The RIBBE Takes A Road Trip To Cooperstown, NY – Part 5, The Then And Now Of Baseball

As I was photographing and cataloguing Rhode Island references in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I could not help but stop at just about every single exhibit to read up on the then and now of baseball. The Baseball Hall of Fame staff has done a masterful job of preserving baseball’s history, telling the stories both positive and negative about its roots, and showcasing the people, teams, places, and events which make it the game it is today. From scorecards and trading cards in the late 1800s through the racial tension of the Jackie Robinson, Henry Aaron and Larry Doby years and into the topic of steroids in more modern times, the Hall has done an honest job of portraying just what baseball was like during those various times. The nearly century and and a half history of baseball is not always pretty, sometimes it is downright ugly and disgusting. The Baseball Hall, in my opinion, recognizes this and did an incredible job educating me on the adversity, the struggles, the triumphs, the hardships, and the glory of the game of baseball with its colorful and informative exhibits. Here are several that caught my eye as I toured the National Baseball Hall of Fame recently:

This exhibit labeled “Today’s Game” features the Boston City Connect yellow jersey of SS Xander Bogaerts along with the mask worn by Dr. Fauci to throw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals home game.

Fantasy sports and sports betting is becoming increasingly popular in sports like baseball. With fantasy sports, you can build a team online and pretend to be a general manager or field manager making important team decisions.

Mo’ne Davis (jersey #3) captured the national spotlight in the 2014 Little League World Series. Davis was a star, everyone knew it and she continues to shine brightly at Hampton University in Virginia.

Tim Wakefield’s Boston Red Sox jersey and Dave Robert’s shoes worn in a historic 2004 campaign. One that created unimaginable buzz and excitement for Boston Red Sox fans throughout the globe, their first World Series title in 86 years. As the great Joe Castiglione trumpeted, “Can you believe it!?!”

Up for debate, if anyone is interested, I believe Greg Maddux is the greatest pitcher of all time. He won Cy Young awards, Gold Gloves, befuddled hitters, frustrated sluggers, and threw strike after strike for over two decades without peer. Here are his shoes. His plaque is on the first floor of the Hall of Fame.

So many experts, former and current players alike have championed the multiple sport approach to youth athletics. Playing different sports with different intensities and different ranges of motion gives an athlete a decided edge (physically and emotionally) over the single sport athlete in my opinion, and many others as well.

I did a story this summer on LaSalle Academy’s Kayla Baptista, who credits Rachel Balkovec, a minor league hitting instructor with the New York Yankees, as one of her inspirations. Here is Rachel Balkovec’s cap and story that inspires women to pursue coaching, general manager and other organizational positions in all levels of baseball.

Baseball For All is “a 501(c)3 nonprofit that builds gender equity in baseball by providing girls with opportunities to play, coach, and lead in the sport.” The Pawtucket Slaterettes Girls Baseball Team has recently competed in Baseball For All Tournaments nationally.

Stacked VCR cassettes of baseball movies, like “Field of Dreams” and “The Sandlot” are on display next to the book that inspired a generation to believe “if you build it, they will come.”

Grand stand cushions for sale, get your grand stand cushion. Just a nickel folks, comfort at the ball park for a mere 5 cents. Who wants one?

What more can be written about recent Hall of Fame inductee Derek Jeter? How about that Jeter has the respect of the fan base of his archrival Boston Red Sox. And that Jeter, post playing career, continues to a positive influence in the game of baseball, recently hiring the first female General Manager in MLB history, Kim Ng. The Hall did a nice job with this DJ exhibit.

For me, the Henry Aaron exhibit was the most honest, informative, emotional of all the exhibits I read through. Aaron’s stellar playing career, his brilliant post season front office and organizational roles, and his place in history would not have been possible if not for his strong moral character on and off the field. Dealing with racism at a very scary level, Aaron overcame more obstacles than most ballplayers of his era to shine brighter than the sun!

Having been to Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park for close to 4 decades, this red seat in the right field bleachers never gets old. I have sat in this seat, shown my kids this seat, and just continue to marvel at the greatness of Ted Williams and his hitting brilliance.

This was a really cool section of the Hall which featured a locker room style exhibit for each Major League Baseball team. Inside each locker was game used jerseys, hats, bats, cleats, and score cards, like this locker filled with awesome Red Sox player items.

Featured in the “Art of Baseball” gallery was this amazing portrait of “Smokey” Joe Williams. Williams was a Negro League Pitcher and superstar who many consider to be on par (or even better) than the great Satchel Paige.

Three floors of exhibits, art galleries, lockers, video screens, hidden drawers of baseball cards and glass cases filled with baseball history past and present – this just begins to define the wonder of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The educational exhibits on the Negro Leagues, the influence of Latin American players, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, how Tommy John surgery is performed, the Steroid Era, baseball before the turn of the 20th century, the stats room, how the rules of baseball came to be – every inch of the National Baseball Hall of Fame is covered with amazing baseball artifacts that demand your attention. I caught myself wanting to take picture after picture then paused, put my camera away, and just read and soaked in the captions and the newspaper clippings and the exhibit descriptions.

If you take the time to read and immerse yourself in the work the Baseball Hall of Fame staff has presented, you will be rewarded with an incredible day of baseball experiences. The exhibits are easy to view with special spotlights inside the cases, pieces are clearly marked and an accompanying description is located at the base of each exhibit case. There is a ton to see but you need to see it all to appreciate the true history of baseball. Despite part of my focus on the Rhode Island connection to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I was so thrilled to read and learn about the game’s colorful history, its shortfalls and triumphs, who has made a lasting impact on the game on and off the field, and where the game of baseball is headed.

Stay tuned for the next installment in my series of articles on the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where I feature some of my favorite baseball players enshrined in the first floor plaque room. Hint, a few of them played for the Boston Red Sox!!!

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The RIBBE is The Rhode Island Baseball Experience. It is promoting the game of baseball here in the great state of Rhode Island for the entire baseball world to see. The RIBBE is positive stories, photos, videos, and responsible social media posts. The RIBBE is an information resource for families looking for an AAU team or a summer camp or a great place to buy a first baseman’s mitt. The RIBBE is a network of coaches, tournament directors, parents, leagues, and baseball junkies whose passion of the game of baseball is unquestioned. I believe that providing expert analysis, information and directions to ballfields, and coaching advice from some of the top RI baseball minds will help promote the game of baseball here in RI to a whole new level.

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