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Sunday, September 26, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Major League Baseball

Seattle artist will honor Mays' catch

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle artist Thom Ross was just 2 years old when Willie Mays made his legendary catch at the Polo Grounds in New York off Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series.

Yet Ross views The Catch as one of his essential reference points. It's an achievement he says he has been trying to live up to his entire life.

"It's an allegory of the pursuit of something impossible," said Ross, who grew up in Sausalito, Calif., as a Mays fan and moved to Ballard 13 years ago.

Next Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of Mays' catch, and Ross is commemorating it in dazzling fashion. He and partner Guy Watkins have created a sequence of five larger-than-life cutout drawings depicting the catch, and they plan to set them up at various locales in New York this week.

It is a reprise of a piece of art Ross created in 1984 that was displayed in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, where it caught the eye of a New Jersey doctor, who purchased it and now houses the piece.

Ross, whose sculpture of Ken Griffey Jr. scoring the clinching run of the 1995 AL Division Series is displayed at Safeco Field, decided he couldn't let the 50th anniversary of The Catch pass without recreating his artwork.

So he decided to do a "new and better version," and after a test run a couple of weeks ago at Gas Works Park, he's taking it on the road. Yesterday, he was to have set it up at Willie Mays Park in Harlem, located on the spot where Mays made the catch. Tomorrow and Tuesday, they will put the artwork on display in a variety of spots in Central Park. And on Wednesday, the anniversary, they will take it to Rockefeller Center.

"I love the idea of what art does," Ross said. "It's not that art is so good and important, but that people react to it. I want people coming up to it, talking about it, about what New York was like in the '50s."

Ross — whose next project is a depiction of Custer's Last Stand, which he plans to display on the actual battlefield — hopes to attract the interest of the New York media. He wouldn't even mind if David Letterman's show gets involved.

"To me, it's a win-win," Ross said. "If it helps my career, that's good. If it helps people to think about Willie Mays, that's good; and if instills pride in America, that's good."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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