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Chicago Sports Museum Preps for Wednesday Opening in Water Tower Place

 The museum and attached Harry Caray's 7th Inning Stretch restaurant will open April 2.
Chicago Sports Museum
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STREETERVILLE — Days away from its opening on the seventh floor of Water Tower Place, the Chicago Sports Museum is already functioning as the city's largest repository of local sports memorabilia, with game-worn jerseys and equipment being delivered in dishwasher-sized boxes.

Once they finish plugging in all the gadgets, it will also be the most interactive sports-focused educational experience in Chicago, focused almost entirely on local heroes and events.

The museum's interactive exhibits are divided into five sections where guests can learn about athletes stats and techniques, and test their own skills.

At "How Do You Measure Up?" visitors move two metal bars to the edge of their fingertips, measuring their "wingspan" and comparing it to ex-Chicago Bull Scottie Pippen's, who is 6-foot-7 but has an arm span of nearly 7-1/2 feet.

A floor-to-ceiling photo series of Michael Jordan mid-jump features light-up buttons at varying heights so guests can see if their vertical leaps "measure up."

At a "strategic pitching" interactive, visitors grip different baseballs to learn how pitchers Greg Maddux and Steve Stone used their minds more than their muscles to strike batters out.

At every turn, "we tried to focus on making sure that people are having fun while they're learning about these athletes, their histories, their techniques," said Beth Heller, vice president of marketing for Harry Caray's restaurants.

Interactivity was a focus in the museum's design, Heller said, as was the authenticity and rarity of artifacts: "We don't have just signed jerseys in here," Heller said. "It's all: the player wore it, or used it — it might be signed also."

One display case features Bobby Hull's 2010 Stanley Cup Championship ring, Ron Santos' All-Star ring, and a replica of William "The Fridge" Perry's championship ring that will let guests try on the size 25 bling.

At "How Quick Are You?" Tony Esposito guides would-be goalies through a speed game where players jump to block light-up "pucks" from entering their goal space. Elsewhere in the museum, Xbox Kinect technology lets sports fans shoot hoops in the avatar form of star athletes.

A unique spin on sports analysis is the "Sports Forensics" exhibit, which Harry Caray's Restaurant Group President Grant DePorter says was in part inspired by his own use of FBI technology to track down the missing 2010 Stanley Cup hockey puck.

"Grant bought Sammy Sosa's corked bat, and we CAT scanned it," Heller said. "We have the bat on display along with the story of Sammy's corked bat and what happens, and that begged the question: why cork a bat? Does it actually help? Scientists say no, players say yes, so we wanted people to be able to conclude themselves. A monitor will let you climb into and through the bat via the CAT scan images and see for yourself."

That exhibit gave different sports balls the same treatment, cutting them in half and comparing how the materials and composition have changed over time.

An entire, illuminated exhibit also prominently features Blackhawk Andrew Shaw's stitches, which DePorter nabbed for $6,500 at an auction last summer.

The museum opens April 2, the day after the 16th annual "Worldwide Toast to Harry Caray," where Budweisers will be $1 at all Harry Caray's restaurants to encourage patrons to toast to the icon.

Patrons at the restaurant get into the museum for free, and can even bring their beer along, Heller said. Admission to the museum only is $6 for adults and $3 for kids.

The museum will be open for the same hours as the mall, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and until 6 p.m. on Sundays.