Hall of Fame Tour stops filled with baseball history
Now in Milwaukee, the traveling Cooperstown experience has visits planned to four more major cities in 2016
By Joe Sparacio
MLB's Hall of Fame Tour has hit the road for its cross-country trip, and the destinations planned are oozing with baseball culture and history.
The Tour kicked off on July 3 at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa, where fans got the first glimpse of the state-of-the-art baseball experience. Davenport is a mere 90 minutes south of the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, where Commissioner Rob Manfred unveiled the plans for the traveling exhibit, becoming the first active Commissioner to make a pilgrimage to the storied location.
In addition to making the announcement and playing with local kids on the field, the Commissioner spent some time touring the home of fictional character Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner.
The Tour currently resides at Miller Park, the Brewers' home in Milwaukee, Wis., a city that once boasted maybe the best player the game has ever seen. Before the Milwaukee Brewers got their namesake, they were known as the Braves, and in 1954, they called up a little-known rookie from Mobile, Ala., who tallied an unassuming 13 homers in his first 122 games. In the 22 years that followed, Hank Aaron would average 34 homers per season for a total of 755, en route to a first-ballot Hall of Fame induction.
Although Hammerin' Hank no longer patrols the outfield, his legend lives on, and Tour-goers have the opportunity to view a relic from his career in the very city he debuted; Aaron's 714th home run ball, which tied a 39-year-old record set by Babe Ruth, is one of 45 artifacts on the Hall of Fame Tour.
Following Milwaukee, the Tour stops at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Can you name any city that has reached a higher pinnacle of baseball euphoria this decade? A rejuvenated energy now occupies The K, as fans come out to support the reigning world champion Royals. After the club appeared in back-to-back World Series and finally ended a 30-year title drought last season, fans in Kansas City have a renewed pep in their step.
George Brett is the only player to enter Cooperstown wearing blue and gold after spending all 21 years of his career with the club, but that doesn't mean the franchise lacks in historic moments. In fact, Royals fans witnessed one of the most dominant Fall Classic performances of all time just over three decades ago, as a 21-year-old Bret Saberhagen earned MVP honors in the 1985 World Series after hurling two complete games, including a decisive Game 7 victory, and allowing just one run in total.
Despite the Royals' recent postseason success, over the last decade and a half, the Cardinals may lay claim to the title of most dominant franchise in the Majors. Since 2000, the club has missed the playoffs just four times, and has made it to the NLCS or farther an astounding nine times, taking home two titles in the process. It's only fitting, then, that the Tour stops in St. Louis.
Baseball is as much a part of the city's history as the Mississippi River. For reference, St. Louis's iconic Gateway Arch was completed in 1965. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis was built in 1914. The St. Louis Cardinals? Established in 1892.
The Redbirds are well represented on the Tour, starting with baseball legend Stan Musial. The Hall-of-Fame outfielder played in an astounding 24 All-Star Games during his 22-year career with the Cardinals, and retired in 1963 holding a litany of National League records, including games played (3,026), hits (3,630), runs scored (1,949) and RBI (1,951). Sure enough, you can find the cap from his final game on Sept. 29, 1963, in the exhibit. Stan the Man isn't the only St. Louis icon celebrated on the Tour, though. Harry Caray's glasses, which gave the famous former broadcaster his signature look, are on display, as well. And the jersey that David Freese's Cardinals teammates ripped off his back after he hit a Game 6-winning, solo home run in the 2011 World Series is proudly featured, representing the modern era.
Following the Gateway to the West, the traveling baseball experience then heads to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., located just 20 minutes south of Target Field in Minneapolis, home of the Minnesota Twins. Three Minnesota natives have their busts in Cooperstown -- Chief Bender, Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield -- and Molitor is now managing a young, hungry Twins team.
The final stop on MLB's Hall of Fame Tour this year is the Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nev. Although Las Vegas isn't home to any Major League team, it's still a premier breeding ground for Big League pedigree. In fact, two Las Vegas natives took home some of MLB's biggest honors last season: Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant hit nearly 30 homers and 100 RBI to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award, while Nationals slugger Bryce Harper secured the NL MVP Award in an unprecedented unanimous vote. The duo even used to play together in Las Vegas youth leagues. "When we were younger, we used to call him silk because he was so smooth with everything he did," Harper said of Bryant.
And while the city doesn't boast a Big League fanbase, it is home to the Las Vegas 51s, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets. Some of baseball's best have passed through Cashman Field wearing a Las Vegas jersey, including Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar and Tony Gwynn, Managers Bruce Bochy and Ozzie Guillen, and current Major League sluggers Edwin Encarnacion, Matt Kemp and Russell Martin. Does Las Vegas have more baseball history than meets the eye? You can bet on it.
Experience all that Cooperstown has to offer for yourself. After leaving Milwaukee on July 31, MLB's Hall of Fame Tour will visit Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City from Aug. 5-21, Ballpark Village in St. Louis from Aug. 26 to Sept. 11, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., from Sept. 16-29 and the Las Vegas Convention Center from Oct. 7-23. Visit halloffametour.com for more information.
Joe Sparacio is a reporter for Major League Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.