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A Visit to the National Ballpark Museum

[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry from longtime Uni Watch pal Rob Ullman — that’s him at right — who’s going to fill us in on a baseball museum that I hadn’t even heard of before. Enjoy. — Paul]

By Rob Ullman

My pal Aaron Black and I booked a trip out to Denver last July, intending to climb a fourteener (Gray’s Peak, in this case), check out some breweries, and take in a Rockies game at Coors Field. We did all that, plus we managed to find an amazing little surprise a block away from the stadium: the National Ballpark Museum, whose stated goal is to honor the 13 “classics” constructed between 1909-1915, along with Yankee Stadium (built in 1923). It’s not a big space — only a few hundred square feet — but it still has an extremely impressive collection of memorabilia and artifacts.

We visited on a sleepy Tuesday afternoon, with a small group only seven or eight tourists. It was like walking through a baseball-themed antiques store, with ephemera displayed in every direction — pennants, programs, bobbleheads and small models of all the original parks. The museum’s manager, Raelee Frazier, walked us around the space and provided a comprehensive explanation of the collection’s many highlights, and was also knowledgeable about the other items we asked about.

Among the highlights (for all photos, you can click to enlarge):

•  These small models were very helpful in envisioning the footprints of these old parks. I found the one for the Polo Grounds (shown at far-left) especially eye-opening, as I’d never realized just how preposterously shaped it was for baseball. Damn thing was essentially a bathtub!

•  Here’s Johnny Bench’s locker key and a doorknob from Crosley Field in Cincinnati. I love the “CF” insignia on the knob:

•  There were seats from each of the old parks as wel, many of them with ornamental metalwork on the side. I always enjoy seeing touches like that. These two are from the Polo Grounds (“NY”) and Crosley Field (Reds wishbone-C):

•  We all know that a lot of balls are hit against the Green Monster at Fenway Park. But this panel, pockmarked with dents, shows just how much abuse the wall takes:

•  Here’s a drain cover from Yankee Stadium, which may have been the one that Mickey Mantle tripped over in the 1951 World Series, badly injuring his knee and sabotaging his career.

•  Wow: an unused ticket to Game Seven of the 1960 World Series at Forbes Field, famously won in walk-off fashion by the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski. Somebody really missed out! They keep a small piece of cloth over this ticket to prevent it from fading, only removing the cloth to show guests.

•  Also from Forbes Field: one of the actual arched windows from the entrance area of the park. That’s me on the left, with Aaron next to me.

•  This usher’s uniform from Fenway park was a hoot. It’s difficult to imagine such formality these days.

There was also an extensive collection of uniforms, game-used baseballs, and signage relating to the Denver Bears, who played in Denver from 1955 through 1992. (Denver became a big league town in 1993, when the Rockies had their inaugural season.) Seeing the chain-stitched sleeve patch and striped stirrups on this Bears uniform — a “centennial throwback” worn in 1959 — was almost worth the price of admission alone!

You really get the feeling that what is on display is just the tip of curator Bruce Hellerstein’s sports memorabilia iceberg. Towards the end of the tour, I asked if he had any pieces from the other Denver teams — specifically, a pair of the Broncos’ infamous vertically striped socks. Sadly, he did not — but he did have an authentic orange-striped AFL referee’s jersey:

All in all, the National Ballpark Museum is a must-see for any baseball fan visiting Denver, and as perfect a companion to a game at Coors Field as I can imagine.

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The Ticker
By Alex Hider

Baseball News:  Here are a bunch of new MLB sock styles that Stance is planning for this season (from Ryan Lindemann). …  Braves catcher Matt Foley has a  pretty incredible batt knob decal  based on a classic Chris Farley sketch (from  Michael McGivern). … Black-on-black matchup between the Giants and White Sox yesterday (from BB). …  A new book about Casey Stengel is set to be released this week, and the publisher didn’t play favorites with the cover. Stengel is wearing a Mets cap  in the original photo, but it’s  conveniently cropped  on the cover so as to not upset Yankees fans. … MLB The Show 17, a video game, put buttons on some retro and fauxback unis that should be pullovers (from Robert Hayes). … Chicago-based TV station WGN is trolling Cubs opponents by photoshopping their logos (from Jennifer Hayden). …  Noah Petro  asks what is written on the brim of Mariano Rivera’s cap  in this photo. According to this blog post, it probably says “God bless.” … Texas wore some juicy throwbacks yesterday. They even paired them with  burnt orange batting helmets. According to Paul Kennedy, the Longhorns usually wear white.  … Lots and lots of stripes in this game between Wyoming and Colorado State (from  Chris Ruebel). …  Nice striped stirrups for Ole Miss softball yesterday (from  Derek Brownlee).

Pro and College Football News: Looks like these are the caps that players will wear on the sidelines this upcoming season (from  Moe Khan). …  Cool move by Packers TE Martellus Bennett, who will donate all the money he makes from his jersey sales. … Penn Station in NYC isn’t the first place one would think to find cufflinks, but a shop called Tiecoon has some cool cufflinks with classic NFL team logos (from  Robert Brashear). …   A BYU player was spotted wearing a jersey with a  2015 Miami Beach Bowl patch during the team’s spring game (from  Ben Knudsen). … Lots of uniform number changes for Arkansas.

Hockey News:  Nice look back at the soon to be demolished Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit ”” especially a passage that mentions how the team used the old wooden boards to its advantage (from  Tris Wykes).

Basketball News:  You how it’s really satisfying when two players with well-matched NOBs stand next to each other? Here’s the uni-design version of that (from  Hit The Glass). …  South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell (No. 0) lost his NCAA patch at some point during the game against Florida yesterday. There are shots of him  with the patch on  earlier in the game (from Casey Hart). … North Carolina had Jordan-branded Final Four caps yesterday (from Matt Estreich). … Although South Carolina is an Under Armour school, their Final Four shirts were made by Nike (from Chris). … Speaking of South Carolina, Gamecocks  coach Frank Martin was wearing an  Under Armour lapel pin  during a presser this weekend (from  Liby Tanner). … Has anyone else ever noticed that the striping on Kentucky’s ’92 jerseys and pants doesn’t match up? (From Patrick Gretzinger).

Grab Bag:  Curling with old cars? Sure, why not (from Tommy). … Adidas’ newest golf shoe is inspired by a classic from the Masters: the pimento cheese sandwich. The sock liner has a pimento cheese sandwich pattern, and the shoes come in a plastic green bag ”” just like the sandwich. … The Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League wore  black camo unis this weekend against the Rochester Knighthawks, who wore white camo. More on that here (from  Nick Virgilio  and  Wade Heidt). … The Colorado Mammoth of the NLL wore special jerseys for “Lacrosse Out Cancer.” The NOB  on top is the name of a person currently battling cancer, the NOB on bottom is the name of the player (also from Wade Heidt). …  Wareham High School in Massachusetts uses a logo inspired by the Minnesota Vikings (from  Paul Cafasso).

Comments (52)

    Curling with old cars? Carling! Do any of those cars have dashboard cameras so we can see action from the cars’ perspective? Because in post-Soviet Russia, cars watch you.

    Further to the Colorado Mammoth post, the name on the back is someone who was personally affected by cancer. The name is selected by the winning bidder for the jersey. Can be the name of someone who has passed away:

    link

    Players wore helmets that were designed by pediatric cancer patients at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. Each child whose art was featured received a helmet from the team.

    Cool piece on the ballpark museum.

    But isn’t it a bit of an exaggeration to say that the drain cover “destroyed Mickey Mantle’s career” when he went on to play 18 more seasons?

    It doesn’t say “destroyed,” Dan. It says, “sabotaged.”

    Your basic point is a good one, or at least worthy of discussion. Why would you undermine it by exaggerating like that?

    I think it is well documented that the Mick was never as fast again after that injury so I would agree with the description of sabotaged to some extent. You could also say Mick himself sabotaged his own career with his lifestyle. Even so- he did still hit 536 homers.

    I’m also in awe at the detail to which the ground crew went using the interlocked NY on a drain cover. WOW.

    I always pictured the drain cover as a simple grate. Always trying to figure out whether a spike caught or he merely slipped. After seeing it- I understand.

    Ah, so it does. I thought Dan was commenting on Rob’s text (which says “sabotaged”), not the museum placard (which says “destroyed”). Thank you for helping to clarify that.

    Yikes! Seeing that drain cover, and knowing what happened to Mickey Mantle, would be enough to put the fear of drains in anyone. Here I was, thinking the outfield in a big league park would be so smooth. You would be less likely to hide something like that on an artificial surface.

    The Blue Jays had a player injured in spring training a couple years ago when they stepped on a sprinkler head while running.

    On the rays fauxback sleeve stripes, the columbia blue middle stripe is the same width size as the two navy blue stripes. The game has the middle stripe way to wide.

    What makes me scratch my head is – Sony spends all that time with stats and player attributes- getting the the game as realistic as possible. They even go to great extents to get the player looks right. Yet they can’t take the time to police the graphics and make the uniforms look authentic.

    Thanks for the meseum visit, Rob! As if anyone needs an additional reason to visit Denver. Great town, and now planning a return trip is even more imperative.

    Y’know, I never gave Denver a lot of thought, but my friend Aaron there in the photo suggested we make that trip out and I came around pretty quick. So glad I did, it was just an amazing few days…the mountains, the views, the hikes, the beers, the…um, other things…Hell of a nice little break from reality.

    Another little tidbit about the trip, if you’ll indulge me…we went to a Rockies game the day we arrived, a Saturday, and got there a little early so we could get our Star Wars bobbleheads and see some BP. Sadly, none of the Braves’ hitters gave us much to catch, thin Colorado air nonwithstanding. Then, there were a couple of rain delays…meaning that by the time the game ended, we’d been at the park for over six hours. Which, I must admit, I didn’t mind at all! I’d never been to Coors before, and who knows when I will again, so it was great to actually be IN the park for a good bit of time, look at the signage and stylistic touches, not to mention hang out at the rooftop bar and enjoy the spectacular views. So often when I go to a ballpark, it seems like I’m in and out so quick you I have a chance to appreciate it on a closer level. Just another of the circumstances that made the trip so great.

    That ballpark museum is great, for NYC area fans check out Foleys on 33/6, lots of uniforms & memorabilia. The burgers are good too.

    “Basketball News: You how it’s really satisfying when two players with well-matched NOBs stand next to each other?”
    This should be in the “Pro and College Football News:”

    Love the museum piece. I collect miniature buildings and have a bunch of those little stadiums like in the picture.

    Those little stadiums look like Danbury Mint stadium replicas. I don’t believe they are sold anymore. I also have a few of them.

    I think they are probably Danbury Mint. I just looked at mine. Some are by “sports collectors guild” and were made in Arizona. Those are very nice with great detail but the Danbury Mint ones are a bit better.

    The picture of the AFL ref’s top is killing me! Wear gloves, people! If you don’t wear gloves those artifacts won’t be around for future generations to enjoy.

    Dude, chill, people wear and wash vintage clothing older than that ref jersey every day and it doesn’t fall apart. Clothes (and pretty much everything else) were made to last back in the day. I know a girl who wears original Victorian dresses from the 1800’s on a regular basis and they hold up very well.

    I am with Nate on this one, museum artifacts should not be handled by the general public.

    My heart skipped a beat when I saw that picture of the arched window. At first glance it looked like Rob and Aaron were on the sixth floor of the Schoolbook Depository in Dallas.

    Just wanted to let you know that the site got a mention on the World Football Phone In on BBC radio the other night. Pretty cool!

    Enjoyed Rob’s report on his visit to the ballpark museum. If the Polo Grounds was a bathtub, then renovated Yankee Stadium was a bedpan, or so me and my peers thought back in high school, as we imagined a certain teacher using it as such. The same can be said for renovated Soldier Field. If only the Bears could have moved to Comiskey Park (old or new), but I fear they would eventually been steered to Soldier Field anyway.

    Admittedly nitpicky point: The last iteration of the Denver Bears played in 1984, not 1993. The Bears organization that formed in 1955 held the name through the ’84 season, then renamed itself to the Denver Zephyrs for 1985. When the Rockies came to be, the Zephyrs moved to New Orleans, and just this past winter, renamed themselves again to be the Baby Cakes.

    Thanks for that – I didn’t know that the Zephyrs name originated in Denver. Makes more sense, given the winds that make landing in Denver a white-knuckle experience. Seems odd, even in the 1980s, that a minor-league team would relocate so far but not change its nickname. I mean, it’s one thing if, say, a minor-league Reds or Cardinals or whatever keeps its parent-club nickname when moving across the country, but a non-big-league, locally appropriate nickname? You change that when you relocate to a new city.

    The relocation to New Orleans happened after the 1993 season, but the name change from Bears to Zephyrs happened before 1985.

    Not totally sure why they wouldn’t have rebranded when they moved to New Orleans, but it was a different time. I don’t think branding was seen with the same level of importance then and, for a minor-league team, saving money and not having to buy new team gear maybe was a bigger deal then than it is now. It’s not like New Orleans Zephyrs made a ton of sense, and it’s not like there was much history behind the name at that point, but it stuck for a long time. Maybe it was unique, or the owner just liked it.

    The Denver Zephyrs were the Brewers’ affiliate when I was growing up. I owned a Zephyrs hat and shirt accordingly. The hat was kelly green, with a royal blue bill and a blue ‘Z’ on the front, outlined in white. The last time I remember wearing the hat was in 1994 or 1995. The New Orleans Saints held their training camp in La Crosse, Wis. and we took a weekend trip from Milwaukee to go check it out, so I wore my Zephyrs hat to try and look like someone who had some sort of New Orleans connection.

    South Carolina played Florida yesterday, not Duke.
    “Carolina is in Chapel Hill and USC is in California.”-Dabo Swinney

    I visited the Ballpark Museum last August when the Cubs were in Denver. Had a great time the place was awesome.

    Nice article, Rob!

    Seeing those models of the classic parks reminds me of an idea. I once made cookie-cutter ballpark cookies (not using a cookie cutter but a plastic lid). Now I’d like to get some metal and make actual cookie cutters of the classic parks.

    “This usher’s uniform from Fenway park was a hoot. It’s difficult to imagine such formality these days.”

    Baseball, yes.

    NHL ushers, in the cities I’ve been to, still dress pretty formal. Jacket and tie. No hat.

    link

    link

    (the Flames one is from a hallowe’en game but you get the idea of what they wear)

    A throwback uniform that was worn in 1959?!?!?! That has to be the first throwback uniform ever right?

    Seeing the Nike shirts and hats made for non-Nike schools reminds me of the 2013 NCAA Championship link and link made for Louisville when they won with the camo sleeved jerseys from Adidas, though the link handed out to the players seem to not have had any of the Nike logos present.

    It also bothered me at the time that Peyton Siva was wearing a different hat than the rest of the team. His didn’t have the reflective print on the top of the visor, it was just plain black and was more of a low profile design.

    Thanks for the Ballpark Museum post Rob! I was back in Denver last May and took in a Rockies game but had no idea that place existed. Guess I need to correct that next time; hopefully it won’t be 20 years.

    We’re in the middle of what tennis refers to as the “Sunshine Double” – back-to-back tournaments in Indian Wells, CA and Miami which are considered mini-majors because they’re the only two times of the year outside of the Grand Slam events when the women and men play at the same event. I’ve been watching a lot of tennis this month, which means I’ve seen an awful lot of this outfit:

    link

    That’s Jack Sock wearing Nike’s current set. It’s also being worn by Nick Kyrgios, Juan Martin Del Potro, Frances Tiafoe, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and several others.

    Here’s the women’s version, as worn by Genie Bouchard.

    link

    The shirt is a sort of kelly green, the shorts are Nike highlighter-neon green.

    Is it me, or do those two colors not go together? Maybe the outfit would work if the shorts were the same Nike highlighter-yellow as the shoes, but those mis-matched greens are an eyesore.

    On the picture of the Stadiums in the museum, which one is the far right?
    The stadiums from left to Right look like Polo Grounds, Wrigley (chicago), Forbes, Shibe, Ebbets, Fenway ca. 1912 (though it is hard to be positive), and something familiar, but I can’t figure it out. That wall along the third base side is very familiar. driving me crazy.

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