A glimpse into baseball history awaits visitors in Omaha at the Baseball Hall of Fame Tour. Fans can check out a hat and jersey worn by Jackie Robinson, the ball Babe Ruth hit for his final Major League home run. Dozens of artifacts and memorabilia are on display at the traveling exhibit. The exhibit is in Omaha during the College World Series and runs daily until June 28th.
The exhibit – sponsored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY – features interactive activities, such as a virtual reality home run derby. My daughter Steph and I each tried our hand at batting. Players wear a set of virtual reality goggles. You hold a small remote unit to kick things off. Then, came the pitches. I cracked a homer on my first pitch. Then, it went downhill quickly. I may have started out in the Majors, but I’m sure by the time I was done, I was off to Class A in the minor leagues. I finished with four home runs. My daughter – the former softball slugger – hit 13 home runs. She got her old batting form back in no time.
Another virtual reality exhibit allows visitors to take part in the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland. You watch the game as a fan at both stadiums and in sports bars. It was a great experience.
The exhibits are set up for people to view items and watch videos or read more information about them. One exhibit featured diversity in baseball. A jersey once worn by the late Roberto Clemente is on display. Clemente died in 1972 in a plane crash during a relief mission to Nicaragua following an earthquake. Major League Baseball renamed its humanitarian award after Clemente. I told Steph how I remembered when it happened and reading about it as a kid.
The diversity exhibit featured a segment on the women’s baseball league during World War II. With so many players serving in the military, baseball owners formed a women’s team. The league was the inspiration for the movie “A League of Their Own.” A suitcase used by Vivian Kellogg during her playing days is featured. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947. He was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers while playing for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues Baseball. A cap he wore during the 1955 World Series is on display. His number – 42 – has been retired by the MLB. It’s worn once a year by all players on Jackie Robinson Day, when teams celebrate the occasion.
Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs during his career. The ball last home run ball he hit is part of the exhibit. The bat used by Fargo’s Roger Maris to set the single season home run record of 61 is next to Ruth’s home run ball. Ruth owned the record at 600 before Maris eclipsed it in 1961. Maris’ mark was passed by Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, but that’s another story for another day (performance enhancing drug era).
The Nebraska-Iowa area was represented at the exhibit, which featured cleats once worn by Bob Feller. Feller – nicknamed “The Heater from Van Meter” – hailed from Van Meter, Iowa, about 20 miles west of Des Moines, along Interstate 80.
Grover Cleveland Alexander had a picture featured among Hall of Fame members, and Billy Southworth’s name was listed on a wall of Hall members. Alexander – who was born in Elba, Nebraska, but lived in nearby St. Paul after his playing career – owns the National League for career shutouts at 90 and is tied for most wins in the NL with 373. Alexander played 1911-30.
Southworth was a player and manager. He had a 14-year on-again, off-again career as a player with teams including the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland. He later managed for eight years with the St. Louis Cardinals (twice) and Boston Braves, winning 1,044 games and two World Series championships. Alexander and Southworth are also enshrined in the Nebraska Museum of Major League Baseball in St. Paul.
Visitors to the Hall of Fame of exhibit can also watch a 12-minute movie about the American game on a portable IMAX screen. The Aaron Paul-narrated movie highlights Americans love for baseball.
The Hall of Fame Tour exhibit is open 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily until June 28th at the CenturyLink Arena, near TD Ameritrade Park. For more information and ticket prices, please visit www.baseballhall.org.