New Chicago Sports Museum hits a home run

From the Saturday, April 12, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

hoverboardThe WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

When it comes to museums, Chicago has almost as many as it has potholes. But oddly enough, for a city that’s so in love with its sports franchises, figures and history of both, it’s never had a museum dedicated to sports.

Until now, that is.

“The Chicago Sports Museum is going to fill a hole in this sports-crazy town,” WGN Radio and Comcast SportsNet personality David Kaplan said recently in a release promoting the Windy City’s newest sports attraction. “We have lots of great museums in Chicago, but nothing dedicated to sports. Fans are going to love it.”

I think so, too. I know that I certainly did.

Located on Level 7 of Water Tower Place at 835 North Michigan Avenue, the Chicago Sports Museum – which opened on April 2 – is housed as part of the new Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch Restaurant.

It’s billed as “Chicago’s playground for sports fans,” and with an amazing array of interactive exhibits along with a fascinating array of some of the city’s quirkiest pieces of sports memorabilia from Harry Caray’s CEO Grant DePorter’s personal collection, the 8,000-square-foot museum lives up to that description.

Dotting the walls in a long hallway just outside the museum are dozens of framed newspaper front pages marking the most famous events in Chicago’s sports history, including recent milestones such as the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cups and the White Sox’s World Series championship, as well as pages literally torn from history with newspapers dating from 1970 when Ernie Banks hit his 500th home run, 1986 when the Bears won Super Bowl XX, 1945 when the Cubs last reached the World Series, and even 1908 when they last won it.

Inside the museum – which requires a $6 fee for adults and $3 for kids 3-11, or a receipt from a meal at the Harry Caray’s restaurant of at least that amount per person – visitors enter a wonderland of skill challenges and interactive experiences that includes an opportunity to test your vertical leap or call plays from a TV booth as if you were Harry Caray himself.

What I found most fun, however, was a remarkable collection of exhibits that use body-tracking technology to allow you to knock balls out of the park as former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, shoot three-pointers as Scottie Pippen, and fire footballs at targets before a simulated Richard Dent sacks you into oblivion.

After getting the digital swing of things, I became enough of an All-Star home run hitter, shooter and QB that I was hoping they might hang my jersey beside the other game-worn apparel inside the museum.

But the collection is so much more than just an array of colorful laundry, as the Chicago Sports Museum is also home to one-of-a-kind Chicago artifacts such as Sammy Sosa’s corked bat, Will Perdue’s size 21 shoes, Refrigerator Perry’s size 25 Super Bowl ring, and Andrew Shaw’s stitches from Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the museum is its “Curses” room, which includes the remnants of the infamous baseball that bounced off the hands of Cubs fan Steve Bartman during the 2003 playoffs and was then blown up by DePorter in 2004. In the room, fans can even push a plunger to “detonate” a replica of the ball.

Or instead of focusing on the past, they can look back to the future by ogling the sports almanac and hoverboard props used in the movie “Back to the Future II” when Marty McFly traveled to 2015 – and discovered that the Cubs had become World Series champs.

Yes, the Chicago Sports Museum is a dream world, too.