather schedule can be found at LittleLeagueMuseum.org or by contacting the Museum at 570-326-3607. Follow World of Little League on Facebook and Twitter.