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PASSED BALL The national pastime is as much about the past as the present—and that's a good thing for Texas baseball fans this season. The Rangers were sent to the cellar almost immediately, and the Astros, even with their fast start and the addition of slugger Jeff Kent, are doomed to once again break their fans' hearts by August. With the future so bleak, you might want to head to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin to check out "Play Ball! Texas Baseball," a loving look at the state's hardball past. Did you know that more than one hundred Texas towns have hosted minor league teams? The temporary exhibit displays uniforms and mementos of some of them, including the Dallas Eagles and the Lubbock Hubbers. You can also see old-time balls, bats, and gloves, as well as photos of everyone from minor league lifers like James "Curly" Maloney to major league heroes like Nolan Ryan. Opening day is June 14, with visits from the mascots of various Texas League teams (including the San Antonio Missions' exemplary Puffy Taco) and a one-man show based on the life of Austin's Willie Wells, the Hall of Fame shortstop. The exhibit runs through January 4, 2004, which is just about the time disillusioned Rangers and Astros fans will begin thinking about next season. ( See Austin: Museums/Galleries ; Fort Worth: Sports ; and Houston: Sports .)

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