Expansion coming for baseball Hall of Fame

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

JASPER — Tucked away on Vincennes University’s Jasper campus stands a site that carries the history of a sport which is sewn deep into the fabric that defines America. Within the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame lies the names, faces, and equipment of notable Hoosiers who played the game across the diamond field in its highest form from amateurs to the professional level.

But things have gotten a bit crowded in the Hall of Fame and it is time for an expansion to enhance its history carrying capacity. Former Jasper High School baseball coach Ray Howard has been one of the instrumental forces in moving the project to add another wing to the Hall, and he couldn’t be prouder of what the site and its mementos represent as a piece of Hoosier sports history.

“It’s important for the state,” he said. “Players come and their coaches tell them ‘I’m in the Hall of Fame’, and they (dismiss) them. So they get an opportunity to travel through here and see a lot of people whose names they may recognize, but have no information about them. I think that’s one of things that will be beneficial as people go down the road.”

That’s not to say it wasn’t a bit of a chore to get to this point. When the display space started to grow smaller and smaller a few years ago, Howard and the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, the sponsoring body for the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame, started the process of marshalling the necessary goodwill and funds needed to add on to the Ruxer Student Center. Howard said it took some doing to overcome the local sense of malaise and foot dragging.

“We had all these things to display that we had acquired, and no place to put them,” said the former coach about the current 1,300 square footage of space, which contains walls dedicated to individual plaques, Louisville Slugger bats that represent high school state champions, and a space to recognize the Negro League teams and players.

“I tell people if this was a Jasper Hall of Fame, it would look like the Taj Mahal, that’s the way people are here. This is for the whole state, so it took a little while to generate the funding we needed. The last six months has been a concentrated effort to secure the funding. There’s a number of people who donated money to the process. The Coaches Association has provided funding as well.”

But be that as it may, the expansion project is now ready to go and move forward with construction, which starts sometime next week. The plan is for the additional 1,330 sq. ft. wing to be finished in October to coincide with the 26th Hall of Fame Golf Tournament hosted by Sultan’s Run Golf Club, which is another mechanism used to fundraise for the Hall.

Howard is excited about the add-on. The current lay out for the Hall of Fame is set up like a baseball infield, with the various sections representing the bases that mark the diamond. The expansion will be a continuation of that theme and will represent the outfield portion of a baseball field.

“We’re going to create a ‘wall’ with a warning track and that kind of thing. On that wall were going to put murals of ballparks, like Fenway and Busch (Stadium),” he said. “We got a gentleman who will be providing different pictures of ballparks that aren’t existing anymore. All the ballparks nobody has seen. It’s all going to be part of an outfield motif.”

The next challenge for Howard and the association will be spreading the word about the Hall once the expansion is complete. He recognizes that a trip to Jasper maybe a bit of a chore for people who aren’t from the area, but he wishes that fact wouldn’t stop folks from coming to Dubois County to see what they’ve help build as a monument to baseball. Howard has seen the Hall of Fame grow from a simple hallway display at the Holiday Inn in 1991 to the site that it has become today, and he has no regrets about the efforts that have been made to preserve this piece of Indiana history.

“Jasper is not the easiest place to get to, and that’s been the hardest thing to get it put out into the public,” he said. “When people come, they’re amazed at what’s here and what they’re doing. When you have people that come through here, they see what we’ve got and they start talking. That gives you a bit of satisfaction in making all of the effort. It makes it worthwhile to do that.”




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