Minnesota memories resonate through the halls of baseball’s Hall of Fame

Last month, we made our first pilgrimage to the shrine at Cooperstown.

And there at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, as expected, we saw lots of Minnesota connections to the national pastime, and it’s amazing how emotionally powerful those inanimate objects can be.

Part of it, of course, is long-ago memories, but most of it was the timing — less than a week after the Target Field memorial service for the Twins’ first superstar, Harmon Killebrew.

Photo by Pat Effenberger

And the Hall did him justice, as you can see in this photo, a prominently placed placard tribute and a spray of white roses framing the corner of The Killer’s Hall of Fame plaque.

The placard features a fittingly great quote from Baltimore Orioles manager Paul Richards about the team’s frequent foe: “Killebrew can knock the ball out of any park, including Yellowstone.”

Photo by Pat Effenberger

What’s particularly impressive about the Hall is how effectively it serves as a cultural history of the United States, as well as a continually updated tribute documenting the national pastime.

That becomes immediately clear right inside the main entrance, where the “The Art of Baseball” exhibit captures the spirit of the game. The first thing visitors see there is Norman Rockwell’s famed Any Town painting, “Three Umpires.” And equally prominent is a tribute to baseball’s highest achievers, “The Hall of Famer,” by St. Paul’s own sports artist supreme, LeRoy Neiman.

Not far away is a small 1914 full-figure bronze by an unknown sculptor of Ojibwe pitcher Charles Albert “Chief” Bender, the first Minnesotan elected to the Hall of Fame.

At other spots around the museum are exhibits that also will resonate with any Twins fan:

• An exhibit cleverly showing former Twin Jon Rauch as baseball’s tallest pitcher — his hat floating 6 feet 11 inches above the floor.

• A locker display of historic Twins memorabilia, including the third base bag from the classic 163rd game of the 2009 comeback season, when the team defeated the Detroit Tigers 6 to 5 in 12 innings to qualify for postseason play.

• The Hall’s current baseball photo exhibit features two Minnesota photographers’ pictures — both, interestingly, from 1991. In “Tumbling Catcher,” Twin Cities-based Reuters correspondent Eric Miller dramatically catches a sliding Dan Gladden flipping the catcher head over heels. In the other, “Eyes on the Big Leagues,” Star Tribune photographer Brian Peterson captures the excitement of young players.

• And Hall of Fame plaques commemorating the careers of the Twins’ other current Hall of Famers: 

        • Rod Carew.

        • Kirby Puckett.

• And the two St. Paul natives enshrined in the Hall:

        • Paul Molitor.

        • Dave Winfield.

And, of course, there’s a spot set aside for the most recent Twin to join his famed Cooperstown colleagues, pitcher Bert Blyleven, who will enter the Hall formally during July 24 induction ceremonies.

For me personally — and for my fellow lefties everywhere — it was also special to see the plaque of my childhood pitching hero — the best left-handed pitcher of the modern era (in my humble opinion) — the Milwaukee Braves’ Warren Spahn.

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