Visits to Five Sports Museums Make for a Winning Weekend

HITTING THE HALLS

April 04, 1993|By John Corr and Marjorie Matthews Corr | John Corr and Marjorie Matthews Corr,Knight-Ridder News Service

"We can do it! Look at the map. It's possible."

"What's possible?"

"We can visit five sports halls of fame in one long weekend."

"So?"

"Think of it. Baseball, basketball, boxing, soccer and horse racing."

"You want to visit five sports places in five different towns in three days? Get serious."

Springfield, Mass., is the home of the Basketball Hall of Fame. It's a big, handsome new building just off Interstate Route 91 at 1150 W. Columbus Ave. Terrific. Starring Bob Cousy and Wilt and Kareem and Bill Russell. All the great ones.

The place is more than a shrine, however. It's fun.

See how high you can jump for that rebound. Shoot at any of a dozen baskets. Watch the 1976 championship game that took Boston and Phoenix into triple overtime, or view video tributes to the likes of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Go into the theater that shows you how a strong-side motion play works on screens that literally surround you.

Terrific.

The museum traces the history of the game back to 1891 when James A. Naismith invented an indoor sport to occupy some of the "incorrigibles" he was charged with keeping busy at the Springfield YMCA. And there's the peach basket he tacked to the wall as a target.

Find out about the evolution of the backboard, the dribble, posting up, the foul shot. It's all there -- the statistics, the balls and trophies and jerseys.

The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Admission is $6 for adults; $4 for seniors; $3 for children ages 7-15; and children 6 years and under are free. For more information, call (413) 781-5759.

Now, it's possible you have a traveling companion who is not thrilled by roundball legends and glory and doesn't even want to shoot some hoops.

In that case, there is the Quadrangle, a pretty Springfield city park with a museum on each of its four sides. There's the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, which is noted for its regional furniture, silver, pewter and period rooms; call (413) 732-3080. There's also the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, known for its jade, Oriental rugs, arms and armor and 19th-century paintings; call (413) 733-4214. Also on the Quadrangle are the Museum of Fine Arts, (413) 732-6092; and the Springfield Science Museum and Planetarium, (413) 733-1199.

When you are finally dragged from the Basketball Hall of Fame, you hop in the car and head for Saratoga Springs, N.Y., a mere 120 miles west, and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Portraits and sculpture depict the great horses -- Man o' War, Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Seattle Slew -- and the legendary jockeys and trainers.

Videos show the great races, and a dramatic film, "Race America," shown regularly in the Hall of Fame portion of the museum, captures the excitement of the sport of kings.

The museum traces the history of the Thoroughbred, from racing in New York and Virginia in the 17th and 18th centuries to the present day. There is a full skeleton of a Thoroughbred and a photo essay that tells the story of the birth and development of a foal.

The track atmosphere is re-created, as are jockeys' quarters, paddocks and other racetrack areas. Near the entrance is an actual starting gate, and an audio tape captures the sounds of jockeys, horses and starters getting the horses in the gate for the start of the race. Television monitors let you call up statistics on dozens of horses and jockeys.

Paintings of great horses of the past abound here, many of them by the famous equine artist Edward Troye, whose studio is re-created in the museum.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from noon to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for students and seniors. Children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, phone (518) 584-0400.

Of course, the thrill of magnificent Thoroughbred horses hurtling toward the finish line and the glamour and tradition of the track may be lost on some people.

These people have only to leave the museum, turn right and walk a few blocks down Union Avenue to Congress Park. They can walk through the small park and come to the Chamber of Commerce, a good place to begin a visit here.

Union Avenue is lined with some wonderful Victorian-era homes, and the park is the home of the Historical Society of Saratoga Springs Museum in the Canfield Casino, (518) 584-6920. Built in 1870 by Congressman John Morrissey, a former boxing champion, the Italianate-style building was a gambling casino right up to 1907.

These days, the building has a more genteel function. On the first floor is a gallery showing works of local artists. The second floor features Historical Society of Saratoga Springs exhibitions. They trace the town's history from its early days, when the mineral waters attracted the attention of physicians, through its lavish days as "Queen of the Spas." Displays include vintage clothing, paintings, maps and personal articles. There are also some original furnishings from the casino's glory days.

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