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'Only 1 Babe Ruth, and you've got him' All aboard: The Babe Ruth Museum hopes to turn Camden Station into a $10 million "Baseball Center" by 1997.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In March of 1914, a young Baltimorean who lived in the shadow of Camden Station left town for spring training in North Carolina and a chance to become a professional baseball player.

Eight decades later, the train station itself is about to become a starting point for a different sort of journey that will honor the local boy who went on to gain fame as the greatest slugger in baseball history -- George Herman "Babe" Ruth.

"A Trip Through Baseball" is the guiding theme of a $10 million attraction that directors of the Babe Ruth Museum are planning to create inside the station by late spring 1997.

Part of the station's main corridor will be transformed to look like a 1920s-vintage railroad car in which Ruth and his teammates would have traveled from city to city during the baseball season.

From there, visitors will be able to explore rooms and exhibits highlighting not only Ruth and his achievements but the Babe Ruth Leagues for young ballplayers, the Negro leagues, the Baltimore Orioles, baseball parks through history, and many related subjects.

Two-thirds of the funding has been identified for the project, called the Babe Ruth Baseball Center at Camden Station, and a $200-per-person fund-raiser will be held at Ruth's Chris Steak House on Water Street today -- the eve of what would have been The Babe's 101st birthday.

Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Baseball Center on Emory Street, said the organization has $6.75 million in place, with $3.25 million to go before construction is fully funded. He is optimistic that fund-raisers will reach their goal in time for work to begin this year.

"We have more support now than ever, and I see it building," Mr. Gibbons said last week.

The museum recently hired a professional fund-raiser named Sheryl Shade, who has proposals out to half a dozen prospective benefactors. Ken Burns, the creative force behind the PBS documentaries on baseball and the Civil War, recently agreed to be a member of the baseball center's steering committee, and top-level Orioles also support the project.

In addition, Mr. Gibbons said, the museum received a boost last year from all the national publicity that accompanied the 100th anniversary of Ruth's birth on Feb. 6, 1895.

Part of Oriole Park

Built in 1857, Camden Station was acquired by the state in the late 1980s for use as part of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Its owner, the Maryland Stadium Authority, renovated the exterior before the ballpark opened in 1992, but left the interior incomplete.

After soliciting development proposals for the station in 1993, the authority selected the Babe Ruth Museum to create an interactive baseball museum and entertainment center on the first and second floors of the building's west side, facing Oriole Park. A restaurant will occupy the east side.

The Babe Ruth Museum already occupies four rowhouses in the 200 block of Emory Street, including 216 Emory St., where George Herman Ruth was born.

The Emory Street buildings will remain open, presenting the story of Ruth and his years in Baltimore. They will be linked visually to the train station by a "Baltimore Baseball Walk" created with colored or engraved bricks and other graphic features with a baseball theme.

Other exhibits now at the birthplace, including the Baltimore Orioles Museum and the Maryland Baseball Hall of Fame, will move to the train station.

To design the 28,000-square-foot attraction, the Babe Ruth Museum hired a team headed by Cambridge Seven Associates, the Massachusetts-based firm that is best known locally as architect for the National Aquarium in Baltimore and other aquatic museums.

Cambridge Seven has extensive experience designing sports museums, including the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., and the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. Murphy & Dittenhafer of Baltimore is the associate architect.

Peter Sollogub, design principal for Cambridge Seven, said the baseball center will touch on the highlights of Ruth's career and his impact on the game during and after his playing days. "He's in and out of it all the way through."

But the designers and their clients also saw an opportunity to tell a larger story, he said.

"It's really much more about Baltimore and baseball than Babe Ruth," he explained. "The big idea here is bringing baseball to life. It's not about records or history. It's baseball in a living sense. We see the rooms of the train station almost like stage sets. It will be very people-oriented."

One of the first spaces visitors will enter is the central corridor, which will be modified to look like a 1920s railroad car. Just as the ballplayers traveled by train, Mr. Sollogub said, museum-goers will travel from this central space to the rooms in the station, stopping at exhibits along the way.

Preliminary plans

The design team is still formulating final plans for the exhibits and welcomes suggestions. At this point, Mr. Sollogub said, plans call for the first floor to be divided into thematic areas focusing on:

* Camden Station history: The main corridor will be transformed into a railroad car, and train windows will become television monitors featuring "fellow travelers" telling stories about Camden Station and former players recounting their exploits.

* Baseball basics: A hands-on orientation space called the Discovery Room, an exhibit area where visitors can test their base-running ability, learn about the physics of baseball, try on equipment, or bat against virtual reality pitches thrown by Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax or Babe Ruth.

"It's a place where kids can learn about baseball -- and themselves," Mr. Sollogub said.

* The Babe Ruth Leagues -- Exhibits will emphasize learning to play the game "the Babe Ruth League Way."

A separate area will showcase the Babe Ruth League Hall of Fame, with background information about former players in the youth league who went on to success in other fields.

* Baseball parks: A large space will trace the history of Baltimore ballparks and the memorable events that took place there.

Second-level spaces will include:

* Lookout tower: Periscopes here will permit views of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and other Baltimore landmarks.

* Baltimore Orioles: A series of small-screen television sets along the second-floor corridor will form a time line of Orioles history. A "Bird House Video Theater" will replay highlights of great Oriole victories, manager Earl Weaver's tirades with umpires, Cal Ripken's streak, and other moments of "Oriole Magic."

* Regional baseball: Non-Oriole baseball in Maryland will be featured here, including minor-league teams, the history of regional ballparks, the Maryland Hall of Famers and the Eastern Shore leagues.

* Negro Leagues: This area will focus on African-American ballplayers before Jackie Robinson broke the "color barrier" and joined the major leagues in 1947. Highlights are likely to include memorabilia and photos of the Elite Giants, the Baltimore Black Sox, Bugle Field, players Leon Day, Junior Gilliam, Sam Lacy, and others.

* Changing exhibits: A gallery space will provide room for short-term exhibits, lent from other sports museums or created for Camden Station.

* Babe Ruth: A "culminating" exhibit will explore Ruth's impact on baseball and show why he was considered baseball's greatest player.

* Hall of Fame Theater: This seating area will be a space where 50 to 75 people can gather to view movies, hear lectures or hold meetings. It also will be rented out to private groups.

The baseball center will have a first-level gift shop.

Its hours will be the same as the Babe Ruth Birthplace -- 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on home game days. The average visitor is expected to stay an hour to 90 minutes.

Mr. Gibbons said admission prices have not been set but the goal is to keep tickets affordable for families -- about $6 or $7 for adults and $2 or $3 for children, senior citizens and military personnel.

Camden Station is an ideal choice for the project, he said, because it is close not only to Babe Ruth's birthplace but to a second building associated with the Ruth family, a saloon on Conway Street run by Babe Ruth's father, who lived upstairs. Demolished years ago, it stood where short center field of Oriole Park is now.

Mr. Sollogub said the baseball center has been designed to be a well-rounded and nationally significant attraction that will draw thousands of visitors to Camden Yards.

An attraction such as this is "about much more than statistics," he said. "It's about life. It's about health. It's about moms. It's about race. It's about family. It's about memories that touch the heart. I think it will be very rich, that way.

"There's only one Babe Ruth," the architect said, "and you've got him."

Ruth fund-raiser

A fund-raiser for the Babe Ruth Baseball Center at Camden Station will begin at 7 p.m. today at Ruth's Chris Steak House, 600 Water St. in Baltimore. Tickets for the four-course meal and silent auction cost $200 per person amd cam be purchased at the door. For information, call the restaurant at 783-0033 or the Babe Ruth Museum at 727-1539.

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