Not quite Cooperstown, but in the ballpark

History Colorado Center shows baseball artifacts, memorabilia in Denver

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The one-of-a-kind bat swung by Ty Cobb, the former holder of the all-time hits record before Pete Rose. A room of historic team jerseys. Baseball’s role in the American story.

You’ll find all of these displayed or explored at the “Play Ball!” exhibit at History Colorado Center. But the first thing you notice as you walk in, and which immediately gives you a sense of the sport’s humanity, is Babe Ruth’s palmprint — which may not be much larger than your own.

“What this exhibition does really well is it has the pieces to get beyond just the player on the field and their heroics,” said Jason Hanson, chief creative officer of History Colorado Center.

The display of the Bambino’s palmprint is just the first part of the story the exhibit sets out to tell: That baseball is ingrained in American culture, and it doesn’t take a superhuman to do superhuman things. The exhibit, said Hanson, is meant to educate people on the athlete’s place in history rather than just the stats on the back of their baseball card.

Coloradans have less than two remaining months to view one of the largest collection of baseball artifacts and memorabilia outside of Cooperstown, New York, at the History Colorado Center in downtown Denver. The artifacts, memorabilia and photographs are only a fraction of Marshall Fogel’s expansive collection.

The “Play Ball!” exhibit has been open to the public since Major League Baseball’s Opening Day in March and will close on the last day of the season Sept. 30. The exhibit features artifacts from throughout the history of the game, including the nailed-together bat used by Cobb, San Francisco Giant outfielder Willy Mays’ glove and a hall of the game’s most iconic jerseys to take visitors through the evolution of the game.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for baseball fans,” said Jason Hanson, chief creative officer of the History Colorado Center and longtime baseball fan. “You can make the pilgrimage to Cooperstown (to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum). But if you can’t do that this year, you will feel pretty satisfied if you can make it to downtown Denver.

“You can start from something people already love and help them understand how it fits into bigger currents of American history, bigger currents of Colorado’s history — and that is a really effective way to help people appreciate our shared history together,” Hanson added.

The exhibit explores the game throughout time and draws parallels with significant events in American history, such as World War II and the Civil Rights movement. Learn how Babe Ruth paved the way for celebrities we know today like Kim Kardashian. Walk through some of the highest and lowest points of the game and some of baseball’s most infamous names like the 1919 Black Sox and the notorious heroes of the steroid era.

The exhibit recently displayed the Holy Grail of baseball cards, the rare, mint 1952 Mickey Mantle card. The card is one of three in the world and, of those three, is considered to be the most pristine. Another version of the card is valued at almost $60,000 at Pennsylvania-based Steel City Collectibles. The display was only open for three days to keep the card preserved.

“At a time when America was in turmoil, baseball games crossed all socio-economic, ethnic and political barriers and always brought people together. It still does,” said Marshall Fogel, the lifelong Denver man and owner of the collection and Mantle card. “When I think about this Mickey Mantle baseball card, I hold this same nostalgic feeling.”

The exhibit takes visitors on a journey of the game’s history and doesn’t finish without acknowledging the unsung stars of the Negro League or taking a look back at the history of the game in the Centennial State. Of course, there’s also a nod to the 2007 Colorado Rockies, who reached the World Series but were swept by the Boston Red Sox.

“We hope that this exhibit helps people remember how much fun it is to ... hang out with friends and family and watch a baseball game,” Hanson said.

There is, Fogel concurred, nothing better.

“Baseball is the only sport of a singular hero – everything else is a team,” he said. “When you are a baseball player, you are up at the plate with nine enemies facing you, and when the ball comes at you in one-quarter of a second, it’s only you who can hit that ball. Just you. And, I think about the field ... it’s a place you can go and look at a beautiful, perfect scene, and let everything go.”

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