Yogi museum transcends baseball

Take a few steps into the museum and you quickly will learn that it covers much more than a game. Photo courtesy Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center

Photo gallery: Yogi Berra Museum and Stadium

Casey Stengel counted himself lucky to have enjoyed the company of Yogi Berra when he coached the great catcher with the Yankees, and "The Old Perfessor's" sentiments speak for many baseball fans.

Hanging on a placard inside the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, N.J., are a few of Stengel's words about the man: "I'm lucky to have him, and so are my pitchers."

In fact, mighty Casey, we all are.

Hey, Yogi, more photos

For a gallery of images of the Yogi Berra Museum and Stadium, click here.

Despite its brevity, Stengel's statement helps sum up the impact of a player who was 15 times named an All-Star, was a three-time AL MVP, has 10 World Series rings to his credit and went on to become an endearing pop-culture icon for his unique flair and memorable catchphrases.

Indeed, Berra is largely recognized as a consummate team player who helped to define the golden era of baseball. In the 1950s, the game truly was the American pastime and Berra was the engine of the Yankees, the finest machine in baseball. And Berra's impact, of course, went far beyond the diamond. Can you say, "Hey, Boo Boo"?

"Well, they didn't give me any money," Berra told ESPN.com SportsTravel via e-mail about Yogi Bear. "They just named a cartoon character after me. I guess it's a compliment."

What undeniably is a compliment to Berra is the museum itself, which, according to the repository's Web site, was "built privately by a group of friends and admirers of Yogi Berra to pay tribute to his remarkable life and career."

With a new book piquing interest in Berra -- Allen Barra's 480-page "Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee" (W.W. Norton & Co.; $27.95) -- we figure the timing is right to take a closer look at the museum dedicated to one of baseball's most compelling players and personalities.

And what's great about this historical pilgrimage is that you can also take in a game right next door. The museum is connected, appropriately enough, to Yogi Berra Stadium.

Home to the New Jersey Jackals, an independent team in the Can-Am League, the stadium is a comfortable facility that seats 3,784 and boasts many minor league amenities. Clean, well-staffed and with a good pretzel, everything at the stadium, from mascot Jack the Jackal to the between-innings contests, is fun. The experience is just pure baseball.

"The stadium's simplicity is reminiscent of Yogi himself," said visitor Wayne Johnson of Morristown, N.J. "Simplistic in the way of how he came to the field in a rather everyday, business-as-usual manner but was a true star on the field. The stadium is like that in many ways, a real diamond in the rough."

Floyd Hall, the former CEO of Kmart, came to Berra with the idea for the stadium in 1997. Both the stadium and the museum opened in 1998 and serve to commemorate one of the most quoted guys around.

"The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Yogi Berra is the numerous great quotes he provided to society," said Thomas Grigsby, a former student at Montclair State who has visited the museum and attended games at the neighboring stadium.

"A teacher of mine was a big fan of Yogi and had spread throughout his classroom the various great notable quotes that Yogi made. My personal favorite is the one: 'You can observe a lot by watching.' It's so true in life, you really can learn a lot by just paying attention first. His quotes are almost philosophical in a way."

Consider these other Yogi-isms from the museum's Web site:

• "The future ain't what it used to be."

• "It ain't over 'til it's over."

• "It's deja vu all over again."

• "When you come to a fork in the road … take it."

And, as Berra might say, there is plenty to observe by watching at the museum. There also is a lot to learn.

It might, at first, seem silly to tag onto the museum the label of "learning center." This is baseball we're talking about here, right?

But take a few steps into the museum and you quickly will learn that it covers much more than a game.

A journey into American history is woven together through the eyes and ears of the son of Italian immigrants who took his nickname because of his resemblance to a Hindu yogi in a movie and went on to become a legend.

"It's a great honor having a museum named after you. I'm lucky to be here to see it. Usually when you get one, you're gone," said Berra, 84. "What I'm most proud of is [that] kids are being taught great life lessons through sports."