As a boy growing up during the 1970s in Dayton, Tracy Martin was a baseball fan, and more specifically, a fan of the Cincinnati Reds' great Big Red Machine teams.

"I collected baseball cards and my family went to some Reds games," he said. "I'd buy pennants and programs and keep the ticket stubs and scorecards."

As he grew older, his love of baseball merged with an interest in history.

"I realized that the history of baseball didn't start with the Big Red Machine," Martin said.

He began to research the game's history, and in 1993, he joined the Ohio Village Muffins, a team that plays by 19th-century "base ball" rules.

The Grove City resident continued to gather baseball memorabilia, becoming a serious collector.

"The most interesting part of collecting to me was focusing on the equipment of baseball -- the gloves, the bats, the uniforms and the balls themselves," Martin said. "You can see the evolution of baseball through the evolution of its equipment.

"The equipment serves as a timeline for baseball history."

A portion of Martin's collection of more than 3,000 items is on display through September at the Grove City Welcome Center and Museum, 3378 Park St. in Grove City.

The exhibit includes uniforms dating from the turn of the 20th century to the 1960s.

Nearby is a rack of bats from various eras, and on the wall, early catchers equipment shows how little protection the men behind the plate had in the game's early decades. The display includes an autographed Bob Feller uniform and another worn by Satchel Paige, another Cleveland Indians great.

Gloves evolved "from little mitts you wore just for some protection to enlarged mitts with deep pockets that were designed to catch the ball," Martin said.

As a member of the Muffins, "we don't wear gloves, which players didn't back in the 19th century," he said. "The ball can sting a bit. You learn how to palm the ball when you catch it."

The display at the Grove City museum also includes vintage baseball board games; baseball-themed advertising figurines; bobbleheads from the Reds, Indians and Columbus Clippers; Reds and Indians memorabilia; baseball photos; and a party game similar to pin the tail on the donkey.

"You'd cut out the numbered baseballs and kids would try to get it as close to the hole in the bat (held by the player in the picture) as they could," Martin said.

The museum last held a display of Martin's memorabilia three years ago.

"It's a perfect fit for us," said Don Ivers, a visitor guide and host. "Baseball's always been huge in the Grove City area. The water tower by the Evans Center (the senior center operated by the city's parks and recreation department on Dudley Avenue) is a baseball."

During the last exhibition, "we had a lot of people stop by and just share their baseball stories and memories and their love of the game," Ivers said. "So many people feel a deep connection to baseball."

One of Ivers' favorite items on display is a pair of circa-1920s Babe Ruth All America Athletic Underwear.

The item endorsed by Ruth features a pair of boxer briefs sewed into a T-shirt. A photo shows Ruth and other New York Yankees players, including Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri, sitting in the locker room modeling the underwear.

"I look at that and think, 'Boy, that was probably a pretty risque photograph back in the 1920s,' " Ivers said.

Martin previously loaned the underwear for display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

Other items from his collection are on display at Ohio Village, the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum and Huntington Park.

"It's really satisfying to me to be able to share these items and have them on display for everyone to see," Martin said.

As his collection grew, he said, he came to an agreement with his wife, Tina.

"She said I could have the basement for my baseball collection as long as I gave her the upstairs at our house," Martin said while smiling. "I was just happy to have a space where I could display my collection in a proper way."

Over the years, his basement, the "Martin Baseball Museum," has been opened for viewing to friends and family.

Martin said he would like to open a museum where he can display his collection on a permanent and public basis.

"Maybe once I retire, that's a dream that can come true," he said. "I still work for a living (as a truck driver for Waste Management) and I just don't have the time I would need to establish and operate a museum."

Martin said his most prized acquisition might be a baseball autographed by Ruth in August 1947, just one year before he died of cancer.

Ruth was involved in American Legion baseball and visited an event held at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. He autographed a baseball for each team.

Martin said he bought the ball from a Chillicothe man who had played on one of the teams.

"It's a ball signed by Babe Ruth -- that's pretty special to me," he said.

Something else is No. 1 on his wish list.

"Like a lot of people, it would have to be a Honus Wagner T206 baseball card," Martin said. "That would be the crowning piece of any collection of baseball memorabilia."

One of the best players of the "dead-ball era" in the early 20th century, characterized by low scoring and an emphasis on pitching and defense, Wagner played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The T206 series of cards was issued by the American Tobacco Co. and included in cigarette packs.

Wagner would not allow his card to be included in the series, Martin said, possibly because he did not approve of cigarettes, "although he did chew tobacco."

Only the initial printing of the card was distributed in the cigarette packs, he said.

The museum is looking to hold seminars on baseball history led by Martin, "or perhaps just some chat sessions where people can get together and talk some baseball," Ivers said.

"We'd like to know whether people would be interested in attending those sessions on a Saturday morning, or if there's another day and time that would work better," Ivers said.

Anyone with suggestions for when to schedule events and on possible topics should email Ivers at donivers75@gmail.com.

Martin may be contacted at tracy1869reds@aol.com. More information about Martin, including images of items from his collection, is available at vintagebaseballcollector.com.

The Grove City Welcome Center and Museum, operated by the Southwest Franklin County Historical Society, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays. The museum is also open from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Sept. 7.

Museum admission and parking are free.

afroman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekAfroman