Tampa Baseball Museum - Atlas Obscura

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Tampa Baseball Museum

The childhood home of a Tampa sports legend now houses 135 years of baseball memorabilia. 

Sponsored by Visit Tampa Bay

While baseball is the national pastime of the United States, it had a greater hand than usual in shaping the culture of Tampa Bay, Florida, in particular. An abiding love for the sport was a major through-line between the city’s late-19th century Cuban, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and Jewish communities, and is today enshrined in the Tampa Baseball Museum.

Perhaps the greatest artifact in this unsuspecting museum is the building itself. A traditional Ybor City-style “casita” built in 1905, the museum is housed in the childhood home of Spanish-American Al “El Señor” Lopez, the first MLB player, manager, and Hall of Fame inductee to come out of Tampa Bay. Lopez was raised in the home with his eight siblings. He quit his job at a nearby bakery to join the Florida State League at 16 before an illustrious career playing for—and later coaching and managing—professional teams across the country. The building was lifted and moved a mile and a half from its original location in 2013 before being restored and renovated into the museum you see today.

While Lopez is the predominant figure throughout the museum, light is shed on the many dozens of other local baseball icons. Some stories tell of those who hit the bigs, like New York Mets’ Pete Alonso, who donated a pair of dirt-clad cleats to the museum after being named NL Rookie of the Year in 2019. (He thought they would clean the dirt off—they did not, and the dirt from Citi Field remains caked on.) All in all, 89 autographed baseballs represent each Tampa Bay resident who would go on to play in the major leagues. 

Several stories tell of the Negro Leagues and how sport intersected with race in unexpected ways. For example, Cubans arriving to work the booming cigar industry played in integrated factory leagues with their co-workers, but when it came time to play professionally, white Cubans went to major leagues while Black Cubans went to the lesser-paying Negro Leagues despite comparable skills, as seen in the story of Hipolito “Pops” Arenas. 

Other Black Tampa baseball icons like Buck O’Neil, a coach and scout who was only inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously, are remembered through signed memorabilia. Female athletes and leagues are honored here as well, as in the story of Shenaida “Shu Shu” Wirth, a 5-foot 114-pound shortstop and line-drive hitter from Tampa Bay who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Know Before You Go

The museum is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sponsored by Visit Tampa Bay.

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