By Lily Belcher
On September 25, the Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House opened to the public. The grand opening was hosted by Lou Piniella, former Major League Baseball player and manager, with guests Mayor Jane Castor and Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp.
Al Lopez was Tampa’s first major league player, manager and hall of fame inductee. The backstop played with four teams in his 19-year playing career in the majors, posting a .261 batting average and holding the record for most career games as a catcher for 40 years. The Tampa native was a two time All-Star and went on to manage 18 years until his retirement in 1969. Lopez was the first of 89 baseball players from Hillsborough County to play in the majors and lived in Tampa until his death in 2005.
His house was delivered to the museum site a mile from its original location on May 15, 2013. The Ybor City Museum Society has restored the house and developed it into a museum that commemorates Lopez as well as Hillsborough County’s 88 other baseball legends. The museum now sits next to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office History Center on 19th St. in Tampa’s National Landmark Historic District.
“We’ve been working on it ever since with rehabilitation and creating the exhibits and raising the money,” said President and CEO of the Ybor City Museum Society Chantal Hevia. “Museums take a while to build and we’re excited that we are here today to open it.”
The museum is curated by the Ybor City Museum Society. All memorabilia presented in the Tampa Baseball Museum was donated by Tampa locals, including Piniella, the Tampa Bay Rays Organization and Bertha and Tony Saladino. It features history on Tampa’s influence on baseball, from Lopez to Jake Woodford, Hillsborough County’s most recent major leaguer.
The museum is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. for guests who purchase tickets online (adult tickets are $12; seniors, military and students are $10; children are $6).