Baseball, the all-American game. Family entertainment at its best.
Alright, so it’s a cliché, and maybe it’s not the only All-American game (other usurpers have tried to claim the title). But to use another clichéd scenario—think of sitting in the bleachers on a warm summer evening, eating that tasty hot dog and slurping that drink (beer for the adults and pop for the youngsters), waiting for the latest homerun king to come to the plate. The sounds, smells and tastes of a baseball park can not be equaled anywhere. And the smaller the park, the more intimate the game. Who could ask for anything better? A whole vacation of ball parks. And what better way to see this country than traveling the backroads of the United States on your quest for more baseball? The adventures your family can have—the alligator farms, the amusement parks, the museums, the national memorials, the water parks, and so much more. Our own quest for minor league baseball began years ago, but we’ve never gotten tired of the traveling or the sightseeing.
Our journey (or journeys) to becoming baseball travelers is a long one. From 1988-1992, we lived just outside Toledo, Ohio. Not an exciting town—the singer John Denver once recalled his experience in Toledo as his having spent a week there one night. But our home was only a mile from the Toledo Mud Hens stadium. At the time, we had no idea how that would influence the rest of our lives.
Ginny was in graduate school working on her PhD and Dan was a newly minted Episcopal priest working at a parish in Maumee (a suburb of Toledo). As the youth group minister, it was Dan’s job to find interesting—a highly subjective term, since he was far from being a “youth” and the “youth” often disagreed with his idea of “interesting”—activities through which the group and he could bond. The stadium was close to the church, was inexpensive and offered the perfect spring/summer/fall activity.
We both had grown up as fans of the Cincinnati Reds. Dan’s mother and grandmother listened or watched all the Reds’ games and Ginny’s father would take his brood of seven children out every evening after dinner to play baseball in the side yard—an expansive five acres surrounding their home. So the Mud Hens were a perfect answer to what to do with the youth group on several Sunday afternoons. Ginny would even accompany them to the games—and she was not much of a joiner when it came to church activities.
Then came 1992: Ginny accepted her first full-time college job in the northern area of the lower peninsula of Michigan, four plus hours from the closest baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. While they were happy to be in a familiar and beloved resort area, there was no baseball, save the local intramural civic teams. Thus, in 1994, when the West Michigan Whitecaps opened a new stadium in Grand Rapids—a mere three hours away—Dan said, “Let’s go” and Ginny agreed. But because of jobs and the distance, they only managed a couple of games a year.
When the Lansing Lugnuts opened their stadium two years later, Ginny suggested a road trip: “Better still, what other teams are within driving range? Let’s choose a team and follow them around the Midwest.“ That proved impractical. But the idea of the road trip stuck. Instead of one team, why not just visit stadiums to see many different teams play? But how do we do that? Believe it or not, in 1996, the Internet did not exist to the extent it does now, and few teams had websites. So, Dan found a copy of the Baseball America Directory at the bookstore and we sat down to lay out a trip—which turned out to be a killer: over 1100 miles in six days.
We traveled from northern Michigan to Iowa, then back through Illinois and Indiana hitting minor league baseball stadiums in each state. In Muscatine, Iowa, we searched for a distant great, great, great grandfather’s gravestone—which stated he was the king of Hanover, Germany—and records of the Linnenberg clan that had moved there in the 1800s. We got to see a stadium, built by the WPA during the Great Depression, that the Mississippi River floods every spring. We got caught in rush-hour traffic outside of Chicago on our way to Rockford, Illinois, almost ending in divorce court. And we stayed in a hotel suite with three rooms and two televisions for the grand price of $75—a treasure, after looking for some place to stay for two hours in the dark of night in rural Illinois. The trip culminated in seeing the Lugnuts’ new stadium then driving home after the game—arriving at 1:30 in the morning. But we were hooked. We loved seeing America, the back roads, the places and peoples that aren’t in the regular tour guides, and many that are.
We have had great fun over the years traveling and learning about our country. And our travels aren’t over. There are about 250 minor league teams, including independent leagues and college leagues. As of Summer, 2012, we had seen 141 minor league parks. However, teams move, new parks are built and leagues fold and begin. We figure we’ll have enough baseball to keep us busy until we die. And if we finally see all the sites of North America—there’re always other countries that have baseball: Italy, Argentina, Australia, just to name a few.
So pack up the car, load up the kids, grab the Baseball America Directory. You’re on your way to seeing the sights of your country. Oh, and don’t forget, some great baseball. And through this blog, we hope to be something of a guide to the ballparks and cultural sites along the way. We’ll also throw in some memoirs to entertain you as we share our experiences with the people and places of America.
Next time, we’ll talk about how all this comes about. Just how do we plan our trips?