THREE OAKS — The sport of baseball has a big history in the town of Three Oaks, and local baseball fans now have a way to honor that tradition in the smallest possible way.

Saturday, April 13, marked the grand opening of the “BIGGEST Little Baseball Museum,” a one-room exhibit located on the second floor of the Three Oaks Public Township Library (which also celebrated its 160th anniversary that day. For more see article in the Features section of this website).

Garry Lange is the founder and idea man behind the museum. He said it was a simple love of the game that fueled the idea to start the museum. “I’ve loved the game since I started playing catch,” said Lange. “I still love to play catch, and it’s just that simple. I’m at a point in my life where I’ve seen the game change a lot, especially for young people.

“I was reflecting on why I did this, and I think that it’s a good point in history to do this, but the reason is that I just love to play catch. I loved it back then, I love it now and it brought me joy. It still brings me joy. I’m hoping that, when people come into the room, they can learn, reflect, visit and reminisce.”

The museum takes up just a single room of the library’s second floor, but is packed with hundreds of baseball trinkets and pieces of memorabilia, some dating back to the early 1900s.

Lange said many of the pieces in the museum he had already owned.

“If you buy two mitts a year for 40 years, you get 80 mitts,” he joked.

Lange, a Three Oaks native, said he approached the library with the idea for a museum about six months ago, and has been working periodically ever since to complete the exhibit leading up to its grand opening.

“I’d come in on rainy days and work on it,” he said. “You can see it took a lot of to-do. It’s not all just tossed in, there’s a lot of stories told in there.”

Lange said he believes Three Oaks’ rich baseball tradition, paired with the museum’s placement in a historical building, makes the building the perfect location for a baseball museum.

“Three Oaks has a strong history with baseball, beginning with the Three Oaks Greens at the early part of last century,” noted Lange. “They were a real strong team through the 30s and on to the war, and had one of the best teams in the area. There were also the New Troy Grays, the Lakeside Aces.”

Three members of the House of David Echoes baseball team delivered a short presentation detailing the rules of Civil War era baseball, a style of ball that the team still uses today.

Rick Ast, a member of the Echoes team and retired Herald-Palladium reporter, spoke in detail on Civil War era baseball and how it’s still being used today. Tom Reybuck and Madison Melton also joined Ast for his presentation.

“We do play ball according to 1858 rules,” Ast said. “Up until the 1820s, baseball was really just a kid’s game. What happened to turn it into an adult’s game was that, in the 1820s, there was sort of a fitness craze going on in the northeastern cities. There were no YMCAs in those days, so some unknown genius among them got the idea of dusting off the old kids game of baseball and playing it as adults.”

Ast encouraged listeners to attend a House of David Echoes baseball game, the next one featuring a game between the House of David Echoes and the Three Oaks Hometown Team at noon on Saturday, May 18, at the Three Oaks Elementary School Field, 100 Oak St., noting that the style of play is much more sportsmanlike than today’s game.

The May 18 event, which begins at 11 a.m. with a picnic, is a fund-raiser for the summertime Civil War Days in Three Oaks.

Ast said a place like the BIGGEST Little Baseball Museum provides a space to remember the old days of baseball.

“I knew this was going to be a good display here, but I’m blown away by how fantastic this is,” he said. “I’ve always loved this library, and to have this baseball museum here is extra special.”

The museum also comes equipped with multiple QR barcode readers, which, when scanned, route visitors to different websites on their smartphones.

Patrons can watch and listen to video and audio clips of historic baseball moments, including footage of Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth’s classic “called shot” home run and Bobby Thompson’s famed “shot heard ’round the world’” from the 1951 National League Championship Series.

Local players who made it to the Major Leagues such as Matt Mantei and Jeff Peterek are represented as well.

The museum is free to the public, and is open the same hours as the library.

Lange said he’d like to encourage people to “like” the museum on Facebook. Different presenters and events will occur periodically at the museum, and the Facebook page is the best place to learn about dates and times for those events.

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