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Deja Vu, Missouri

August 12, 2011

The first time I went to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City I got a personalized tour legendary Negro Leagues player, manager, ambassador, and general mensch Buck O’Neil. OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement. The tour was personalized but not for me. My friend Jeremy and I walked into the museum a few moments after Buck had started giving a tour to a Missouri Congressman. We siezed the opportunity and eavesdropped on Buck for the next half hour. (On a related note, if you haven’t read “The Soul of Baseball,” Joe Posnansky’s inspiring book about Buck O’Neil, you’re missing out. If you like baseball or American history or America or civil rights or optimism you will greatly enjoy this book.) Buck made that trip to the museum much more special that we had expected it to be.

Wednesday morning I was back at the museum, this time with The Hamster instead of Jeremy. Buck O’Neil is no longer with us, and I’m not nearly as knowledgeable a tour guide.

The problem with bringing Sam to museums in general is that I want him to learn but I don’t want to suck the fun out of it, and selfishly I like to be able to take my time and enjoy the exhibits myself. I’ve had trouble finding the right balance with him, but I’ve learned a few things that I employed today to make things much more enjoyable for us both.

1) Preparation is key. He didn’t appreciate the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because he wasn’t familiar enough with the music or the musicians. Toward that end Wednesday’s accidental visit to the Brown V. Board of Ed historical site and our ensuing discussion about segregation were perfectly timed for Thursday’s museum.

2) I can’t make him read all the little typed descriptions and I can’t take the time to read them all myself, but I can walk slowly enough to read some of them and I can strategically point out a handful that I know he’ll find interesting.

3) Instead of steering him toward informative textual information or artifacts I steered him toward short films and interactive technological exhibits. He had no interest in reading about the formation of the Negro Leagues or in looking at old pictures of founders but he loved the brief James Earl Jones-narrated movie about how and why the leagues came to be and the man who spearheaded their creation. He thinks he’s being entertained, I think he’s being educated, everybody’s happy.

I dare say I’m getting reasonably good at this. I was impressed to see how many of the top Negro Leaguers Sam knew of and I was moved by his depth of understanding of the circumstances under which they played. Even without Buck there telling stories, the museum touched both of us. For a little while. After we’d been walking through the museum for about a half hour a poorly supervised day camp arrived, sending dozens of 6- and 7-year-olds running and screaming through the museum. Sam was clearly irritated by the camp kids and ended up speeding through the rest of the museum–even the museum’s centerpiece Field of Legends (life-size statues of the very best Negro Leagues players arranged in position on a slightly undersized baseball diamond).  Even without the wild campers it still would have been tough to top having Buck O’Neil as your tour guide, but Sam really enjoyed the museum and insisted that I not only buy him a souvenir but also bring a keepsake home for the family.

(Related note #2: The museum is privately funded and thus in perpetual financial hardship. If you made lots of money shorting the markets this past week, you could do worse than to send some of it their way.)


The first time I visited the Gateway Arch in St. Louis was also with my friend Jeremy, on the same trip that brought us to Kansas City. As impressive as the Arch was, we had no idea that there was a whole museum underneath it or that we could go up to the top on the inside, so we didn’t budget much time for it and weren’t able to do much besides gawk at the structure.

Wednesday afternoon I was back at the Arch, this time with The Hamster instead of Jeremy. This time I was determined to take Sam up inside it. He’s been excited about the Arch for weeks–early in the trip he listed Yellowstone Park, the redwoods, and the Arch as the remaining destinations he was most excited for. His fascination with the Arch, I found out only today, stemmed from his having done a little project about it in school this year. Like me six years ago, he had no idea we could go inside it until we got there. The difference was that this time I made sure we had time for it.

Like at the Willis Tower and the Empire State Building, there’s a series of lines to wait on and a short film about its design and construction. I really enjoy these little films–they give you just enough information and context without boring you with too much detail. (I had no idea the Arch was designed by Eero Saarinen, by the way). The line at the Arch moved much more slowly than those at the Willis Tower and the Space Needle, though, mainly because instead of large elevators going straight up everybody has to squeeze into tiny, egg-shaped gondolas that wiggle and squeak their way through a rapidly shrinking, not-quite-vertical chamber. Waiting in line was so boring that Sam was almost ready to bail, but the claustrophobic little pods we finally rode to the top somehow made the experience even cooler, as did the even tinier windows we looked out of when we finally got there.

Having completed his most anticipated stop of the trip, Sam said the Arch lived up to his expectations. And we were back on the ground with just enough time to grab a quick dinner and make it to our final stop of the day, which was my most anticipated stop of the trip.


The first time I went to Busch Stadium in St. Louis was with my friend Jeremy. Wednesday night I was back at the ballpark, this time with The Hamster instead of Jeremy …

You know what? This one is so exciting I’m going to stop here and give it its own post.

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