New for the 2008 season: the opening of the Arkansas Travelers museum at Dickey-Stephens Park. Thanks to the dedication supplied by Valentine and park superintendent Greg Johnston, along with North Little Rock’s own Southwest Design and Display, the Travelers Baseball Museum documents team history with a superb collection of photographs, artifacts, memorabilia of the game, and fascinating narratives and stories of the team, and the eras they encompassed.By Phil Elson
"Hey, this place looks like a museum!"
These words were usually uttered by an unsuspecting fan when they first stepped inside the Arkansas Travelers business office at venerable Ray Winder Field, the team’s home from 1932 through 2006. With mementos and memorabilia such as a 1940s-era cash register, old photographs of Ray Winder himself, and turn-of-the-20th century Travelers team photos adorning the wooden paneled walls, the ballpark office was indeed museum-like, taking the visitor back through the decades of Arkansas Travelers baseball.
Quite often people would get so lost in the memorabilia, they’d forget why they walked into the office in the first place. Slowly they’d shuffle, from photo to photo, studying old time uniforms, or the grizzled sepia toned face of some long forgotten Travs player from the early years of the franchise.
Occasionally they’d stop in front of an old roll-top oak desk and stare at an interesting photo on the far wall, completely ignoring the crew-cut-adorned, wine-bottle-suspendered Travs’ chief executive sitting in front of the picture, phone in hand, cajoling, convincing, screaming at, or just telling another great story to the lucky guy on the other end of that phone call. Awkward moments aside, nobody really minded. All those wonderful photographic memories of bygone times were on display for a reason; to remind fans that the Travs have been a proud franchise with a long history for a long time, and that small four-room cluster of offices perfectly complemented the nostalgic charm and quaint feel of Ray Winder Field.
In August of 2005 the voters of North Little Rock decided to build a ballpark across the river for the Arkansas Travelers, and Ray Winder Field’s days as the home of the Travs were coming to a close. All the great photos, artifacts and remembrances of games gone by decorating the office walls, had to find a new home, as well as all the memorabilia tucked away and hidden, that had never been put on display.
Then, during the 2006 season, a curious thing happened; the collection grew even larger. As the baseball season wound down, and the last game at Ray Winder Field approached, nostalgic fans brought box upon box of their own Travelers keepsakes to Executive Vice President Bill Valentine with hopes that he might find a place for their own personal Travs memories. "Better on display for all to see than boxed up and hidden in the attic," many said.
Needing to separate the club’s working offices and those wanting to relive Travelers baseball past, Bill knew exactly what was required; a Travelers Baseball Museum, set up right in the main concourse in beautiful, brand spanking new, Dickey-Stephens Park. And 2008 marks the maiden season for the museum, containing some of the oldest sports memorabilia pieces in the entire state of Arkansas.
Thanks to the dedication supplied by Valentine and park superintendent Greg Johnston, along with North Little Rock’s own Southwest Design and Display, the Travelers Baseball Museum documents team history with a superb collection of photographs, artifacts, memorabilia of the game, and fascinating narratives and stories of the team, and the eras they encompassed.
Stroll inside the museum and instantly notice the large black-and-white overhead photo of Ray Winder Field that covers an entire wall. Authentic pieces like turnstiles, wooden seats and Valentine’s iconic roll-top oak desk stand out as remembrances from the old ballyard. Notice the tiny hand-written notes scotch taped onto the desk which makes it seem as if Bill still does business there.
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, ’03,’04 and ’05.
Want to see what Keith Hernandez looked like as a Trav? How about Jim Riggleman or Nick Leyva? Every Travs team photo since 1965 is there, so take a look. Former Travs, turned major league Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins, Bill Dickey, Travis Jackson and Jim Bunning are also on display.
Irony even has its display inside the museum. There’s a photo of an all-out brawl between the Travs and the Memphis Blues at Ray Winder Field, taken in 1968. Just a few feet away stands the Texas League’s Sportsmanship Award, given to the Travs that very same season!
The Travelers Baseball Museum helps prove an important point. The Travelers play their home games inside a sparkling, beautiful, acclaimed new facility; Dickey-Stephens Park. But Travelers baseball is more than the present; it’s the combination of a storied past, a beautiful present, and a wonderful future, based upon the glorious tradition that is, Arkansas Travelers Baseball.
Elson is the play-by-play broadcaster for the Travelers.