Build a giant Clincher and they will come

Softball Hall of Fame to open in Forest Park

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Two decades of struggle will end in triumph, when the 16" Softball Hall of Fame Museum (HOF), 7501 Harrison Street, has its Grand Opening on July 19 at 12:30 p.m. Co-Founder Al Maag and his cohorts started this project with no money and no sponsors. They suffered plenty of setbacks along the way, including false promises of funding by politicians.  Somehow, they overcame all obstacles to create a state-of-the-art interactive museum.

Festivities will begin with Arizona-based band, Whiskey's Quicker, playing classic covers. Mayor Calderone, Park Director  Larry Piekarz.and Maag himself will speak. After the speeches, they will unveil the plaques of current HOF inductees. Then they will cut the ribbon and allow the public into the gleaming new shrine to softball. 

Maag recalled the first time he approached Piekarz about finding space for the HOF at the Park. Piekarz told him there was no room in the Park building but led him to a "woeful little building" at the west edge of the Park. The HOF general contractor, Ray Topps, had a stronger a way to describe the former gas station. He called it an eyesore.  Now, the building's exterior features fine stonework, large windows and beautiful ornamentation. 

The most recent improvement to the façade is the placement of two eight foot tall bats on the west wall. They are modeled on a softball bat, complete with tape on the handle. Topps said they are made of solid limestone and weigh 900 pounds apiece. There are also enormous "wooden" bats in Monument Park east of the museum. They are made of solid concrete.

It was Topps' idea to place the HOF plaques outside the museum, centered around a giant Clincher. There simply wasn't space inside and this way visitors can view the plaques 24/7 365 days a week. As for museum hours, Maag anticipates it being open on weekends and during special events like the No Gloves Tournament. 

Placing the museum in the Park that Maag calls "the epicenter of the sport" and "the Wrigley Field of softball" was a masterstroke. A student of softball history, Maag recalled that Forest Park made a very good showing in the first National Championship Tournament in 1933. The town has also hosted the sport's premier tournament for almost five decades.

Visitors can view an extensive array of photos and films. Maag's son, Zack, edited over 500 videos. They will show HOF induction speeches, amazing plays in the field and interviews with softball legends like columnist Mike Royko, who holds court at the Billy Goat Tavern describing his greatest day in softball.

Maag's advice to the younger generation is simple. "Put down the smart phone and go out and play." After all, the only equipment required is a ball and a bat.

Maag has interviewed hundreds of former players to learn the sport's history. He sees softball as a game that "has been through generations, old, young, female and co-ed." He dearly wants the tradition to continue. Many of the museum's organizers are in their 50's and 60's. Others sadly passed on before their dream was realized. He believes the next generation needs to step up and do even more to promote the sport.

Speaking of which, there will be an actual softball game at 3 p.m. pitting the North Side against the South Side, with a sprinkling of celebrities taking the field. During the game, spectators can enjoy those softball staples: beer and food. When Maag was asked how it felt to finally open the museum, he only had one word to say, "Priceless." 

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Observer  

Posted: July 21st, 2014 1:01 AM

@ Eric...I knew your Father many years ago..such a great Man, Mentor & Jewel of Forest Park...@ Bill...I agree ;) Congratulations to FP on a treasure..That museum must be spectacular !

Eric Entler from Forest Park  

Posted: July 20th, 2014 11:28 PM

Bill, Thanks for the post. As I stated yesterday that this museum is a great representation of teamwork. This is another gem to the Crown Jewel of Forest Park. Please come out to the 46th Annual No Gloves Tournament this weekend and be ready to be wowed by the museum. Eric Entler

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: July 19th, 2014 5:42 PM

Attended the opening ceremonies for the new 16-inch Softball museum today. Was a triumph. As someone who was there for the first meetings on what seemed like a pipe dream 21 years ago and watched the effort put forth for so long, I couldn't be prouder of people like Al Maag and Ray Topps. and our park district officials, who provided so much support. Now Forest Park is home to the museum housing the history of Chicago's Game, a game our park district made its own. Take a bow, Forest Park.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: July 19th, 2014 5:36 AM

It's just off the corner of Des Plaines and Harrison, west of the second softball diamond closest to Harrison St.

Keegan  

Posted: July 19th, 2014 12:09 AM

It is by the softball fields in Forest park next to a giant tutor style building

larry baran from berwyn  

Posted: July 16th, 2014 1:53 PM

the article does not give the address of the museum. please edit

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