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National Sports Gallery Set To Open

February 25, 1998 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Tim McDonough leaned over the basketball display case, and the memories came back.

``I remember the UCLA streak,″ he said, nodding at a jersey worn by Lew Alcindor in 1968. ``A lot of this stuff is part of my growing up.″

McDonough is a 46-year-old sports fan from Leesburg, Va. At the other end of the hall, he can turn a knob and listen to Howard Cosell tell a Monday night football audience that John Lennon had been shot.

McDonough’s 10-year-old son, Patrick, is too young to remember Cosell or the Beatles. And, besides, he’s too busy finishing a putt on an interactive golf game.

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The National Sports Gallery, Washington’s newest museum, opens Thursday after a two-month preliminary run. It is located inside the new $200 million MCI Center that houses the Washington Wizards and Capitals and is just across the street from the National Portrait Gallery.

The museum is an eclectic mix of super-size interactive sports games and memorabilia displays aimed at satisfying fans of all stripes.

``We wanted to attract the young people by playing the interactives,″ said curator Frank Ceresi, who left a judgeship in family court in Arlington, Va., to become the museum’s curator. ``And then get them learning the history of the sports.″

While most of the gallery’s visitors are attracted to the games _ some wait as long as 20 minutes to pay $3 to play a short interactive version of H-O-R-S-E with Wizards star Chris Webber _ the few who do spend some time at the 20 or so display cases find plenty to hold their attention.

``That’s worth about a half-million dollars,″ Ceresi said, pointing to a 1910 Honus Wagner baseball card. ``Certainly, it is the Mona Lisa of the baseball collectible world.″

The card is treasured because Wagner insisted that the American Tobacco Company card be pulled from the market soon after it was printed. Legend has it the shortstop objected to being associated with tobacco, but the card’s owner, collector Bill Mastro of Palos Park, Ill., said Wagner had a more traditional motivation.

``The truth is, he wasn’t paid,″ said Mastro, adding there are only about a dozen or so of the Wagner cards in collectible condition in existence. ``He was the first major league baseball player who was paid for the use of his name associated with any product. If he wasn’t paid for the use of his image on a baseball card by a cigarette company, he probably would have sued them.″

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All of the museum’s items are on loan from collectors _ except for a genuine Babe Ruth bat from 1926-29. A hole in the display case allows fans to touch the same handle the Bambino would have grasped while swatting his way into the record books.

The only existing bat signed by Joe Jackson and a full display on the Negro Leagues are just part of the baseball section. Football, basketball boxing, hockey, golf and soccer are also featured. A photo exhibit featuring Muhammad Ali _ on loan from the Smithsonian _ is alone worth the $4 price of admission (minus the interactive games) for any boxing fan.

The gallery contains the American Sportscasters Hall of Fame, where the voices of Cosell, Red Barber, Mel Allen and others come alive for a few seconds. Oddly, the Harry Caray sound bite doesn’t include a ``Holy cow!″ and there’s no ``Whoa, Nellie!″ from Keith Jackson.

Ceresi hopes the gallery will become a popular field trip for area schools, right up there with the Smithsonian and the city’s other attractions.

``There’s room for education in all fields,″ Ceresi said. ``Sports is a common bond we’ve had in our country.″