A Tropicana Field Treasure: Ted Williams Museum
By Mike Millican
Peter M. Gordon’s recent article about the fun that can be had at Tropicana Field during a Tampa Bay Rays home game was right on target. The dour exterior of The Trop in no way represents the diversity of what’s inside and many surprises await those who present a ticket at the entry gates. One such treasure is the home Tropicana Field provides for the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall Of Fame.
The Museum originally opened in Hernando, Florida on February 9, 1994 and was located near Ted Williams’ home in Citrus Hills. The inaugural event was attended by such sports notables as Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Muhammad Ali, and Bobby Orr, becoming the most popular tourist attraction in Citrus County at that time. The TWM is a 501(c)(3) non-profit institution that supports the Ted Williams Foundation in providing funding for youth baseball programs and educational scholarships for qualified student-athletes that excel in academics, citizenship, and baseball. It is staffed by very dedicated volunteers and also provides assistance to other charitable organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Rays, Red Sox, and Twins Foundations in baseball, the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation in the NHL, and the Miami Dolphins Foundation in the NFL. In February, 1995 the Hitters Hall of Fame opened with an inaugural class of Mike Schmidt, DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner, Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth. After Mr. Williams’ death in 2002, the museum closed in Hernando in 2006 and was later relocated to its current home at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The TWM houses a priceless collection of Ted Williams memorabilia covering his entire baseball career and military service in World War II and Korea. One notable item is the only autograph that “The Kid” ever requested: a personalized signed baseball from Babe Ruth, Ted’s childhood hero. The remaining memorabilia represents those who have been inducted into the Hitters Hall of Fame. Induction ceremonies are held every February prior to the beginning of spring training with the most recent being held on Saturday, February 1, 2014. Attended by this writer, it was a gala baseball event like no other, held on the field, beginning with a diverse free autograph session that included current and former Rays players Ben Zobrist, Grant Balfour, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Mike Difelice, along with Denny McLain, Ron LeFlore, and others. Following was a superb dinner, a silent memorabilia auction, and the induction of James Shields, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Frank Howard, Dwight Gooden, Craig Biggio, and Johnny Damon with a special Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Rays Senior Baseball Advisor Don Zimmer. The event sold out and will most likely do the same for the 2015 class which will be named this December.
Throughout the regular baseball season, the Ted Williams Museum also hosts charity signings by former MLB players such as Wade Boggs, Luis Tiant, Lee Smith, and Pedro Guerrero. During the most recent Red Sox series at The Trop, Claudia Williams, daughter of Ted, signed copies of her new book, “My Father, Ted Williams” on Saturday, July 26th to benefit the Tampa VA Disabled Veterans Adaptive Sports Program. As a huge Ted Williams fan myself, the purchase of an autographed copy of this book was a very worthwhile expense in addition to being an illuminating reading experience that provided valuable and candid insight about one of America’s greatest sports heroes and patriots. Within a logical format, the book debunked much of the misinformation that surrounded Mr. Williams death in 2002, while also telling an inspiring story of a loving family dealing with a complex and driven living legend.
Next time you’re at Tropicana Field, after you check out the Brew House and assorted shops and games, a visit to the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame is strongly recommended. You won’t be disappointed.