If you’re on the road in the Denver area this summer and you love baseball history, there is but one place to visit: the National Ballpark Museum. Located a short toss (one block) from Coors Field, the museum is dedicated to the long-gone “green cathedrals” where much of baseball’s lore and myth was written. The museum prides itself in one-of-a-kind treasures, including those from the original 14 classic ballparks, and is the only museum dedicated to ballparks. It is the brainchild and passion project of Curator, Founder, and President Bruce Hellerstein, a Denver-based CPA who grew up in the 1950s and 60s not just collecting baseball cards, but ballparks, as well.
Back in the 1980s, Bruce began displaying his collection in his basement, and in 1999 obtained 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. In 2010, the museum secured its present location and the rest is baseball history.
I spent an afternoon with Bruce exploring the gloriously crammed 2,000-square-foot space that is literally bursting with stadium artifacts, from seats, signage, bricks, and more. There’s even a section of the Green Monster from Fenway Park and a section of the scoreboard from Wrigley Field at the Ballpark Museum. The 14 “classic” ballparks each have their own displays, and some of the hundreds of treasures include original light fixtures from the rotunda at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field to a piece of the original frieze that once hung around the perimeter of old Yankee Stadium. But it’s not just about the major league former fields of dreams.
As the museum literature details, “As a third-generation Denver native, Bruce’s one constant throughout his collection is the history of the Denver Bears/Bears Stadium, and the Colorado Rockies/Coors Field. This exhibit is considered the most comprehensive collection of relics for the Denver Bears/Bears Stadium. The collection includes photos of players, photos of the construction of Bears Stadium, autographed baseballs, uniforms, one-of-a-kind signage, programs, and vintage scrapbooks. Also on display is the collection of Jim Burris, who was a former President/General Manager of the Denver Bears, and was known as Mr. Denver Baseball. You will find historical statistics of the Denver Bears, which list team affiliations over the decades, legendary players for the team including future Hall of Fame players.
“Not only does the museum include the Minor League history of the Bears/Bears Stadium, but also has displays from the historically significant barnstorming games played at Denver’s Merchants Park. These games had not only featured Major League stars, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but also the greats of the Negro Leagues. You will discover one-of-a-kind collectibles, such as an autographed game-used ball from Merchants, signed by Babe and Lou. To possibly top that, a Babe Ruth autobiography, signed and addressed to a former owner of the Bears and Merchants Park!”
I’ve been to many baseball-related museums around the country and the National Ballpark Museum is the single most unique and enjoyable experience I have encountered. The passion, the knowledge, and the sheer scope of rare artifacts make this an incredibly special place to visit. Plus, the red-brick building the museum resides in was built the same year that Babe Ruth was born: 1895.
Chris Epting is an author, award-winning journalist/photographer and dedicated road tripper. His best-selling books including James Dean Died Here (the locations of America’s pop culture landmarks), Roadside Baseball, and The Birthplace Book, along with many others that remain popular with many travelers and RVers throughout the country and world. You may learn more about Chris at his author’s site, www.chrisepting.com.