It was pretty quiet around Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati Sunday. But that just might be the best way to experience what has to be one of the best team museums in North America. The Reds Hall of Fame and Museum is located on the immaculate grounds of the stadium and having the chance to see all of the exhibits and watch the videos without fighting a game day crowd makes it that much better.
If you're looking for a little slice of Cooperstown in the middle of the country, experiencing the history of baseball's oldest professional franchise is the way to go. The Reds Museum and accompanying Hall of Fame features 15,000 square feet of historical, interactive and educational exhibits.
Housed on two floors are hundreds of pieces of Reds memorabilia woven around the story of the team's numerous successes, its legendary players and its dedicated fan base. Little expense was spared in creating the eye-catching exhibits, murals, art and displays.
Created by the Reds as a non-profit organization, the Hall of Fame and Museum has become a showcase since its opening in 2004, one year after Great American Ballpark became the team's new home.
While some of the memorabilia came from the team, much of it is on loan from a small legion of die-hard, serious collectors in the region. There is a 1919 World Series program and ticket stubs from the Reds-Black Sox World Series, game-worn uniforms and gear from decades gone by, programs, vintage baseball cards, autographs and countless other artifacts. A scale model of Crosley Field rests inside a large glass display case.
"It's amazing what people have saved over the years," said museum staffer Dennis Hasty. "Like most Major League teams, the Reds didn't save everything. There are four or five guys here in town who have amazing collections so we get to use a lot of their stuff. We rotate it around quite a bit."
Hasty says Vintage uniforms and World Series rings tend to get the most attention from the public, who rarely get to see those types of items up close. Displays are often rotated to keep things fresh for returning visitors.
"We hear people say 'yeah, I've been to the museum. I was there a couple of years ago'. They missed a lot of stuff because things change here all the time."
The museum features a major new exhibit each year on its first floor level. For 2011, it's Johnny Bench: A Celebration of Baseball's Greatest Catcher. Bench donated the vast majority of the items himself, including game-used bats and baseballs from historic moments in his career, several game-worn jerseys and even his collection of championship rings.
Bench was known for wearing number 5 throughout his career, but one of the items on display is his first Reds spring training jersey--#53--with accompanying photo to match.
"Johnny saved everything," said Hasty. "We could have made the exhibit ten times the size it is. He saved uniforms from when he was a kid. It's amazing. He had a blast doing it. He was really touched to see it all displayed and see folks coming in and looking at it."
In addition, video and audio elements will take visitors back in time to see how Bench and his Big Red Machine teammates unleashed their formidable talents on the opposition.
Bench provided the memorabilia, but he also played the role of impromptu tour guide on a recent visit.
"Johnny lives in California now but he was in town and came in the other day with his wife and son," Hasty recalled. " We just happened to have a school group here that morning with about 30 or 40 kids who were looking at the Bench exhibit. He took over the tour and showed them around the displays. Most of the kids didn't really know who he was but the parents were freaking out. It was really great."