Let’s face it: Cooperstown isn’t the most accessible of cities, even for those who are hardcore baseball fans. But the Hall of Fame Tour, now in Milwaukee, is the perfect introduction to National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, with enough history and technology to engage fans both young and old.
We had a chance to see the traveling show in Davenport, as the Hall of Fame Tour’s first stop was outside Modern Woodmen Park, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits (Low A; Midwest League). Occupying a prime spot outside the ballpark, the exhibit was a strong draw on the Saturday we attended, with lines for several attractions and lines of folks waiting to enter.
What’s spectacular isn’t the memorabilia, but the emphasis on the baseball fan experience, with shared memories crossing generations. Baseball is surely the most bucolic of the four major sports, but here technology is used very effectively to convey baseball’s appeal and the great fan experience most will encounter at today’s ballpark. The technology is present throughout the five mobile galleries and the IMAX Theatre.
One mobile gallery features a great virtual reality experience, the Jaunt VR lounge, placing fans on the field for spring-training and regular-season games. Much of the excitement about VR has centered on gaming and mundane commercial uses like real-estate tours, but the Hall of Fame Tour show puts fans on the diamond, mingling with players and enjoying the game-day experience. Show up early in the day to avoid the lines.
Another mobile gallery also allows you to become part of the game, this time in an external fashion: you can pick a significant/interesting moment in baseball history (Carlton Fisk’s dramatic “waving fair” game-winning homer in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, running in the Milwaukee Brewers sausage race, etc.) and insert yourself in the image via green-green technology. And, of course, you can create your own customized Hall of Fame plaque, honoring yourself for being the best Dad or eating the most hot dogs, complete with a photo of yourself in the player slot on the plaque. Both of these high-tech exhibits allow you to email yourself completed images. Other high-tech touch displays offer trivia quizzes, the chance to be a hot-dog vendor, and more.
Of course, as the repository for MLB’s storied history, the Hall of Fame Tour features plenty of physical connections to the game’s past. The memorabilia includes the ball that Babe Ruth hit for his 714th homer, a cap worn by Jackie Robinson in the 1955 World Series, Pete Gray’s glove and more. Film clips show many of the great moments in the game, and an interactive display lets you search the Hall of Fame plaques by player name or team.
There are also two additional galleries featuring game consoles and video clips and displays from baseball’s past. All in all, 14 semi trailers comprise the Hall of Fame Tour, with the mobile galleries to the side, a center courtyard featuring videoboards with MLB scores and action, and a multiple-trailer IMAX theater—billed as the first mobile IMAX theater by exhibit organizers. As noted, there are timed entries during busy times, allowing everyone a chance to view every part of the exhibits without being jostled.
We’d recommend touring the five mobile galleries and then saving the IMAX movie last. With Red Sox owner Tom Werner serving as a producer and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul narrating, the 10-minute film celebrates baseball at all levels, from stickball on urban streets to the joys of MLB. It is an unabashed tear-jerker.
As noted, we saw the tour in Davenport, but since then it has moved on to the Miller Park parking lot, where it will be through Sunday, July 31. After that it moves on to the Kauffman Stadium parking lot, Aug. 5-21; Ballpark Village adjacent to Busch Stadium, Aug. 26-Sept. 11; Minnesota’s Mall of America, Sept. 16-29; and the Las Vegas Convention Center, Oct. 7-23. There may be additional 2016 stops as well. We’ve been told planning for a 2017 tour has already begun (which, presumably, would include spring training), and judging by the River Bandits’ experience (lots of headlines were generated about the tour, with daily headlines in the local papers and a slew of TV and radio coverage), any MLB or MiLB team could benefit by a Hall of Fame Tour stop.
Be warned that there will be some lines (particularly for the VR gallery and the IMAX movie), and during busy times there will be a timed ticket so the exhibit won’t be overwhelmed with too many attendee. (Yes, there were lines waiting to enter the exhibit during our Davenport visit.) You can find more information about the tour and buy tickets at the MLB.com Website.