Ripken statue last in series being created for Baltimore Orioles

June 02, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • Toby Mendez stands in front of a sculpture of four Boston Red Sox players. He has been commissioned to sculpt six statues for Baltimore Orioles.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Antonio Tobias “Toby” Mendez has been making a new Cal Ripken Jr. in his studio.

Mendez’s version — in bronze — will be taller than the human version of the Iron Man shortstop and several hundred pounds heavier.

The Ripken statue is the last in a series Mendez is creating for the Baltimore Orioles, who are showcasing them in a newly refurbished outfield area at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The first statue, of Frank Robinson, was unveiled on April 28.

Former Manager Earl Weaver will be next, on June 30, followed by Jim Palmer,  July 14; Eddie Murray, Aug. 11; Ripken, Sept. 6; and Brooks Robinson, Sept. 29.

Although Mendez creates more than just sports art at his studio in southern Washington County, his other large pending project also depicts a legendary athlete — former Boston Celtics basketball star Bill Russell.

Mendez’s work is in prominent places around the nation.

A statue of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall is the centerpiece of Lawyers’ Mall near the State House in Annapolis. A separate Mendez bust made of Marshall is on display at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Mendez created a Mohandas K. Gandhi Memorial that sits in a county office building on Long Island.

And Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan is immortalized in a statue at the Texas Rangers’ ballpark.

“The Teammates,” a Mendez piece outside famous Fenway Park in Boston, depicts four longtime Red Sox teammates and friends, a bond the late best-selling author David Halberstam captured in a book.

Mendez said the Orioles contacted him a few year ago about a Legends series, aware of his Thurgood Marshall pieces and his work for the Red Sox. He was asked to submit a bid.

He came up with iconic poses for each Oriole.

When he was chosen to do the project, the team, the players, their teammates and  families all had chances to review the final design. He asked the Orioles to interpret the action in photos to make sure he was capturing it correctly.

Sometimes, he was asked to tweak the pose to reflect the athlete’s exact mechanics and form.

Mendez said he was intent on getting each person just right. Statues can last longer than stadiums, he noted.

Frank Robinson was so excited to get a statue, he treated the April 28 unveiling as if it were his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Mendez said.

Greg Bader, the director of communications for the Orioles, said the team knew Mendez’s portfolio and liked that he was a Marylander who could help tell a local story.

The Orioles chose New Arts Foundry in Baltimore to cast the sculptures. Bader said that foundry worked on the Babe Ruth statue at Camden Yards and the Johnny Unitas statue at the Baltimore Ravens’ stadium.

Mendez said he grew up watching the Orioles in the 1970s and later saw Ripken play.

“I saw five of the six (in the series) at the height of their career,” he said.

Inspired by sports art

Mendez, 48, can trace the beginning of his career to around the summer of 1978, when he did some drawings of Orioles, including Murray and Weaver.

In his teens, Mendez was inspired by a sports art exhibit at the American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. He was raised by artists — his father, a painter, and his mother, a decorator — and often made things with his hands.

For four summers, he took part in a statewide gifted-and-talented art program as he pursued what he thought would be his career.

After graduating from Boonsboro High School in 1982, he went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

He said his first large-scale sculpture was “A Tribute to the Oyster Tonger” in Calvert County, Md.

That led to other projects, most notably the Thurgood Marshall statue in Annapolis.

Since then, he has created close to 30 monuments in about 15 states, he said.

Some honor social figures and heroes, such as entertainer Danny Thomas at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., or a tribute to veterans in a plaza in Silver Spring, Md.

He also has established himself as a sculptor of sports figures, such as former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, whose statue shows him hoisted by two of his players.

Mendez said he’s particularly fond of telling stories that further the cause of social justice, like the memorial in Massachusetts to bicyclist Major Taylor, who is thought to be the first African-American championship athlete.

Mendez was a finalist for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Bill Russell project connects sports and humanitarianism.

Mendez said Russell, one of the NBA’s all-time greatest players, didn’t want to be honored only for his athletic feats. So, the monument also will highlight his advocacy of human rights and his devotion to being a mentor.

Mendez is working with architect Matthew Oudens on that project. He said he hopes to complete it within a year.

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