Batter up! Baseball has been the country’s pastime almost since the day the American version was invented in the mid-1800s. While the sport is popular nationwide, there’s a special affection for it in the Midwest. More than 300,000 fans flock to Omaha each June for the men’s College World Series, where eight teams battle it out for the national championship. Summer college leagues take over small towns.
While it’s fun to watch games, the Midwest also offers impressive opportunities to learn about baseball history. From a field of dreams to a home run king, here are nine of my favorite places to learn about and appreciate the game.
Field Of Dreams Movie Site, Dyersville, Iowa
If you build it, they will come. And they do. The baseball field in the middle of a cornfield may have been part of a movie set, but it means more to fans of the game than just a movie. Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, focuses on a struggling farmer who builds a baseball field on his farm so the ghosts of the game can play there. Among them was his father, with whom he enjoys a game of catch.
The movie, filmed in 1989, remains popular almost 25 years later. It helped share the story of the Black Sox scandal, when members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds for money. While acquitted during a 1921 trial, eight players, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were banned from Major League Baseball. A century later, the ban remains.
With a cornfield in the outfield, the Field of Dreams Movie Site offers a chance to run the bases or even play a game with others. The bleachers remain from the movie, with the lead characters’ initials carved into the wood. The farmhouse, open for tours, can also be booked for overnight stays.
Roger Maris Museum, Fargo, North Dakota
From a humble kid from Fargo to the home run king of Major League Baseball, Roger Maris never forgot his roots. Starting his professional career with the Cleveland organization, Maris played 12 seasons with four teams, enjoying the most success during a seven-year run with the New York Yankees.
Maris hit 275 home runs during his career and set the MLB single-season record with 61 home runs in 1961. His total eclipsed the previous mark held by Babe Ruth, also a former Yankee. Baseball officials were upset that Maris took 162 games (a full season) because Ruth accomplished the mark in 154 games. The baseball commissioner put a mythical asterisk next to the record because it was considered controversial. The controversy ended in 1991 when an eight-person panel agreed to “remove” the asterisk.
Maris’s career is celebrated at the Roger Maris Museum in Fargo. Remaining true to his personality, Maris approved of the museum only if it would be free and accessible to the public. The glass-enclosed museum is located at the West Acres Shopping Center. Showcasing his baseball career, which also included stints with the Kansas City Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals, the museum includes uniforms, gloves, and a replica of his Yankees locker. The highlight of the Maris Museum includes the home run baseballs from his chase for the record. Maris’s record stood for 37 until Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998.
Museum Of Nebraska Major League Baseball, St. Paul, Nebraska
In the adopted hometown of pitching legend Grover Cleveland Alexander, you’ll find the Museum of Nebraska Major League Baseball. Devoted to recognizing the accomplishments of Nebraskans in Major League Baseball, the museum honors seven players elected to pro baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, including Alexander. The Elba, Nebraska native’s 373 wins remain tied as the third most-ever in the history of baseball.
With gloves, bats, cleats, and other memorabilia on display, the Museum of Nebraska Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame’s exhibits also honor Bob Gibson, Wade Boggs, Richie Ashburn, “Wahoo Sam” Crawford, Bill Southworth, and Clarence Arthur “Dazzy” Vance.
Another section recognizes the contributions of some of the best players to come from the state, such as Alex Gordon with the Kansas City Royals, Joba Chamberlain with the New York Yankees, Bob Cerv with the Yankees, and Greg Olson with the Baltimore Orioles. The museum also celebrates each player with a state connection who has appeared in at least one game, including Pat Venditte, a former Creighton star who became the first ambidextrous player in the American League to play a game pitching from each hand.
Bosse Field, Evansville, Indiana
Built in 1915, Evansville’s Bosse Field is the third-oldest stadium in the country, behind Boston’s Fenway Park and Wrigley Field in Chicago. Once home to a Triple-A minor league team, the Class A Evansville Otters call Bosse Field home. With a seating capacity of 5,181, Bosse Field offers an opportunity to watch old-fashioned baseball in a historical setting.
Bosse Field starred as the home of the Racine Belles when it was featured in the 1990s movie A League of Their Own. The popular movie, starring Tom Hanks and Gina Davis, told the story of women’s baseball during World War II, based on the All-Star Girls Professional Baseball League.
St. Louis Cardinals Museum, St. Louis, Missouri
Once home to two teams — the Browns and the Cardinals — St. Louis eventually sided with the Cardinals, and the Browns relocated to Baltimore, becoming the Orioles. While the Cardinals Museum at Ballpark Village celebrates the team’s 11 World Series championships, it also traces the history of baseball in St. Louis.
Besides the two MLB teams, the museum recognizes the role of Negro Leagues Baseball in the city. During the decades of segregation, Black players had a league of their own to showcase players. The St. Louis Stars’ roster included some of the best players in the sport, including “Cool Papa” Bell, considered the greatest centerfielder in the NLB. Having played 1922-46, Bell was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1974.
In addition to displays teaching the history of Cardinals uniforms and stadiums, the museum also features individual displays for stars like Bob Gibson and Stan Musial. It also includes interactive exhibits.
Johnny Rosenblatt’s Infield At The Zoo, Omaha, Nebraska
Once home to the College World Series, Rosenblatt Stadium grew from a few thousand seats to a capacity exceeding 20,000 fans. The stadium hosted the CWS from 1950 to 2010, when the event moved to downtown Omaha‘s TD Ameritrade Park.
Today, you can still stand at Rosenblatt’s home plate as part of Johnny Rosenblatt’s Infield at the Zoo. Turning the infield into a park, Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium memorializes the historic baseball stadium. With the Rosenblatt sign located in left field, the park also features foul lines and colorful red, yellow, and blue seats from the old stadium. Placards share the Rosenblatt story.
Louisville Slugger Museum And Factory, Louisville, Kentucky
While Kentucky isn’t technically part of the Midwest, Louisville is just across the border from Indiana. From the forest to home plate, you can trace the history and story of the baseball bat at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. You’ll see some of the bats used by the greatest batters to play the game. Hank Aaron’s bat used to hit his 700th home run as he pursued eclipsing the 714 home runs by Babe Ruth is displayed, along with a death threat the Black player received during his chase for the record.
The history of Black baseball is explored at the museum with life-size sculptures of great players including Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron. Johnny Bench, considered by many to be the best catcher of all time, also has an exhibit featuring equipment and one of his 10 Gold Gloves.
While there, you can also enjoy a tour of the factory and watch how bats are produced. Outside the museum, pose for a photo next to the largest baseball bat in the world, which is the size of a building.
City Of Baseball Museum, St. Paul, Minnesota
Your ticket to a St. Paul Saints game gets you into the City of Baseball Museum. From semi-pro teams to Black franchises, St. Paul enjoys a strong baseball history. Home to exhibits highlighting the city’s baseball and social history, the museum follows the stories of the St. Paul Red Caps, Blue Caps, and other teams calling the city home.
The Mississippi River divided the area’s baseball allegiances to the Saints and Minneapolis Millers minor league teams. With future Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Carl Yastrzemski on the squads, fans saw great players in the making.
Pro tip: Contact the museum for non-game day visits.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kansas City, Missouri
The quintessential museum covering Black baseball history, Kansas City‘s Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a must-visit. Tracing the history of Black baseball alongside key time periods in American history, you’ll follow the rise of segregated baseball from the late 1800s when Black players were officially banned from playing on the same field as White players to the formation of the Negro Leagues Baseball. NLB leaders organized the sport at a YMCA building, about a block from the museum in the historic 18th and Vine District.
With lockers containing uniforms of teams like the Monarchs, Giants, and Grays, you will learn about great players such as Josh Gibson, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Satchel Paige.
Negro Leagues Baseball was a popular sport, regularly selling out games. It was the first professional league to use lights for night games. Follow Jackie Robinson’s story as the first Black player to integrate Major League Baseball, and how MLB’s integration eventually led to the demise of the Negro Leagues.
A visit to the museum is capped with a walk around the playing field featuring life-sized statues of the greatest players at each position.