NJ Pastor Has an Astounding Collection of Old Ballpark Seats in His Basement

75-year-old Rev. Dr. Robert W. Ralph owns more than 250 ballpark seats, which he lovingly restores in his memorabilia-loaded workshop.

Rev. Dr. Robert W. Ralph in his baseball memorabilia-rich basement
The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Ralph owns 250-plus ballpark seats and countless pieces of local team memorabilia. Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

Visitors to the East Greenwich Township home of the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Ralph don’t have to worry about finding a place to sit.

The longtime baseball fan, historian and collector has taken his interest in the sport to another level, with more than 250 seats from 45 major and minor league ballparks displayed throughout his home. With seats from classic fields, such as the original Yankee Stadium and Ebbets Field, to current stadiums, including Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the residence serves as a journey through the past of the national pastime.

That becomes evident after descending the steps to the basement, which could serve as a South Jersey annex of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Seats are carefully arranged by team, with framed newspaper articles on the walls and baseball memorabilia displayed throughout. A “We Win!” headline from the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News of October 22, 1980, celebrates the first time the Phillies won the World Series. A photo with the number 2131 marks the September 6, 1995, game when Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record of most consecutive games played.

Not surprisingly, Ralph says, “I bought this home because it had a large basement.” What led the local pastor to collect seats? His answer comes as quickly as a fastball on the outside corner of the plate: “I like old stuff. It’s the history of the game.”

Red ballpark seats in the midst of being restored in Rev. Dr. Robert W. Ralph's basement

Ralph has been restoring ballpark seats in his basement workshop since 1997. Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

“It takes a lot of time to decide how to set everything up,” notes Ralph, who has served as pastor of New Brooklyn United Methodist Church in Williamstown since 2011. “I got a lot of stuff, more than you should be allowed to have,” he adds with a smile.

The seats reflect an evolution in ballpark seating. There are seats made of wood and plastic, with and without armrests; folding chairs; seats with a straight back or a curved back; and those with cupholders.

Some seats are more than a century old. One, from the Palace of the Fans, a Cincinnati stadium, is a rare example from a ballpark named for its team’s supporters. He also owns a seat from Exposition Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early years of the 20th century.

Ralph’s collection is diverse. He owns a Rockford Peaches pennant from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1943-1954), which was featured in the 1992 film A League of Their Own. He also has turnstiles from Municipal Stadium in Kansas City and the Polo Grounds in New York.

New Jersey baseball history is represented by seats and a home plate from Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium, the home of the Jersey City Giants from 1937 to 1950; the Brooklyn Dodgers played 15 games there during the 1956 and 1957 seasons. He also has a scorecard from the Newark Peppers, a team that played one season in the short-lived Federal League in 1915, and a pennant for the Jersey City Jerseys, who played two years in the International League in the early 1960s.

A Jersey City Giants program

A Jersey City Giants program Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

A basement workshop allows Ralph to refurbish and repaint seats. “Some need the wood repaired; sometimes they need welding,” says Ralph, who has been fixing up seats since 1997.

One recent project involved the painting of 12 seats from Fenway Park in Boston. Ralph follows a standard procedure.

“First, I clean the seats and apply three coats of oil-based paint,” he says. He waits three days between each coat for the best results.

The New Jersey native’s longtime love of baseball can be traced to his family. “My grandmother was a big Dodgers fan,” says Ralph, 75, who was born in Princeton and grew up in Hightstown and Point Pleasant Borough.

“I’m a baseball purist,” says Ralph. He remains opposed to the designated hitter, more than a half century after it was first introduced in the American League.

His favorite era is from the end of World War II through the 1960s. “To me, that was the golden era of baseball,” he notes. “The players were accessible to the fans.” Nevertheless, he still enjoys the sport and has seen games played at all 30 Major League Baseball parks.

Ralph took an early interest in items associated with the sport. “As a boy, I’d walk around the ballpark to pick up ticket stubs,” he recalls.

“I always loved collecting baseball cards and memorabilia,” he says. More importantly, he adds, “my mom made sure my stuff was saved.”

Raincheck tickets for Newark International Baseball Club

Raincheck tickets for Newark International Baseball Club Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

In the early 1990s, his interest in ballpark seats started while working on the grounds crew of the Bowie Baysox in Maryland. The club, which played at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in 1993, gave him three seats from the park.

He made his first purchase—three seats from Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia—a year later. That kick-started his interest in collecting.

Steve Archer, the owner of Archer Seating in Vineland, has bought and sold seats since 1995. He calls Ralph the Seat Doctor, a reference to his baseball knowledge and doctorate in education.

“He’s an expert, for sure,” Archer says of Ralph. “He’s put a lot of effort into the field.”

Archer and Ralph even worked with the producers of 42, the 2013 film about Jackie Robinson and the integration of Major League Baseball. Archer’s company provided 1,500 seats for the movie.

“Bob provided filmmakers with information on what type of advertising was on the outfield walls of ballparks [in the 1940s],” Archer says, to ensure it was historically accurate.

Seats are popular collectibles for fans, according to Archer, whose seat prices range from $235 to almost $1,000.

“It’s the one physical thing from a ballpark that has utility,” he points out. “It’s something that can be used in your home. In some cases, you can buy the seat that you sat in.”

Archer and Ralph take steps to determine the authenticity of seats, particularly older ones.

“Ballpark seats are unique in terms of design and structure,” says Archer. The paint and font of a seat number are also distinguishing characteristics that link a seat to a particular ballpark.

In 2001, Major League Baseball launched a memorabilia-authentication initiative to certify autographs and game-used sports items, such as baseballs.

A 1947 program from the Trenton Giants

A 1947 program from the Trenton Giants

As a man of the cloth and a baseball fan, Ralph has combined his twin pursuits. The desk where he does church work features an autograph of baseball broadcaster Bob Uecker and patches honoring longtime announcers Harry Caray and Harry Kalas.

Ralph says religion and baseball overlap. “There are a lot of Christian athletes in the major leagues,” he notes. “There’s also a book called Green Cathedrals,” a history of ballparks, he adds. Both baseball and religion feature gatherings of the faithful, the former in ballparks and the latter in houses of worship.

For now, Ralph will continue to serve as pastor and baseball aficionado and preservationist. His collecting, he says, “is a nice break from my regular job.”

Like most collectors, his quest for that hard-to-find item continues. “You’re always looking for something,” Ralph says. “The most difficult item for me to find has been a Shea Stadium seat with the original wood.”

For now, there’s work to be done in his basement workshop. “I’m going to run out of time before I run out of seats to restore,” he says.

Contributing writer Tom Wilk has rooted for the Philadelphia Phillies since the early 1960s. He saw his first Major League game at Connie Mack Stadium in July 1962.

No one knows New Jersey like we do. Sign up for one of our free newsletters here. Want a print magazine mailed to you? Purchase an issue from our online store.

Read more History, News articles.