'Only 1 Babe Ruth, and you've got him' All aboard: The Babe Ruth Museum hopes to turn Camden Station into a $10 million ``Baseball Center'' by 1997.

February 05, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

In March of 1914, a young Baltimorean who lived in the shadow of Camden Station left town for spring training in North Carolina and a chance to become a professional baseball player.

Eight decades later, the train station itself is about to become a starting point for a different sort of journey that will honor the local boy who went on to gain fame as the greatest slugger in baseball history -- George Herman "Babe" Ruth.

"A Trip Through Baseball" is the guiding theme of a $10 million attraction that directors of the Babe Ruth Museum are planning to create inside the station by late spring 1997.

Part of the station's main corridor will be transformed to look like a 1920s-vintage railroad car in which Ruth and his teammates would have traveled from city to city during the baseball season.

From there, visitors will be able to explore rooms and exhibits highlighting not only Ruth and his achievements but the Babe Ruth Leagues for young ballplayers, the Negro leagues, the Baltimore Orioles, baseball parks through history, and many related subjects.

Two-thirds of the funding has been identified for the project, called the Babe Ruth Baseball Center at Camden Station, and a $200-per-person fund-raiser will be held at Ruth's Chris Steak House on Water Street today -- the eve of what would have been The Babe's 101st birthday.

Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Baseball Center on Emory Street, said the organization has $6.75 million in place, with $3.25 million to go before construction is fully funded. He is optimistic that fund-raisers will reach their goal in time for work to begin this year.

"We have more support now than ever, and I see it building," Mr. Gibbons said last week.

The museum recently hired a professional fund-raiser named Sheryl Shade, who has proposals out to half a dozen prospective benefactors. Ken Burns, the creative force behind the PBS documentaries on baseball and the Civil War, recently agreed to be a member of the baseball center's steering committee, and top-level Orioles also support the project.

In addition, Mr. Gibbons said, the museum received a boost last year from all the national publicity that accompanied the 100th anniversary of Ruth's birth on Feb. 6, 1895.

Part of Oriole Park

Built in 1857, Camden Station was acquired by the state in the late 1980s for use as part of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Its owner, the Maryland Stadium Authority, renovated the exterior before the ballpark opened in 1992, but left the interior incomplete.

After soliciting development proposals for the station in 1993, the authority selected the Babe Ruth Museum to create an interactive baseball museum and entertainment center on the first and second floors of the building's west side, facing Oriole Park. A restaurant will occupy the east side.

The Babe Ruth Museum already occupies four rowhouses in the 200 block of Emory Street, including 216 Emory St., where George Herman Ruth was born.

The Emory Street buildings will remain open, presenting the story of Ruth and his years in Baltimore. They will be linked visually to the train station by a "Baltimore Baseball Walk" created with colored or engraved bricks and other graphic features with a baseball theme.

Other exhibits now at the birthplace, including the Baltimore Orioles Museum and the Maryland Baseball Hall of Fame, will move to the train station.

To design the 28,000-square-foot attraction, the Babe Ruth Museum hired a team headed by Cambridge Seven Associates, the Massachusetts-based firm that is best known locally as architect for the National Aquarium in Baltimore and other aquatic museums.

Cambridge Seven has extensive experience designing sports museums, including the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., and the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. Murphy & Dittenhafer of Baltimore is the associate architect.

Peter Sollogub, design principal for Cambridge Seven, said the baseball center will touch on the highlights of Ruth's career and his impact on the game during and after his playing days. "He's in and out of it all the way through."

But the designers and their clients also saw an opportunity to tell a larger story, he said.

"It's really much more about Baltimore and baseball than Babe Ruth," he explained. "The big idea here is bringing baseball to life. It's not about records or history. It's baseball in a living sense. We see the rooms of the train station almost like stage sets. It will be very people-oriented."

One of the first spaces visitors will enter is the central corridor, which will be modified to look like a 1920s railroad car. Just as the ballplayers traveled by train, Mr. Sollogub said, museum-goers will travel from this central space to the rooms in the station, stopping at exhibits along the way.

Preliminary plans

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