She says, "I'm glad our tickets were free."
Well, let's see what we have in here," Brad Horn says, and he pulls down a box with the word GEHRIG on the side. Brad has the excessively long title of Senior Director for Communications and Education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. And he is taking me around the most extraordinary baseball room in the entire world. These are the archives down in the bowels of the Hall of Fame. There are 25,000 artifacts here in boxes, on shelves, inside cabinets, hanging on walls. These are the artifacts that, for one reason or another, are not on display in the Hall itself.
He pulls down this box and opens it, and inside is a Lou Gehrig Yankees jersey. On the wall are dozens and dozens more boxes just like it—with names like Rose and Foxx and Mays and Kaline. Behind us on a shelf are the spikes Tony Gwynn wore when he got his 3,000th hit. On a table are Babe Ruth's old bowling shoes. The Hall of Fame does not care for autographs—"We are about collecting moments, and autographs don't tell the story of baseball," Horn says—but even so, at the end of the aisle, are boxes and boxes of autographed baseballs from every Hall of Famer.
To say that the items in this room are priceless is to undersell the point—no amount of money can replace Roberto Clemente's hat when he got his 3,000th hit, or the plaque that commemorated the longest home run ever hit at Minnesota's old Metropolitan Stadium (Harmon Killebrew blasted one 520 feet off Lew Burdette on June 3, 1967) or the last piece of wood chopped by Cy Young. The items in this room are worth exactly as much or as little as the person who sees them imagines.
Then I see a little black case—something you might use to hold a clarinet. "What's that?" I ask.
"You know," Brad says.
"No, what is it?"
He reaches down, opens the case, says a single word: "Wonderboy."
Wonderboy. You already know: Wonderboy is the bat used in the movie The Natural. The hero of the movie, Roy Hobbs, made Wonderboy from a tree split in half by lightning. Roy's father collapsed and died under that tree. And with that bat, an aging Roy Hobbs knocked the cover off the baseball and led the New York Knights to the most surprising hot streak since, well, since the Pittsburgh Pirates this year.
Roy Hobbs isn't real, of course. The New York Knights never played. Wonderboy is just a movie prop. And still, this is the item that explodes my imagination. I saw the glove Willie Mays used to make his legendary '54 Series catch, the one captured in that sculpture in the Fan Cave. I saw the rosin bag Ralph Terry used before throwing the pitch Bill Mazeroski hit for a home run to win the 1960 World Series. I saw an oil painting of Hank Aaron that looked so much like a photograph, people kept pressing their noses up against it to find the texture of the paint.