BALTIMORE – While the names Babe Ruth,Johnny Unitas,Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken will live in sports fame,they are just a handful of those visitors will encounter at what is billed “The Best Sports Museum in America.”
Located at the entrance to Oriole Park,Sports Legends at Camden Yards,which opened Saturday,offers an in-depth look at Maryland's sports history,from The Babe to 2004 Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps.
The museum is housed in the old Camden Station,built in 1856. From the minute visitors step into the old rail station,they will buy a ticket into the sports past of Baltimore and the entire state.
At the museum entrance,visitors will board a simulated train ride through the heart of Baltimore sports history,beginning with the city's own George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. The exhibits house such historic items as Ruth's kimono from a 1939 trip to Japan. It also shows how Ruth was the first commercial American athlete,with such items as Babe Ruth underwear and posters of Babe Ruth kids club.
“One thing that I believe is special about Sports Legends is the fact it's interactive,” said Gregg Wilhelm,the museum's director of communications,as he guided a visitor through the museum as workers rushed to finish exhibits last week. “Our museum is more than just movies and displays. Here,when you look at a display,you will be surrounded by the exhibit. You can go into a huddle with Johnny Unitas. Pieces of the exhibits will hover over your head; you will get a call from the bullpen.”
Visitors will also be able to watch silent video of key sports moments and play sportscaster.
From the Ruth exhibit,visitors travel from the Orioles' early years in the minor league to the present. There,visitors will find the championship pennant from the mid-1890s and Cal Ripken's “Iron Man” banner,along with the entire Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame.
But those two exhibits are just a part of a larger collection of all things Maryland.
A unique exhibit tells the story of the Negro Baseball League,paying homage to both of Baltimore's Negro League teams,the Baltimore Black Sox and the Elite Giants.
“Sports Legends allows us to flex our muscle a little more,” said Wilhelm. “One of our main goals is education,and with exhibits like this one,we can teach people about more than just who played a sport,but what they went through in their everyday life.”
While the Negro League exhibit has only a few items on display,Greg Schwalenberg,the curator,hopes that the exhibit will draw more items out of hiding.
“This exhibit is not mainly about Baltimore teams but how the teams of Negro League were America's teams,” Schwalenberg said. “Hopefully,this exhibit will generate interest in the teams,and people can donate more pieces to the museum.”
Sports Legends is also the official home of the Baltimore Colts Collection and the Johnny Unitas Collection. Only there will visitors find actual seats from Memorial Stadium,which was torn down in 2001,as well as the bed that Johnny Unitas was born in. Visitors can also learn some obscure facts,such as the Colts were the first NFL team to have cheerleaders and a mascot and the first team to move their helmet logos from the back to the side to be more TV-friendly.
In the Kids' Discovery Zone,children can learn the rules to a particular sport,put on a pair of shoulder pads to see how heavy they are and learn healthy habits.
The Stadium and Fans exhibit looks at the phenomenon that is fandom,from tailgating to mascots.
“We are preserving a part of what made a place a place,preserving and interpreting the moments that defined a city,a people,a community,” Wilhelm said in an e-mail. “Arguably,more so with sports,since sports tends to cross racial,gender,and socio-economic barriers to become something that the entire community can participate in,relate to,and (later) look back at as shared experiences.”
Other exhibits feature the Baltimore Ravens,the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team,amateur and minor league teams,the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame,the Preakness,duckpin bowling,lacrosse and jousting. The museum also includes a research center and a meeting room in the station's former Gentlemen's Waiting Room,dedicated to Abraham Lincoln,who was there four times.