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story.lead_photo.caption Robert Raines, owner of the Gangster Museum of America, gives a tour Thursday of a new section of the museum featuring baseball memorabilia that has ties to Hot Springs. - Photo by Grace Brown

HOT SPRINGS -- A baseball gallery in downtown Hot Springs' Gangster Museum of America is expected to pique the interest of history buffs and fans of the sport and reveal some of Hot Springs' long-ago goings-on.

The gallery's grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, just in time for the inaugural Hot Springs Baseball Weekend on Friday and Saturday.

Framed photos of baseball Hall of Famers and major-league players adorn the walls, spaces and glass cases of the gallery. Also displayed are an old scoreboard, statues, baseball gloves, uniforms and other collectibles amassed by Robert Raines, owner of the museum at 510 Central Ave.

Raines said the idea to incorporate a baseball gallery within his existing museum came to him in 2016. Once he announced his intentions to the public, he began receiving phone calls and emails from individuals who wanted to donate items to the gallery.

A statue that was once in Yankee Stadium in New York and belonged to the late Jennings Osborne, a well-known philanthropist from Little Rock, also will be displayed in the gallery.

Raines grew up in Little Rock and Pine Bluff, and he said his interest in Hot Springs history and his love for the city began in 2007 when he was helping a friend move into his newly purchased business.

"We were sitting down there on a bench in front of the building," Raines said. "A cop came by walking a beat, it was about 10 p.m., and we were out there having a glass of wine. The cop tapped on the back of the bench we were sitting on, and I just knew we were busted. He said, 'Are you guys enjoying yourselves?' We said, 'yes,' and he said, 'Well, have a good time, be safe,' and he walked on.

"I just thought, in Pine Bluff, if you were out at 10 p.m., you were usually on your way to the hospital with a gunshot wound," Raines recalled, laughing. "I just fell in love with Hot Springs."

He began researching Al Capone, one of several gangsters in the 1920s and 1930s who spent time in Hot Springs, and the history of gangsters in the city. He opened the museum in April 2008.

"We call this the gangster museum, but really, it's the history of Hot Springs, beginning in 1927 and going through 1967," Raines said. "Baseball is just part of Hot Springs history."

From the late 1800s through the early 1940s, Hot Springs was a premier destination spot for big league baseball spring training.

"If you think about where the mobsters were from -- Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, New York, Detroit -- they all had Major League Baseball teams," Raines said. "So they would come down here and watch their guys spring train, because the mob really wasn't doing any business down here. They were just playing, relaxing."

Among the famous baseball players featured in the gallery are some with Arkansas ties: Travis Jackson, born in Waldo; Bill Dickey, who lived in Kensett; and George Kell, who was born in Swifton. Also featured are baseball greats Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and Mickey Mantle.

Raines said he wants to stir interest in baseball spring training because he hopes to build a spring training baseball museum downtown.

The baseball gallery is included in the admission to the Gangster Museum. In addition to seeing photographs and collectibles, guests will learn about the history of baseball spring training in Hot Springs through a video. Filmmaker Larry Foley contributed to the video.

Foley wrote the documentary The First Boys of Spring, which was narrated by actor and Malvern native Billy Bob Thornton. Outtakes from the documentary are included in the gallery video.

State Desk on 03/19/2018

Print Headline: Baseball gallery to make 1st pitch

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