Staging a baseball-themed art show is not just a gimmick to muscle his namesake gallery into the Twins' spotlight, insists Minneapolis art dealer Thomas Barry.

No way. After all, "Going Yard!" (opening Friday) is the gallery's second tribute to the national sport, following a similar show about five years ago. Lots of top-name artists have done baseball art, from Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg to Nicholas Africano and Elaine de Kooning. Writers from Ernest Hemingway to Garrison Keillor have weighed in.

"And with the new stadium three blocks away, it's a natural," Barry said. "This exhibition is about welcoming our new neighbors to the 'hood."

Everyone, it seems, got into the game. Many of the 18 artists made new pieces especially for the show. Both Walker Art Center and the University of Minnesota's Weisman Art Museum lent historic art. Walker director Olga Viso is so excited about the project that when it was mentioned during an office lunch recently, she immediately turned on her computer and summoned a screen full of ball-themed pieces owned by the Walker and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

"Of all the sports you can really embrace in Minnesota, it's the Twins," said Barry. "They've been rock solid for a long time, a community-based team with no superstar egos to wreck their reputation."

Inspired by the game

"Going Yard!" is an eclectic collection of paintings, sculpture and photos by mostly Midwestern artists. The Walker's contribution, "A Hit," is a sunny 1940s painting by Mervin Jules of a batter streaking toward first base in an open-air stadium. "Act of Courage," from the Weisman, is a more dramatic image of teammates running toward an injured pitcher who has fallen onto the mound in a crowded stadium. With the game momentarily stopped and all attention on the pitcher, the catcher has ripped off his mask and the crowd is going wild, tossing a cascade of programs and beverage cups out of the stands. Just shy of 3 feet long, the beautifully detailed 1946 painting by Robert Riggs packs the emotional intensity and monumentality of a billboard-sized mural.

Other pieces are in a range of styles. Glenn Grafelman produced two abstract photograms that incorporate shadows of a baseball player figurine from the top of a bottle of shaving lotion. Wisconsin sculptor Don Gahr carved a wooden bas relief of a pitcher throwing a ball. On a stroll along Minnehaha Creek, photographer John Kohring noticed an American flag proudly hanging from a baseball bat. Conceptual painter David Lefkowitz distorts baseball's familiar diamond-shaped fields into surrealistic -- but still recognizable -- patterns of green and dirt-brown. Judy Onofrio concocted a sculpture from a bat, and Thomas Allen cut characters from baseball cards and folded them into dynamic scenes that he then photographed.

Fan fun

Barry and gallery assistant Amy Aaron even tossed their own art into the game. Aaron photographed a worn baseball glove from many angles and arranged five of the images into a 360-degree panorama, as if the glove were a vast landscape. Barry noticed that the names of many major league ball players include a color -- Vida Blue, Lenny Green, Mike Redmond -- and decided to compile the names into an abstraction. He spent weeks researching and sifting through thousands of names, scribbling lists of them over his morning coffee.

"I just wanted to see how the colors would come out," he said, "But along the way I learned a lot about baseball. Like that Blackie Schwamb was the only guy in the major leagues who also did time for murder" and went on to be the greatest pitcher in prison league history.

Arranged in alphabetical order, the selected names -- nearly 290 of them -- are printed in gray with the color portion of the words represented by a bar of appropriate hue. The result is a quiltlike pattern that's surprisingly strong on brown, white, red and pink.

It turns out that there are "just tons of guys with the name 'red' in major league baseball," Barry said.

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431