Who Would It Be?
Until the fall of 1998, I hadn’t really noticed. Three baseball players would make me notice.
I didn’t realize how much baseball meant to people until Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey, Jr. showed me as they chased Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61 home runs.
I had worked at the Baseball Hall of Fame, in the Museum Store, four years in 1998, and it was easy to see the power baseball had on visitors and staff alike that summer, albeit with a twinge of sadness that Maris’ record might be broken. Weathering the stormy 1994 strike, baseball needed a ray of light. The chase represented hope and the thrill of it was contagious. People were talking about it everywhere. It gave people a common bond and gave those without much baseball knowledge, like myself, a chance to belong. Our exhibits crew hung a gigantic scoreboard in the lobby only adding to the excitement.
Would the record be broken? When? Who would it be?
September 8, 1998: Mark McGwire breaks the record with home run number 62. What makes it special to me is the very next day, September 9, we received his uniform, bat and ball. Escorted by New York State Police, then Executive Director of Communications and Education – now Hall of Fame President – Jeff Idelson, was carrying the bat in a large, black duffle bag into the Hall of Fame as I was walking out.
I immediately thought, “How COOL is THIS? Those things were just making baseball history and now they’re in Cooperstown! I’m WITNESSING THIS. I WORK HERE!”
I finally understood how our visitors feel when they see artifacts that bring back their favorite memories or from moments in baseball history they’ve always wanted to see. When McGwire’s artifacts were displayed in the lobby, I was able to see, for the first time, how people reacted. It was heartwarming to see people smile, talk history and make personal connections. Baseball became more than just a game to me in those moments, and that’s what our new One for the Books exhibit opening May 28 is all about.
I’ve worked here for 17 years and I’ll always be grateful to the Chase for granting me a deeper appreciation for baseball history and reminding me how fun it is to work here.
Tina Zayat is a fulfillment and shipping associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.