The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was founded in 1990. During its infancy, visitors were required to sign in at the entrance. You could look at the list and see that someone from South Carolina visited in the morning, followed by a fan from Alaska around lunchtime, then another from Valparaiso, Ind., in the afternoon.
But even with such national appeal, the museum was losing money just a few years ago. It has begun to rebound. But the folks there know that this upcoming week, when the baseball world will have its eyes on Kansas City for the All-Star Game, is their chance to promote the museum and its endeavors to the largest audience it might ever have.
"You are preparing for the unknown," said Bob Kendrick, museum president. "We certainly have done the legwork to make sure that baseball fans coming to Kansas City know that there is a Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. We have transportation in place with the trolley system from downtown and the convention center."
The museum, located near the very YMCA where the league was hatched in 1920, has planned an impressive lineup of events during All-Star week. Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson will take part in a fundraising brunch Sunday and also participate in a discussion hosted by another Hall of Famer, St. Paul's own Dave Winfield. On Monday, the museum is partnering with Phillies slugger Ryan Howard in a fundraiser that also will benefit his foundation. Kansas City's historic 18th and Vine district that surrounds the museum will host an All-Star watch party Tuesday. And there's more than that on the schedule.
There are estimates that 120,000 visitors will head to Kansas City during All-Star week, and the museum has put itself in position to attract and handle a surge of customers and make upwards of $500,000 over the weekend.
"To be honest, this is as big of an event that has ever happened to the Negro Leagues museum," Kendrick said. "It some ways it is even bigger than the grand opening celebration when we opened the new museum in 1997. We're talking an international stage.''
The museum contains plenty of pictures and plenty of items (Rush lead singer Geddy Lee, a huge baseball fan, has donated more than 200 baseballs). But the key nugget is a miniature playing field where a lineup of Negro Leagues greats -- in bronze statues -- are manning their positions. But to get to the field, you have to tour the rest of the museum first. They make you earn it.
Former Twins players Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins and Jacque Jones remain big supporters of the museum. The Brewers' Rickie Weeks and Nyjer Morgan visited during interleague play this year. Dodgers star Matt Kemp donated $20,000 in January and challenged other major leaguers to match it.
As the museum bounces back from financial challenges, interest from fans, players and potential corporate sponsors this week could set the museum up for a strong future.
"All of that is a ripple effect from the All-Star Game," Kendrick said. "There's a buzz, excitement and energy around the museum."