Chicago’s sport: 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame launches in Forest Park

The realization of a vision nearly 20 years in the making will be unveiled this weekend.

The 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame is launching its museum Saturday at 7501 W. Harrison St. in Forest Park. For the first time, Chicago’s iconic sport will have a building that houses its extensive history and honors the legends of the game.

The museum will have displays about the backstory of 16-inch softball, which began in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day 1887. It celebrates the sports’ diversity and heritage, with exhibits including women and African-American players.

It also accommodates its hall of fame, which has inducted more than 500 players, umpires, managers and organizers since its inception in 1995 — roughly the same time the idea for a museum was hatched.

Al Maag, 65, one of the founders and a hall of famer himself, became interested in the history of the 16-inch game and its popularity in Chicago in the 1930s and 40s. He was approached about creating a hall of fame and he and his generation of softball players accepted the challenge and began acquiring artifacts.

“A lot of guys for some reason were saving this stuff,” Maag, a transplanted Chicagoan who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, said. “We have a lot of it, but then when we start telling people we’re actually going to have a hall of fame, we started getting bats and uniforms, trophies. This came from the softball community.”

The building itself was a former gas station that took just under 18 months to transform. Topps Construction Company, which is owned by the Hall of Fame’s vice president Ray Topps, renovated the venue.

Work included adding green space, planting a home plate and incorporating baseball designs and a few 8-foot, 900-pound ornamental limestone bats. The interior features wooden and glass displays and flatscreen monitors for videos, making the museum as visually pleasing as it is informative.

“Anybody who knows anything about the game will appreciate it, and people who don’t know anything about the game will get an education if they come into this building,” Topps, who lives in Chicago, said.

On Saturday, festivities begin with a play-in softball game for the national tournament at 10 a.m. Opening ceremonies for the museum are at 1:30 p.m. After the 2013 inductees are enshrined, there will be a celebrity game and another between inductees.

La Grange resident Ron Kubicki, the president of the 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame, said he’s anticipating more than 2,000 visitors for the opening.

He’s proud of the museum and thinks visitors will enjoy it.

“Believe me, when you come out here you won’t believe it,” he said. “It’s phenomenal.”

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