Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tampa restoring Hall of Famer Al Lopez childhood home, could be part of Tampa Baseball Museum

"A museum dedicated to Tampa's rich baseball history is coming to Ybor City and could eventually be housed in Baseball Hall of Famer Al Lopez's family home.

Members of the Ybor City Museum Society on Wednesday will ask Hillsborough County commissioners to lease land at the northeast corner of Ninth Avenue and 19th Street to the city of Tampa. The city would then sublet it to the museum society for the baseball museum.

"I think the Al Lopez Baseball Museum will not only serve as a tribute to a major league baseball legend, it will increase tourism and serve as an economic engine for the Ybor City area," said Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who has been working with the museum society on the effort.

The Florida Department of Transportation has agreed to move Lopez's childhood home, now at 1210 E.12th St., to the leased site, across from Centennial Park. The land is at the southwest corner of the old county Environmental Protection Commission site and now serves as a parking lot for the sheriff's office.

"What we want to do is create a museum for Al and other baseball greats we have in our county," said Mary Alvarez, treasurer for the Ybor City Museum Society and a former Tampa councilwoman.

Once the lease is granted, it will take the transportation department about six months to move the house and another year for the museum society to rehabilitate the structure. The society will use grants or loans for the rehabilitation work and operations. No county money will be needed.

In the meantime, the museum society plans to open a baseball exhibit on Oct. 18 called "For the Love of the Game" at the Ybor City Museum State Park. The exhibit will be kept and shown in the former Ferlita Bakery until the Lopez house is ready. The society will also solicit memorabilia from around the city and county.

"The concept is trying to keep the Al Lopez house in Ybor," said Chantal Hevia, president and chief executive officer of the Ybor City Museum Society. "Not only did he live there, but it will provide

  • a beautiful tie-in that baseball had to Ybor City and West Tampa."

Lopez was the first Tampa native to play in the major leagues. When he retired as a player in 1947, he held the record for the most games played as a catcher: 1,918. He then turned to managing and won American League pennants with the 1954 Cleveland Indians and the 1959 Chicago White Sox. Both teams lost in the World Series.

Lopez's mother, Faustina, and father, Modesto, moved into the house about 1910 or 1912, said Al Lopez Jr. His father was the eighth of nine children. Family members lived in the house until 1959, he said.

Lopez Jr. said he had heard rumors that there were plans to save the house, which was acquired by the DOT to make way for Interstate 4 expansion.

"Anything that is meant to honor my dad or help honor the past of the Latin community is a wonderful thing," Lopez Jr. said. "But I haven't been made aware of it."

Hevia said the museum will focus on baseball in the Tampa area, including the teams representing cigar factories or different ethnic groups in the first half of the 20th century.

The museum will feature famous major leaguers who hail from this area. Two of those players, Fred McGriff and Tino Martinez, said Monday they were excited about the prospect of a baseball museum.

"I've always said Tampa has to be one of the greatest towns in America for producing baseball talent," McGriff said. "There's a long story to be told there; we need to keep telling that story."

Martinez said when he was growing up he looked up to earlier Tampa players such as Lou Piniella and Steve Garvey.

"I'm curious to know more about the players who came before us," Martinez said, "and I know I'm going to follow the players from here who are coming up now." photo from Tampa Tribune

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