Al Lopez came a long way from the homemade sandlots of Ybor City, and now his boyhood home is being transformed.
"It's a fairy tale," said baseball legend Lopez in an interview with FOX13 back in 1998, the Rays' inaugural year. "Sand lot ball, we used to have to make our own ball fields in Ybor City."
The Ybor Museum Society and many local leaders turned out Monday to accept the key and the deed to his home, and to talk about how important the Tampa Baseball Museum is to our local sports history.
"Because with those keys, we are going to unlock the rich history that baseball has brought to our community," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner. "And when you think about 80 professional baseball players that this county has produced, it's amazing."
"Over 125 years, baseball has been a part of this community. It's always been a popular sport in this area. I think the support for the Rays is a continuation of that. That same feeling our community has always had about the sport. We have these two seats from the New York Yankees before the stadium was torn down," said Elizabeth McCoy with the Ybor Museum Society. "We have a really strong connection to the Yankees and interestingly, we have a bank of chairs from the Al Lopez Field before it was destroyed, that will be featured in the Tampa Baseball Museum that have been signed by Al Lopez. I heard an interesting story that he was there the day they were tearing it down and he was signing pieces as they pulled them out of the stadium, so we're lucky to have a bank of chairs that came out that really neat stadium. And there must be things just like that, things that Al signed, that are floating out there just like that, around the Tampa Bay area, which we could probably use on loan for the new museum. We are currently on the hunt for anything like that related to any of the teams that ever played here, little leagues, high schools, colleges, professional players, all of those stories we're going to be representing and we're still on the hunt for photos, memorabilia, anything like that."
"It was a dream that came true because we had other houses that we were going to put on that lot and because of circumstances, it wasn't to be," said Mary Alvarez with the Tampa Baseball Museum.
So it all worked out for the best. Deals to acquire the Lopez home had previously fallen through, but finally, all the right cards fell into place. The museum hopes to be open by March 2014.
You can read more about the museum and it's progress at: www.tampabaseballmuseum.org
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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