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Tom Mix, Published June 22 2013

Maris Museum still a draw after three decades

FARGO – Over the last 30 years, the Roger Maris Museum has caught the eyes and ears of countless people as they stroll through West Acres Shopping Center.

The museum, which houses hundreds of artifacts from Maris’ 12-year Major League Baseball career and his earlier days at Fargo Shanley High School and the Fargo Post 2 American Legion baseball program, is located near the southeast entrance of West Acres.

It’s become a shrine to all things associated with Maris — including the Celebrity Golf Tournament named in his honor.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the museum’s official dedication. Thirty years later, the museum and the golf tournament are still going strong.

Lowell Crary, a 63-year-old from Gilbert, Ariz., and his 55-year-old brother, John, visited the museum for the first time on Saturday, while in town for a wedding.

“I like the museum,” said Lowell Crary, who grew up in Deadwood, S.D. “I have been a Yankees fan since I was a little kid and remember when Roger was playing. I think what I like most about this museum is that it is open to the public and you don’t have to pay to get in. There must have been a lot of people over the years that have passed by and viewed it.”

Lowell admits he was pulling for Mickey Mantle – Maris’ teammate on the 1961 New York Yankees – to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. Ultimately, it was Fargo’s hometown slugger Maris who passed Ruth’s mark, connecting for 61 home runs 52 years ago.

Maris’ home run record is the most well-known accomplishment of his career and the museum has plenty of artifacts from his famous 1961 season.

“I like how the display is set up,” John Crary said. “You really get a good history of his career at this museum.”

Maris, who passed away December 14, 1985 of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was still alive when the museum was formally dedicated and opened to the public.

The museum was sponsored by Fargo’s American Legion Post 2 and initially featured items that were cleaned out of Maris’ den at his home in Gainesville, Fla.

June 23, 1984 was proclaimed “Roger Maris Day” and a crowd of 1,800 fans, including former North Dakota Gov. Allen Olson, gathered for the museum’s opening.

Throughout the years more artifacts and features have been added. Maris’ 1960 and 1961 American League Most Valuable Player trophies are currently displayed in the museum. A small theatre, equipped with seats from Old Yankee Stadium, is also available for guests to enjoy while watching a documentary of Maris that plays on a continuous loop.

“It really draws you here,” said 66-year-old Jim Hegg of Huron, S.D. “You just have to come and look at it. Roger Maris, to me, is one of the greatest baseball players to ever live. He didn’t need any steroids to help him, either.

“The home run balls he hit in 1961 are here, the one he hit for the record is in New York, but there are some great things here.”

Two days following the opening of the museum, the first-ever Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament was held at Oxbow, N.D., Country Club.

The tournament has raised $1,700,000 for charities the last 29 years. The tournament and the museum are big parts of Maris’ legacy both on a local and a national level.

“Now his career is probably more appreciated than it has ever been,” Lowell Crary said. “People tend to think of him as still having the single-season home run record.”

“It’s beautiful,” Hegg added about the museum. “Fargo is lucky to have something like this.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562