Sep 24, 2021 - Sports
New museum for baseball history in Tampa opens
A weathered home plate and wooden baseball bleachers sit in a museum.
A base and seats from Al Lopez field, which was near the modern Raymond James Stadium. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

A museum debuting Friday in Ybor City showcases 135 years of baseball history from a region widely known for producing some of the world’s best baseball talent.

  • Axios got a sneak peek.

Why it matters: The humble Tampa Baseball Museum adds another hyper-local landmark to a tourist district best known for its parties and perfectos while preserving the stories of diverse Latino immigrant communities.

Flashback: While the town's earliest baseballers were elite society, it all changed when Vincente Martinez-Ybor moved his cigar factory to Tampa in the 1880s.

  • Baseball-mad Cuban immigrants organized their first team in 1887. The Cigar City League followed, creating competition between teams sponsored by cigar factories.
  • As more Italian and Spanish immigrants arrived to work in Ybor City, ethnic social clubs popped up. Most had a baseball team that played on Sundays at Cuscaden Park.

From this fertile soil sprung a slew of talented baseballers.

  • Players: Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Rogers and Wade Boggs.
  • Managers: Al López, the first player from Tampa to make the major leagues, plus Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella, Carlos Tosca and Kevin Cash.

Yes, but: The museum focuses most on the man who led the way: López, the Hall of Famer who managed for 16 years after his playing career.

  • El Señor was an inspiration to young Latino players growing up in Ybor City and West Tampa.
  • The museum is entirely contained in his remodeled family home, which was relocated in 2013 to 19th Street, near Ybor’s Centennial Park

Our thought bubble: Collected by longtime prep coach Frank Permuy, the museum's most impressive display is a complete set of autographed baseballs from every player born in Hillsborough County to make the major leagues.

  • Nice try, Pete Alonso’s game-day rookie-year cleats.

What’s next: The museum’s grand opening at 10am Saturday is half price and hosted by Lou Piniella.

A glass display full of autographed baseballs.
Autographed baseballs from the rookie season of every player born in Hillsborough County to make the major leagues. The effort! Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

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