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Travels in the Heartland: Batter up at St. Paul’s Museum of Nebraska Major League Baseball

Downtown St. Paul Mural
Posted at 11:24 AM, Apr 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-22 12:24:35-04

You might not expect to find a museum honoring Nebraska's baseball hall of famers in a small town. But, when it's the town where one of the greatest pitchers to play the game called home most of his life it makes sense for St. Paul to be home to the Museum of Nebraska Major League Baseball.

Grover Cleveland Alexander was born in nearby Elba, but lived in St. Paul during the off-season and later in retirement. Alexander, who played 20 seasons in the Majors, remains tied with Christy Mathewson for the most wins in National League history with 373, more than 90 years after he last played.

Grover Cleveland Alexander Historical Marker
State historical marker in St. Paul recognizing the story of Grover Cleveland Alexander.

The pitcher won a World Series championship in 1926 with the St. Louis Cardinals, pitching three games in the seven-game series, winning twice and pitching on back-to-back days, including three shutout innings to save the seventh game after having pitched a victory the day before. Fellow Nebraskan and Hall-of-Famer Billy Southworth was a teammate on that Cardinals team.

Ronald Reagan and Doris Day starred in "The Winning Team," a movie based on Alexander's life.

Alexander, who died in 1950, was the first Nebraskan elected to the pro baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, when he was inducted in 1938. Since then, he's been joined by six others (and their hometowns) - "Wahoo Sam" Crawford (Wahoo), Richie Ashburn (Tilden), Clarence Arthur "Dazzy" Vance (Orient, Iowa, but spent most of his childhood in Nebraska), Southworth (Harvard), Wade Boggs (Bellevue) and Bob Gibson (Omaha).

Each player has his own display at the downtown museum, with items exhibited including Alexander's cleats, caps and baseballs donated by Gibson, Bogg's shoes and ball caps. You'll find bats, balls and gloves that once belonged to Crawford, Ashburn and Vance.

A pair of Grover Cleveland Alexander’s cleats have been among the personal items displayed.

Vance had two opportunities pitching in the majors. After failing in his first attempt, Vance played minor league baseball, as well as with small town teams, including Red Cloud. He made the best of his second chance, becoming a full-time pitcher in the 1920s when he dominated the National League, leading the league in strikeouts for seven consecutive seasons. His 1924 strikeout total of 262 was more than the second- and third-place pitchers combined (254).

The Museum of Nebraska Major League Baseball opened in 2008 following a few years as a display honoring Alexander.

The St. Paul attraction also celebrates Nebraskans who have enjoyed successful careers in Major League Baseball. Players with their own displays include Alex Gordon, Joba Chamberlain, Greg Olson and Bob Cerv, who was a teammate and roommate of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris during the latter's record-setting home run (61) season in 1961.

Hall of Fame St. Paul Nebraska
The Hall of Fame exhibit can be found in one room at the Museum of Nebraska Major League Baseball in St. Paul.

St. Paul embraces its baseball connection, with a mural honoring its hometown star, as well as a state historical marker. Known as "Pete" to locals, St. Paul has recognized its famous resident with the annual "Grover Cleveland Alexander Days" each summer since the 1990s.

The Museum of Major League Baseball also recognizes more than 100 Nebraskans who have made an appearance on a MLB roster, whether it's for a record-setting stint, such as Pat Venditte becoming the first ambidextrous pitcher to play in an American League game, or for just a "cup of coffee," as the saying goes for a player who makes a roster but doesn't see action on the field.

Sweet Shoppe

Sweet Shoppe
More than 1,500 cookie jars can be found at the Sweet Shoppe in St. Paul, Nebraska. Photo by Tim Trudell

While in St. Paul, you may also want to visit the Sweet Shoppe, a great spot for breakfast, lunch or coffee. It's also home to one of the world's largest collections of cookie jars. The café is open 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

With more than 1,600 cookie jars on display throughout the eatery, Alice Osterman's fascination with the treat containers began in high school when she made one for her grandmother. Today, you'll find an eclectic collection, some featuring a theme such as Disney characters and farm animals.

Whether you plan a road trip to St. Paul, about 2 1/2 hours west of Omaha, for the Museum of Major League Baseball or combining it with other attractions in the area, you'll find yourself embracing the story behind the baseball player who inspired it.

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