There’s a lot of wow factor in Wichita’s newest museum.
Now open as part of the Riverfront Stadium complex is the Wichita Baseball Museum, a 3,000-square-foot, $1.8 million showcase that not only is exciting but free to visit.
Jordan Kobritz, a part owner and chief executive officer of the host Wichita Wind Surge minor league baseball team, says he’s heard “rave reviews” of the museum and describes it as “the only thing we’ve done that no one has criticized.”
And they shouldn’t. The museum combines artifacts such as old uniforms and photographs with state-of-the-art interactive games. Visitors can try their skills at fielding ground balls —virtually — or answer Wichita baseball trivia questions. (Sample question: Did the Alomar brothers, Roberto and Sandy, play for the Wichita Pilots in 1987? The answer is yes.) Another exhibit is an outfield wall where visitors see how high they could jump to haul in a fly ball and save a home run. Nine feet anyone?
Just standing at the entrance rouses a viewer’s baseball instincts. At the right is a wall filled with colorful life-sized cutouts of players who performed here, ranging from Satchel Paige to Barry Bonds (both Barry and his dad, Bobby, played in Wichita). To the left is a dugout with life-sized cutouts of modern Wind Surge players. Visitors can sit in the dugout for a photo session with the cutouts. Straight ahead is a diamond painted on the green turf floor with exhibits on pylons that dwarf viewers.
And that’s just the start.
One attraction is a working radio studio for ESPN, 92.3 FM Wichita. Broadcasters are on the air each afternoon. Although technically not part of the museum, it is next to it and the broadcast can be seen through a large window.
“In designing it, one thing we wanted was for the museum not to be static, and we wanted something kids as well as adults could enjoy,” Kobritz says.
Although he hadn’t been involved with a museum like this in his long front-office career, he is familiar with one in the St. Paul (Minn.) Saints’ home park. “It is well done but only about half the size of this one,” he says. “But it became our standard.” Kobritz says he’s been to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown NY, the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City and the Hockey Hall of Fame museum in Canada. He believes the new Wichita facility compares well with them.
The Cooperstown and Negro Leagues museums may well be represented here in future years, he continues. Both have traveling exhibits “and we’re in the process of trying to raise funds to bring them here.” Wichita’s museum is operated and funded by a charitable foundation.
Plans are to rotate exhibits so one trip won’t be enough for most people. “We have a lot more artifacts that can be displayed to be sure the exhibits remain fresh,” Korbitz said.
Outreach also is an important part of future plans. “Starting this fall, we’ll be going into schools and hosting school groups,” Kobritz adds. “We have a kitchen adjacent to the museum that is capable of providing meals for groups.” The museum can be rented by groups wanting to hold events or meetings there. “We aren’t trying to make money from the museum, but we do have expenses to cover, and this is one way we can do so.”
While the Covid pandemic delayed completion of the Wichita museum, he said, “it did give us some extra time to work on it.”
It seemingly took almost a village to design and build the museum. Both the city of Wichita and the Wind Surge worked on it. Schaefer Johnson Cox and Frey was the lead architect. Eby Construction Co. built it. Professional Engineering Consultants, Image Resources Group and Gardner Design, all of Wichita, took part in putting it together as did Cortina Productions of McLean, Va., and Cambridge 7 of Cambridge, Mass.
The museum is at 275 S. McLean next to the Wind Surge ticket office and is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and during home baseball games. To see the museum, visitors need to use a button-activated voice communicator to ask the operator inside to open the door.
Bob Rives is the author of “Baseball in Wichita” (Arcadia Publishing, 2004). Contact him at email@example.com.
Second baseball Hall of Fame
Wichita has a second baseball museum: the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame at 4700 E. Central. Also free, the museum highlights Hall of Fame players and most of the state’s best-known player, managers, coaches and others associated with the game. Photographs and game-used uniforms and equipment are on display. Call (316) 264-5222 before visiting to be certain it’s open.