Bohls: A treasure trove of ‘priceless’ baseball artifacts, memories

I spent much of Thursday’s sun-dappled afternoon at Prewitt’s hardware store in Taylor, Texas.

Once more I wandered bug-eyed up and down those old, creaky hardwood floors of my favorite store just up from the same Howard Theater where I saw “The Ten Commandments” when I was 6 years old.

I could hear those magical zip-line containers whisk the paid bills and cash and change to the cashier’s office in the second-floor balcony of that Main Street general store that would sell you every nut and bolt imaginable as well as guns and wedding gifts like the six cast-iron skillets Vicki and I received.

And I felt the stiffness of a new baseball glove in my left hand — the one I pounded and pounded to loosen up the leather — and the sleek, maple-brown Hank Aaron bat I’d use in our fierce sandlot pickup games on the Kimbro lot that lasted until my mother’s final “Boys, supper” call beckoning us in.

Prewitt’s doesn’t exist anymore except in the dark recesses of an aging mind, but I was transported there by a 90-minute stopover at the Baseball Hall of Fame Tour exhibit that stands invitingly in the parking lot of Dell Diamond.

Andy Couch, a 28-year-old art history major from the University of Oklahoma, serves as the curator who will fill in a lot of the historical blanks during the exhibit’s stay here until April 29 before it moves on to Tulsa and Albuquerque and Des Moines and finally Omaha.

“It’s a dream job,” says Couch, a friendly, curly-haired redhead who grew up loving the Cardinals.

Stop by and you’ll relive some history of your own. Youngsters can, through virtual reality, knock a home run out of Yankees Stadium and recreate selfies of themselves rushing home plate to defend the pine tar on a bat like George Brett.

Inside five trailers you’ll see the Astros cap that Nolan Ryan wore during his fifth no-hitter and Cal Ripken’s batting helmet from consecutive game No. 2,131 and Willie Mays’ tiny glove from The Catch and the 1956 Don Larsen ball from the only perfect game in a World Series.

You can catch a glimpse of Roger Maris’ bat when he clubbed his 61st homer in 1961. You can see the only Roberto Clemente jersey in the Hall of Fame. And, for a cool local touch, you can gaze at the red Austin Blackhawks jersey that Brandon Chesser wore when they won the Beep Baseball World Series for the visually impaired in 2014.

The memories flood back unabated.

I stood in slack-jawed awe before the final home run ball that the Babe smashed for No. 714 and one of maybe 65 of the T-206 Honus Wagner baseball cards in existence. I smiled at a rusty piece of Fenway’s Green Monster, the same one Bucky Dent once cleared.

If you’re quirky like me, you’ll enjoy Harry Caray’s Coke bottle-thick, black-rimmed glasses and the 45-pound, metal hot dog vending bucket from 1910 and the suitcase from Vivian Kellogg’s time with Fort Wayne Daiseys.

Yeah, this tour is definitely in a league of its own.

My Hank Aaron bat wasn’t one of the 45 artifacts — don’t call them memorabilia, by the way — on display, but these authentic treasures took me back to a different time and place. A simpler, more innocent era, we at least tell ourselves, but maybe we were just too oblivious to some of the pressing issues of our day.

Everything wasn’t better then even if it seemed like it to many of us held hostage by “Leave it to Beaver” sensibilities. I clung to patriotism and small-town America and community. And baseball.

Baseball doesn’t make problems go away, but they’ve been a clear escape and a reminder of a life held dear. Like the baseball on display that firefighter Vin Mavaro found in the rubble of ground zero on 9/11 and donated to Cooperstown.

You can gaze upon the blue Dodgers cap with the Brooklyn B emblazoned on the front that Jackie Robinson wore during the 1955 World Series championship over my beloved Yankees. It wasn’t the cap I wore as an All-Star Little Leaguer in my childhood days or the Taylor Ducks cap I wore in high school until I quit the team to play tennis and run the hurdles. That move incidentally didn’t exactly cripple the Ducks because Calvin Schaefer, Ray Gonzales and Tommy Oliphint all won state that 1969 season. But it made me ponder my love affair with baseball.

Every artifact of the display comes with a story, one that comes alive when you watch the 10-minute film on the traveling IMAX theater that will tell you that a batter has 396 milliseconds to hit a 100-mph pitch.

Robinson’s story has always touched me in a way few others in sports have. And it touched the heart of a Dodgers fan who was there that day Brooklyn won and picked up the abandoned cap. That fan wrote Jackie and offered to send him the cap. Jackie being Jackie wrote back and told him to keep it, which he did until he donated it to Cooperstown.

When I asked Couch what all the artifacts were worth, he said, “Use the word priceless.”

As priceless as a walk through Prewitt’s hardware store.

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