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A natural pairing: museums at the ballpark

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Citizens Bank Park

Baseball is a game steeped in history, and the best place to learn about baseball history -- and maybe even see some being made -- is at a ballpark museum. Here are our favorites.

There are a lot of baseball-themed museums out there, but there's nothing like a game-day experience that includes a large dose of baseball history. In this list, we highlight our favorite ballparks contained within the ballpark walls or ballpark grounds. We see a lot of ballpark museums in the course of our travels; here are the ones worth an extra effort to visit as you plan your ballpark ventures.

1) Braves Museum and Hall of Fame, Turner Field
Even though there's an extra charge involved ($2 on a game day, $5 on non-game days), a visit to the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame is a must. As far as chronicling the history of the Braves franchise -- which stretches back through Milwaukee and goes back to 1871 in Boston -- the museum is superb. If you want to know what players were like at the turn of the century and how the Boston Braves played at South End Grounds, this museum is for you. You'll see reproduction uniforms of the various Braves teams (also known as the Red Stockings, Beaneaters, Doves, Rustlers and Bees), as well as a reproduction of the contract Babe Ruth signed when he spent his final playing days with the team.

There's a lot of emphasis on the Milwaukee Braves as well, the team where Hall-of-Famer Henry Aaron first came to prominence. Those Braves swaggered into Milwaukee's County Stadium and won the World Series in 1957 behind the pitching of Lew Burdette and the bat of Eddie Mathews. (It would be the last World Series won by the franchise until 1995.)  

You could easily spend more than an hour walking through the exhibits (which include a dugout bench from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and a walk-through Pullman train car, to show how teams traveled before the advent of airplane trips) and the historical displays before the game.   

On a game day you'll need to enter the museum through a dedicated entrance in back of Section 134; on non-game days you can buy tickets at the main ticket office.  

2) Arkansas Travelers Baseball Museum, Dickey-Stephens Park
Bill Valentine is one of those ballpark lifers who make the game fun, a former umpire who ended up running one of Minor League Baseball's more iconic franchises, with the Arkansas Travelers (Class AA; Texas League) tracing team roots to around the turn of the century.

And the exhibits at Arkansas Travelers Baseball Museum do indeed chronicle that entire history. One of the more interesting, smaller items on display is the Travs' official charter for the 1901 Southern Association. There are old player contracts, game programs, tickets and baseball cards, and even a catcher's mask used during the 1920s. 

Right in the middle of the museum is a large trophy case, holding championship trophies, vintage tickets and programs, and dozens of baseballs used during historic Travs' games. At the back, encased inside special frames, are the Travs team composite photos from '01, '03, '04 and '05...that's 1901, 1903, 1904 and 1905.

The large room contains a wealth of memorabilia, including Bill Valentine's old box seats and his roll-top desk from Ray Winder Field, some turn-of-the-century team photos, a video showing historic broadcasts from Ray Winder Field, and much more. 

3) Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum
The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum details the history of baseball in Cincinnati from the 1869 Red Stockings (considered by many to be the first professional team) to the present, highlighting the team's many stars and many homes. 

Plus, the museum's curators weren't afraid to tackle the issue of Pete Rose, properly honoring his accomplishments on the field. The spot where Rose's record-breaking 4,192nd hit landed in Riverfront Stadium is visible from an unique exhibit honoring Rose and other Reds record holders, which includes a 50-foot-high "wall of balls" containing 4,256 baseballs, Rose's career hit record.

Also honored is a unique tradition in Cincinnati: the Opening Day parade. For many years the first major-league game of the year was played in Cincinnati, and the city took great pride in that stature, throwing a big party highlighted with a parade to the ballpark. MLB lost a little when its leaders decided not to start the season in Cincinnati.

You'll also find standard displays honoring great Reds over the years, as well as some unusual items: a dugout bench and seats from Riverfront Stadium, an extensive collection of fan memorabilia set in a recreation of a basement rec room, and historic team documents. There are ma former Reds in the Hall of Fame, which began in 1958 when Ernie Lombardi, Johnny Vander Meer, Paul Derringer, Bucky Walters and Frank McCormick (all on the 1939-40 championship teams) were inducted. It does not contain Pete Rose, as he is on baseball's ineligible list.

In 2012, the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum highlights the greatest era in Reds history with "The Big Red Machine," a new exhibit that details one of the greatest teams in baseball history, featuring rare artifacts, compelling stories, striking visuals and much more.

4) Great Falls Historical Room, Centene Stadium
It's tucked away into a corner of the renovated Centene Stadium, but the Great Falls Historical Room put together by Great Falls (MT) Voyagers (rookie; Pioneer League) historian Jim Eakland is well worth seeking out if you're in the area. Eakland's hard work covers the history of Pioneer League baseball in the city -- including the Great Falls Electrics, the Great Falls Dodgers and Great Falls White Sox -- as well as the rookie Pioneer League in general. Old signage uncovered during the renovation of Centene Stadium is augmented by trophies, signed baseballs and an extensive photo collection. The room opens at 6 p.m. on game nights. 

5) Monument Park/New York Yankees Museum, Yankee Stadium
The New York Yankees carry the burden of history and display it well in two spots at the new Yankee Stadium: Monument Park and the New York Yankees Museum. Monument Park has roots going back to the original Yankee Stadium, when a tribute to Miller Huggins was placed in deep center field in 1932. Other monuments were installed over the years, and when the ballpark was renovated in 1974-1975, Monument Park ended up behind the home-run fence, and it was transported to the same center-field spot at the most recent Yankee Stadium. Fans attending a game can head down there beforehand, but the gates close 45 minutes before game time.

The New York Yankees Museum, located near Gate 6, is more museum-like in its offerings, detailing the history of the franchise after being moved from Baltimore and first playing as the New York Highlanders. Featuring life-size statues of Yogi Berra and Don Larsen, Thurman Munson's locker (unchanged since his death in 1979) and hundreds of autographed baseballs, the museum is open on game days and accessible during Yankee Stadium tours. 

6) Yogi Berra Museum
Speaking of Yogi Berra: the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center is located adjacent to Yogi Berra Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey. It has a unique mission: besides serving as a tribute to the former Yankee great and his accomplishments -- all built around Berra's personal collection, including 10 championship rings -- it's also a youth leadership academy, offering educational programs and leadership activities.

The museum is open noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. On nights when the Can-Am League's New Jersey Jackals are playing at Yogi Berra Stadium, hours are extended until 7 p.m., giving you a chance to combine a pregame visit with a ballgame.

7) Ashburn Alley, Citizens Bank Park
Ashburn Alley isn't a museum proper, but it's one of of the best history displays we've seen at an MLB ballpark. It opens early -- 2.5 hours before evening games and three hours before weekend games -- and the atmosphere celebrates Philadelphia baseball, from the earliest days of the Philadelphia Quakers to Richie Ashburn's era to the great teams of the 1970s and 1980s. Memory Lane provides timelines of Philadelphia baseball highlights, including the Phillies, Athletics, and the Negro League teams in the city. Every Phillie All-Star is honored with a commemorative marker, while members of the Phillies Hall of Fame are honored with a bronze plaque. There are food choices galore, and you'll also be able to watch both starting pitchers warm up in the bilevel bullpens before the game.

8) Henry Aaron Childhood Home and Museum, Henry Aaron Stadium
Pro baseball in Mobile is pretty much a tribute to the former home-run king: the Mobile BayBears (Class AA; Southern League) play at Henry Aaron Stadium, and his seven-room childhood home has been transported to the ballpark grounds, renovated into a museum. Aaron himself donated major exhibit items, as the museum traces his life as a Mobile child while putting it in some historic context, explaining the Jim Crow South and what it was like as an African-American during that era. 

9) Royals Hall of Fame, Kauffman Stadium
The recent renovations to Kauffman Stadium yielded one huge treasure: the Royals Hall of Fame, which overlooks left field at the home of the Kansas City Royals. It chronicles the history of baseball in Kansas City, beginning with the minor-league Blues, continuing through the Monarchs and Athletics and culminating with the Royals. 

Plus, if you're a design fan, you'll want to visit if only to see the two-story entry, featuring an ash-wood wall with important facts about the city burnt into the wood.

The Hall of Fame is free to game attendees, open prior to game time through the top of the eighth inning.

10) North Carolina Baseball Museum, Fleming Stadium
A WPA gem worth a visit in its own right, Wilson's Fleming Stadium is also home to the North Carolina Baseball Museum, featuring 3,300 square of baseball memorabilia from across North Carolina. North Carolina is considered to be the cradle of the game, with over 400 natives (including the likes of Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Gaylord Perry and Luke Appling) reaching the majors. More importantly, though, the museum honors North Carolina baseball on the grassroots level. It's open during Wilson Tobs (summer collegiate; Coastal Plain League) games. 

11) Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, Tropicana Field
Located inside Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame honors both the Splendid Splinter -- arguably the best batter ever -- and players he felt exemplified the art of batting, including the usual suspects (Aaron, Banks, Carew, Greenberg, Hornsby) to some surprising choices (Dom DiMaggio, Tino Martinez, Sadaharu Oh, Tony Oliva). Williams may have been a little prickly to fans and the press as a player, but he was known to be gracious to and supportive of fellow players. The museum, established in central Florida during Williams' lifetime and moved to the Trop after his death, is open during Rays game.

12) Jackie Robinson Ballpark
Jackie Robinson Ballpark occupies a key place in baseball history: after being shut out of other Florida ballparks during spring training, the folks in Daytona didn't object to Jackie Robinson taking the field with the Montreal Royals in 1946 after he and the team were turned away in Sanford, Jacksonville and DeLand. He then made his MiLB debut at what was then called City Island Ballpark, which was later renamed in his honor.

If you go to a Daytona Cubs (High Class A; Florida State League) game head to the ballpark early and take in the historical display on the ballpark grounds, detailing both the history of baseball in Daytona and the circumstances forcing Robinson's debut in Daytona. 

Other ballpark museums worth noting: the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library, located across the street from Greenville's Fluor Field and open Saturdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; the excellent history displays at Huntington Park, home of the Columbus Clippers (Class AAA; International League); the Maury Wills Museum at Newman Field, home of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks (independent; American Association); the Brooklyn Baseball Gallery at MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones (short season A; NY-Penn League); and the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, home of the Delmarva Shorebirds (Low Class A; Sally League).

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