So you've never been to Cooperstown, N.Y.? Have no fear. Cooperstown is coming to you. The Baseball Hall of Fame's "We Are Baseball" tour opens on July 3 in Davenport, Iowa, but the tour unofficially began with an invite-only exhibition on Friday afternoon on the campus of Rock Ridge High
So you've never been to Cooperstown, N.Y.? Have no fear. Cooperstown is coming to you. The Baseball Hall of Fame's "We Are Baseball" tour opens on July 3 in Davenport, Iowa, but the tour unofficially began with an invite-only exhibition on Friday afternoon on the campus of Rock Ridge High School in Ashburn, Va.
The tour consists of five mobile exhibit galleries connected by a center stage, each full of memorabilia, photographs and cutting-edge digital displays with touch screens and virtual reality elements that allow fans to completely immerse themselves in the exhibits.
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"The main thing we're trying to get across with this mobile exhibit is that everyone has a connection to baseball," says curator Tom Shieber of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. "Whether you're a family member, a fan, a celebrity or a player, no matter your background or where you're from, baseball is one thing we all share."
Only 45 of the over 50,000 baseball artifacts owned by the Hall of Fame were chosen for the mobile exhibit; the cream of the crop made the cut.
"That's about a 1 in 1,000 chance. It's harder to get an artifact into this exhibit than it is to get into the actual Hall of Fame," Shieber says. "The artifacts had to be cool by themselves, but they had to also fit into the 'object theater' concept of the exhibit."
The list of notable items included in the mobile exhibit is a long one. The bat Roger Maris used to hit his 61st home run in 1961; the cap Nolan Ryan wore to break Sandy Koufax's record with his fifth no-hitter; the glove Willie Mays wore to make "The Catch" on Vic Wertz's famous line drive in the 1954 World Series; a rare Honus Wagner T206 card from 1909; the glove Yogi Berra used to catch Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series; a bat used by Babe Ruth to hit 28 of his 60 home runs in 1927, proved by the 28 notches he etched around the oval Louisville Slugger logo on the bat's barrel; a Christy Mathewson jersey from 1905, when the pitcher went 31-9; half of a David Freese jersey, ceremoniously torn by his St. Louis teammates after his walk-off home run to win Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
Another highlight of the exhibit is a 149-seat IMAX theater in which a 10-minute original film showcasing the game's past, present and future is shown. Later, the theater -- seats, screen and all -- folds up like an accordion to be transported in one single trailer. It is the first mobile, portable IMAX of its kind.
Some of the most crowd-pleasing displays include stations where visitors can insert themselves into baseball history. In one truck, entitled "Our Hall of Famers," fans can digitally peruse every plaque in Cooperstown, then design their own plaques, complete with photographs and personalized text. In another, entitled "Our Memories," they can snap selfies and add themselves into images of some of the game's most memorable plays; the Pine Tar Incident in 1983, Eddie Gaedel's 1951 at-bat, Hank Aaron's 715th home-run trot.
Anthony Royse of Round Hill, Va., visited the exhibit with his wife and two daughters. Kaylee, 7, elected to add herself to an image of the famous Sausage Race at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
"It was really nice that there were other options outside of the straight-up baseball ones that the kids could enjoy," Royse said. "Kaylee has been with me to Nationals games and has seen the Presidents Race, so the idea was familiar to her and she had fun with it."
In a truck entitled "Our Traditions," interactive touchscreens highlight inspirational tales from Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Ichiro Suzuki and Roberto Clemente, and allow fans to answer trivia questions or become a hot dog vendor or mow the outfield grass at their favorite ballparks. In the Tour's Jaunt VR Lounge, fans can don a virtual reality headset that will transport them to the fields and dugouts of ballparks throughout Major League Baseball.
The Hall of Fame Tour will visit in six different locations in the summer of 2016; Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, from July 3-10, Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wis., from July 15-31, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, from Aug. 5-21, Ballpark Village in St. Louis from Aug. 26 to Sept. 11, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., from Sept. 16-29 and the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nev., from Oct. 7-23.
Lindsay Berra is a columnist for MLB.com.