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Stepping off of Blake Street and into the National Ballpark Museum looks, feels, and even smells like stepping back in time. Banners and turnstiles and photographs covering nearly every surface compete for your eyes’ attention, and the brick-and-wood-clad space has a warm, musty scent that evokes someone’s beloved basement collection.
In fact, that’s exactly where this quirky ode to MLB’s 14 classic ballparks got its start. (Built in the early 1900s, they include Shibe Park in Philadelphia, baseball’s first steel-and-concrete stadium, and old Yankee Stadium; the only two remaining are Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in Boston.) In the 1980s, Denverite Bruce “B” Hellerstein, a CPA by trade, began amassing the memorabilia he would eventually donate to a nonprofit museum of his own creation; in 2010, he secured its current digs, conveniently kitty-corner to Coors Field in LoDo, and opened it to the public.
Hellerstein—who served on both the Denver Baseball Commission, which helped bring the Rockies to the city in 1993, and the Coors Field Design Committee—says the old-timey, slightly claustrophobic ambience of the museum is intentional, meant to harken back to the feel of those old ballparks (and if you’ve ever tried to maneuver through Wrigley’s rowdy bleacher section with a full cup of Old Style, you’ll know it’s spot on).
If you’re lucky enough to meet Hellerstein when you visit, he’ll likely wax nostalgic about the golden era of American’s pastime and the heroes whose equals can’t be found in today’s game. He might even make his (fairly convincing) case for being Babe Ruth reincarnated. But his primary motivation for preserving these relics of the past is to inspire a love of baseball in the next generation—which is why admission for kids 16 and younger is always free.
Part of the fun of visiting is scouring the clutter and reading Hellerstein’s interpretive signage to discover the gems of the collection, but to get you started, we’ve highlighted 10 can’t-miss pieces below.
- Spanning the southern side of the museum, the Ballpark Wall of Fame mini exhibit contains seats and bricks from each of the 14 classic ballparks and is a great place to orient yourself and start your exploration.
- As a third-generation Denver native, Hellerstein’s passion for baseball was born watching the minor league Denver Bears play at Merchant’s Park (located near where I-25 currently passes over South Broadway). One of the treasures to be found in an entire room of the museum dedicated to the Denver Bears is a game ball autographed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who came through Merchant’s Park on barnstorming tours.
- For the photo op alone, make sure to stand atop the Cubs on-deck circle, located inside a side room—accessed through an authentic Wrigley turnstile, of course—devoted to the team.
- Hellerstein considers it kismet that a decorative arched window from Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field fit perfectly in the museum’s front window.
- A piece of old Yankee Stadium’s copper facade is one of only two surviving remnants of the iconic structure.
- If you look closely at a section of Fenway Park’s Green Monster, you can see indents from where it was struck by balls during play.
- Original light fixtures from the rotunda at Ebbets Field in New York City are some of Hellerstein’s favorite items. (He loves them so much, in fact, that when the hanging globe—once part of a chandelier—crashed to the ground and shattered, he hired a glass worker to painstakingly put it back together, aligning the baseball seams and all.)
- Rockies fans might recognize an oft-televised “HELTON” sign a group of women held up in center field for years.
- Babe Ruth’s 1932 tax return accompanies a typed-up recitation of the story that starts with someone observing to Ruth that he made more money than President Herbert Hoover, and Ruth quipping back, “Hell, I had a better year than he did.”
- An Anthony Fauci bobblehead in a case full of items and photographs related to famous first pitches is proof that Hellerstein is constantly adding to his collection.
If You Go
Usual hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for seniors; kids 16 and younger and active military members get in free.