Treading on 'Sacred Ground'

Treading on 'Sacred Ground'

COOPERSTOWN -- Baseball fans can add another stop to their ballpark tour schedule -- the Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.

In "Sacred Ground," the newest exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the special connection fans feel to their favorite ballparks is celebrated through sights, sounds, and even smells. The exhibit officially opened Sunday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony that highlighted Ballparks Weekend at the museum.

"Sacred Ground" features more than 200 artifacts and numerous interactive displays in 1,800 square feet of exhibit space on the museum's third floor. The artifacts span more than 125 years of baseball history, dating back to the era of wooden ballparks in the 19th century.

"Growing up in Detroit, Tiger Stadium was like a second home to me," Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey said. "It was where my friends and family came together. It was where we celebrated, where we built memories, and saw bits of history play out on a field of green. This exhibit captures that magical connection that forms between fans and their ballpark. These places are never to be forgotten, and through 'Sacred Ground,' they will always be remembered."

Among the most notable artifacts in the exhibit: a scoreboard "pinwheel" from the original Comiskey Park's exploding scoreboard, which was installed by innovative owner Bill Veeck; a turnstile from the storied Polo Grounds; the cornerstone from famed Ebbets Field; Walter Johnson's locker from Griffith Stadium; and the on-deck circle from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, on which some of the game's greatest legends once knelt.

The entrance to the exhibit features several famous fans from various ballparks, crafted from papier-mache. The fans include Hilda Chester, the famous Dodger fan who rang her cowbell to support her beloved Dodgers for more than three decades, starting in the 1920s; as well as Pearl Sandow, who attended every professional baseball game played in Atlanta (except one) for 55 years, beginning in 1934. A ticket booth that was used for 50 years in Yankee Stadium also stands at the entrance, dating back to 1923, when "The House That Ruth Built" first opened.

The exhibit is organized into six overall themed sections: Fans, Ballpark Business, Evolution of the Ballpark, The Stadium World, Reverence, and Ballpark Entertainment.

The exhibit is organized into six overall themed sections: Fans, Ballpark Business, Evolution of the Ballpark, The Stadium World, Reverence, and Ballpark Entertainment.

In "Fans," visitors can view artifacts related to cheering for their favorite team, such as fan-made signs, team buttons, banners, the Angels' "Rally Monkey," and more. A display on ballpark concessions allows the visitor to feel how heavy a vendor's tray is, and to enjoy the familiar ballpark smell of hot dogs and popcorn. Exhibits on ballpark giveaways (bats, baseball-shaped radios, bobbleheads, and Rubik's Cube, to name a few) and scorekeeping (a 1913 guide on how to keep score, and the microphone used by Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard, in addition to others) are also featured.

"Ballpark Business" examines the financial side of ballparks and the game. Several tickets and season passes are displayed, as well as special fan-friendly areas of ballparks, like the picnic tables at old Comiskey Park and hot tubs and luxury boxes.

Visitors can follow the progression of ballpark construction in "Evolution of the Ballpark," which tells the story of nearly every major ballpark since the wooden construction age, through photos and artifacts, including bricks from many parks no longer standing.

Artifacts that have a direct connection to the playing field are displayed in "The Stadium World." Fans can see a bat rack from Yankee Stadium, home plate from Candlestick Park (on which Willie Mays set a National League record for runs scored), bases from Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Stadium and Dodger Stadium (stolen by Rickey Henderson and Maury Wills to set records), and a pitching rubber from Allie Reynolds' 1951 no-hit game in Yankee Stadium, signed by his teammates.

The section of the exhibit titled "Reverence" pays tribute to the way fans and teams honor and preserve ballparks, and the deep connection that often materializes between fans and their parks. Artifacts include a "Save Tiger Stadium" bumper sticker, "No Lights in Wrigley Field" placard, and photos of statues that are located in several Major League parks.

Some of the exhibit's most imposing artifacts are in "Ballpark Entertainment," where fans can see the full size "Philly Phanatic" costume, one of the eight pinwheels that stood atop the exploding scoreboard at old Comiskey Park and lit up with 384 lights, and the blue outfield wall padding from deep center field (marked with "440") at Tiger Stadium.

"Sacred Ground" also features several interactive exhibits, including a virtual tour of South End Grounds in Boston, which, before burning down, hosted Major League Baseball from 1888 to 1894 and featured the beautiful "Grand Pavilion." Visitors can "walk through" this lost treasure by viewing an enormous 14-by-8-foot curved screen.

A pair of seats from Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, former home of the Phillies, provide the perfect photo opportunity, adjacent to wrought-iron fencing from Chicago's Comiskey Park.

The exhibit is open to all museum patrons at no additional cost and includes a special interactive section dedicated to music at the ballpark, where visitors can hear the distinctive sounds from various ballparks and even learn the history of the classic baseball song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

"I love it. It brings back a lot of memories of parks I've been to or seen on television and in photos," said Liam Elliott, a fan visiting the museum with his family, from Des Moines, Iowa. "This is the perfect place to remember the parks that are gone, and honor the parks we all love today."

Dan Holmes is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.