Florida Food

Our favorite subject, other than baseball itself, is food, as anyone who’s read any of our blogs will know. We do spend a great deal of time sampling local—and not so local—fare, both at that ball park and on the road. And our trip to Florida was no exception.

First, you need to know that a great many people from the Cincinnati region have retired/relocated to the area between Clearwater and Naples and have brought the local Cincy favorite fare with them. So we were delighted to be able to indulge in the food from our youth. (We haven’t lived in the Cincinnati region for 38 years.) When we weren’t enjoying the unusual ball park food, we were in search of Skyline Chili restaurants and pints of Graeter’s ice cream from Publix grocery stores.

Cincinnati-style chili is unique and it seems people either love it or hate it. For those of us raised on the stuff, it’s an addiction. And it can’t be found in many places outside of Ohio. This delicious meal consists of a layer of spaghetti, topped with a chili sauce based on a Greek-style dish. The sauce is tomato-based, made of boiled hamburger and either chocolate or cinnamon, depending on the brand. (There are about 260 chili parlors in Cincinnati, each with its own variation of the original sauce.) The next layer is of pinto beans, then a layer of onions, all topped with thin-shred mild cheddar cheese. If you order all these layers, you’re having a 5-way; one less layer is a 4-way; two less layers is a 3-way down to just chili and spaghetti, a 2-way. We found a Skyline in Clearwater, one in Ft. Myers and one in Naples (although we didn’t travel that far south). We were lucky enough to imbibe in our favorite meal three times while on this trip, loving every morsel of it!

Likewise, we also had the opportunity to delight in our favorite ice cream, Graeter’s. It’s made of something like 27% milk-fat and begins to melt as soon as it touches the bowl or a spoon, leaving a lovely tasteful coating on your tongue. A few years ago, Oprah announced on her show that it’s her favorite ice cream and their website crashed that afternoon due to the overload of orders. Yes, it’s that good!

Beyond our hometown foods, though, was the unique ball park fare that we came across. Since several of the games we attended were Gulf Coast League (one of the instructional leagues), there were no concessions at all. (We were lucky if there were bathrooms of some sort!) And other games often only had the bare necessities of ball park food—hot dogs, hamburgers, peanuts, pop and beer. However, we did come across a few very interesting, and often quite tasty, food treats. The Port Charlotte Stone Crabs had crab cake sandwiches that were yummy and fantastic French fries (coated and crispy!). They also sold a passable Cuban sandwich. Of course, being great aficionados of Cuban sandwiches, we did spend much of our time in Florida looking for a bad one; this one was fine.

In Dunedin, the Blue Jays actually had food trucks (all the rage everywhere now) in their parking lot outside the gates. Here we could get hot food—Mexican, BBQ, Asian, and “fried everything.” The samples we had (the BBQ and the Mexican) were quite good. Inside the park, the concessions only sold non-heated items, peanuts, candy, ice cream, etc., and drinks. They didn’t want to compete with the trucks.

At the Threshers stadium in Clearwater, the food wasn’t noteworthy, but they had a “Beers of the World” stand that truly was beers of the world. They had so many choices, it would be difficult for any beer fan to choose what they’d like.

By far, the most unique food we had was at the Ft. Myers Miracles park. Specifically, they had two sandwiches that are absolutely worth trying if you’re in the neighborhood. First, the Carolina dog would please most all BBQ fans with a hankering for a whole meal on a bun. The sandwich consisted of a hot dog smothered in pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw. At first, Ginny was skeptical of having her whole meal at once, but a couple of bites convinced her it was a worthy choice. However, the coup de grace was most definitely the Richard Simmons burger. Just the name made us curious. Was this an ounce of such lean ground steak that it would be paper dry? Or a chicken breast the size of a walnut? Oh no. The name is sarcasm at its best (or worst, depending on your outlook). The sandwich was layered with a hamburger patty, a chicken breast, a sausage (split in half), bacon and cheese slices between each layer. The diameter was a normal size for a burger, but was about five inches tall. We had to eat it from around the sides in hunks because we couldn’t get our mouths open wide enough for the thing! While it was very messy, it was quite the tasty adventure. Who knew all that meat at once could taste that good? On top of serving these great sandwiches, the park offered an all-you-can-eat deal for just $10. It’s certainly worth it. But bring your appetite and your stretch pants!


That Guy in Harrisburg

This was one of those times when things seem to go wrong, but in the end we have a really good time. This particular event took place when we were visiting old friends in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – Jeb and Pat. It was on the tail end of our “Civil War and Dollywood trip in which we got rained on a whole bunch besides being rained out of one good game.” As you can tell it was the “wet” weather that was prominent on the trip, but it was not the only thing.  Early on we had spent some time at Gettysburg (where Dan found someone’s 32 year Alcoholics Anonymous chip at the “grove of trees”—the main focal point of Pickett’s Charge—then spent some 15 minutes trying to explain to the Park Ranger at the lost and found post why it would be important to the person who lost it. This is a whole other story in itself. To put it succinctly it appears that knowledge about how 12-step groups and what these sobriety tokens are is not within the purview of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s requirements for what Park Rangers are suppose to know).  In addition, we visited Dollywood where we met up with one of Ginny’s sisters and her husband (soon to be ex-husband, again a whole other story).  Besides these two events, this trip was mostly known for the weather—it seemed to rain every place we went. However, the one place it didn’t rain was at the end of the trip, but other things went wrong in Harrisburg. The visit with Jeb and Pat was great; we caught up with each of them and told stories about all the mutual friends that Jeb and Pat hadn’t seen in a few years.

The thing that went wrong really wasn’t that big of a deal in the eyes of most normal people, but it was anxiety-producing for us.  The game was between the Harrisburg Senators (at the time the AA affiliate of the Montreal Expos) and the Reading Phillies of the Eastern League. One of the main rules of doing a minor road trip is that when you are on a baseball trip and visiting friends you always take them to the game with you. For us, the problem is that we never make it to the field on time, at least not the time that we baseball fanatics would like. It’s not our fault, really. To be polite, we just don’t want to be our normal obsessive selves with friends, so we tend not to get to the park early enough to walk around it to look for old foul balls, to check out all of the food vendors to find that unique delicacy that is served only at that park, to visit the souvenir shop to see what is cool, or to get those much-needed pictures of the park for future reference. In the simplest of terms, if we’re with friends, we don’t have the time to do all of the other normal things that we do when we visit a new park. Part of the reason is that we don’t want our friends to think we’re crazy because we want to get to the park an hour and a half before the game starts (well, any crazier than they think we are).

Yet, in this particular case, it didn’t help that Dan didn’t check to see that the Harrisburg Senators had the bad habit of starting games on the half-hour instead of the normal hour, plus five minutes. And here it was a half-hour in the wrong direction! Taking Pat and Jeb was fine; they understood that we liked to get there early and we were fine in getting there only a half an hour prior to game time.  Since you all know basic math, you can tell what the problem was—as we were passing the turnstile into the park, the national anthem was being belted out. This threw Dan into a state of distraction because we still don’t have our food and Ginny suffered an anxiety attack because she needed to not only get a copy of the rooster, she still had to fill out her score book and take pictures of the park. AND we are missing baseball! In the long run, it worked out, a little rushed, but we got to our seats with food in hand missing only an out or two.

However, this is where the story starts to get interesting and memorable. As we got to our seats on the first base side, Dan took the fourth seat where he would be sitting next to someone he doesn’t know. Generally, he likes to sit on the end to stretch his legs, but he doesn’t mind sitting next to new people—great conversations start this way. Just as he was about to sit down, the gentleman next to him looked him straight in the eye and with no smile said to Dan, “I’m glad you’re here. They just made an announcement that whoever was sitting in that seat has to buy each person in the whole row a beer!  I hope you heard it when they called out section 112, row 3, seat 4 and best as I can tell that is your seat.”  Dan looked him in the eye and immediately shot back, “Well, that is very interesting, because I didn’t hear the announcement, but when I gave my ticket to the usher, he told me to watch out because I would be seated next to someone who was going to try to get me to by him a beer and that I should not be taken in by him.” With that and a smile Dan sat down and started to watch the game.

Now we don’t mind having conversations with others during a game; baseball is one of those sports where you can watch the game and talk at the same time. The only everyday etiquette that is violated when having a conversation is that there is very little eye contact with those you are conversing with. You may glance at each other, but generally you keep your eyes on the field and when a ball is hit or someone is stealing a base, the conversation comes to a halt. The conversation can resume once the normal routine of the game resumes.  During this particular game, Dan mainly spoke to our friend Jeb about what was going on in his life—motorcycles, teaching earth sciences, extended family, etc. Likewise, Dan expounded on things that have been going on in our lives, many mentioned in our Christmas letters—our yearly form of communication.  All the while, Dan was keeping an eye on the guy next to him, thinking that anyone who starts an encounter by trying to get Dan to buy him a beer can’t be all bad. One of the things Dan noticed about him was that he seemed to mainly talk to the row of people behind us. In fact, he knew them well enough to state to them that he was going to get some food and offered to pick something up for them. He even took orders. Finally, he did the “excuse me” shuffle to get past us and disappeared down the steps. Upon his return, he shuffled back past us, turned to hand stuff off to the people behind us, sat down and began drinking from a cup with a liquid obviously not a beer.

With that, Dan took the opportunity to say, “Boy, you seem to be having conversations with just about everyone here and you buy them stuff but nothing for me.” The guy smiled and replied, “Oh, that’s just my wife, daughter and her husband.” Dan asked, “So you couldn’t get tickets together?” He said, “Well, we’re here with our church group, so we have seats all around here. Dan responded, “So, if you’re here with a church group, then why is the first thing you do when I get here is to try to get me to buy you a beer? You drink alcohol?”  As this part of the conversation is going on, our friend Jeb begins to chuckle; he knows exactly what Dan is doing. He is about to have some real fun with this guy.

Somewhat sheepishly, the guy replies, “Oh, it’s okay. Our minister is even here and he drinks beer – we’re just not suppose to get drunk or anything like that, but it is okay to have some.”  Dan replied, “Well, I’ll be darned, your minister drinks beer and thinks it’s okay?”  The guy nodded yes, and Dan went on: “Your minister must be really cool, if he lets you drink beer! Wow, that is so cool, you are really lucky.” Now Dan will admit that he did over-emphasize his inflections as he was speaking, since he was being fed by Jeb’s silent convulsions of chuckling. Dan leaned over to the guy and reiterated, “Your minister must be really great!” Immediately, Dan knew he had him hooked into his little game because he smiled at Dan and said,  “Yep, he is great, he drinks beer and he even swears!” Dan came back with, “No shit, he even swears! That’s even better. He really is the best minister that I have ever heard about. Wow, that is amazing.”

With that Dan turned to Jeb, smiled and winked, then turned back to the guy: “My word, he drinks and swears, that is great, it is amazing, I’ll be damned, that is great!  He must be one hellava pastor.”  “Yep,” he replied, “he’s a great pastor.”

Again, their focus went back to the game, and at the end of the inning, Dan turned back to the guy and asked the question that set him up for the punch line: “So, tell me, what do you do for a living?” He proceeded to tell Dan that he worked for a company that repairs boxcars for railroads. After a considerable conversation about the details of what his job entailed, he asked Dan the exact same question: “So what do you do?” With that Jeb almost guffawed aloud, because he knew what was coming. Dan kept his eyes on the game, but leaned in the guy’s direction and stated, “I’m a minister.”  Just as the words came out of his mouth, Dan turned to see the expression on the guy’s face. His jaw dropped, his mouth opened wide in disbelief, then slowly his surprise was replaced with a wide grin and he knew Dan had reeled him in. The guy turned to his family behind us and pronounced, “This guy is a minister and drinks and swears, too, isn’t that neat?”  They nodded, said unenthusiastic “yeahs,” and turned back to the game, leaving Dan and the guy with the impression that “Dad” is off his rocker again talking to strangers. The guy turned back around, leaned towards Dan and, in a semi-conspiratorial tone, said, “You know, if our minister ever leaves, I think I can guarantee you a job. It’s a small church, just north east of here, but if you want it, I will make sure they give it to you.”

The moral of the story is that people go to baseball to have a good time and most of the time you meet some very nice people and, on occasion, if they start pulling your leg, it is fair game to pull theirs right back.  Heck, you never know:  you might get a job offer out of it. To this day, Dan tells people that he has a standing job offer to be a pastor for a congregation in a town about 30 miles northeast of Harrisburg.

The Baseball Radio Interview at Everett

Ginny had her hand on the car door when she saw Dan lean over and motion frantically at her. It was the international sign for “come here,” or “look, there’s something wrong with my arm and my hand’s gone to sleep.”  Ginny thought, “What the heck?” and started gawking around the parking lot looking for some exciting site that she was missing. Ooh, perhaps a robbery, or a police show-down. Or maybe Dan’s hand had just gone to sleep and he was shaking it to get the pins and needles out. No, the look on his face was more insistent than that. Vaguely she began to hear him yelling from inside, “Get in! Get in!” So she did what any curious person would do: took another scan of the surrounding cars and mall entrance. Nope, no action there. So she opened the door. After she slid into the passenger seat, Dan pointed to the radio, making a stern face. Chatter emanated and Ginny looked at him puzzled. With eyebrows raised and a more intense “listen” expression, Dan once again pointed to the radio. Then she understood. She heard Dan first, then herself, talking about baseball and our trips across the country. Wow! We were on the radio. In Seattle, Washington!

But we should back up a bit. Let’s start with why we were in Washington in the first place. Like some of our trips, this one was family-related—Ginny’s brother Mike was getting married. Thus we were tacking on our baseball trip. We arrived in the state a week early, spent some time with Mike and his bride-to-be Colleen, which included attending a Seattle Mariners’ game (another story unto itself), followed the next day by a visit to the Everett AquaSox. When we arrived, there was already a line outside the gate, so Dan got a place in while Ginny went off to take pictures of the outside of the park and their sign. Of course, Dan did his natural thing, started talking to the people around him.  Baseball fans love to talk, and those that get to the park early wearing the jersey of the home team, holding seat cushions with the same logo or even bringing their own lawn chairs, are, by goodness, rabid fans, as were the few in front of Dan. They had their lawn chairs set up smack in front of the gates having staked out their territory even earlier than we.

Dan inquired curiously about the unannounced doubleheader and why in the world they only opened the gates five minutes before the first game was suppose to start.  The couple explained that due to the rainout the previous night and since the opponents would not be able to return that season and since they hadn’t called the rainout until all of the staff had been sent home, there was no convenient way to get the concession staff in any earlier than when they normally arrived. It was obvious to these fans that we were not locals, so it was their turn to be curious: what were we doing in their fair city.  Dan explained that we travel the country visiting minor league parks. “Why just the minors,” they asked and Dan rattled off all our reasons, ending with a smile and telling them that, usually, the local people are much more friendly at the minor league parks.

Just as he had gotten to this point, the gates opened and everyone participating in the conversation scattered towards their seats or some other destination within the park. Shortly after we got settled in to our seats, meaning that Ginny had filled out all the players’ names, numbers, positions in the appropriate order in her scorebook and we had eaten our hotdogs, a young woman approached us and asked, “Are you the couple who travels around to different minor league parks?”  Dan nodded and she said, “My name is Katy Khakpour, and I work for KSER Radio with the AquaSox game show. Can I interview you for the show?  It won’t be live, I will do it on my tape recorder.”  To say the least, we were taken aback—why in the world would anyone want to interview us— but we thought what the heck, it was a local radio show and nobody we knew would hear it. Dan turned to Ginny who was looking at him, and we gave each other that mutual shrug of the shoulders indicating that why not—let’s do it.  With that Dan turned to Katy, and said, “Sure, since I have the ideal face for radio, it wouldn’t be too bad of an idea. But can we do it in between the two games so that we don’t miss anything?”  She said sure and that she would return in between games.

Thus shortly after the Everett AquaSox (short season single A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners) lost to the Tri-City Dust Devils (an affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) 5 to 7, Katy showed up again with her tape recorder.  She informed us that the interview would be initially broadcast during their Saturday morning baseball round-up show and that she would edit out anything that we might say that would be inappropriate or that would be “bleeped out” during a live broadcast. Thus assured that we would not get ourselves into too much trouble, we proceeded with the interview. Interestingly enough, her questions were very similar to the ones we get all the time: How many parks have you been to? Why do you do it? Which is the best or which is your favorite park and/or team? What else about doing this interests you? And the such. After it was over, we exchanged addresses and Katy promised that she would send us a copy of the tape because we were sure that we would not be in the area when it was to be broadcast on the following Saturday morning. We didn’t think much about it afterwards except that we now realized that we were about to become famous radio personalities in the airwaves of Everett, Washington. We watched the second game, which the AquaSox lost again to the Dust Devils 1 to 3, then went on our merry way to the hotel.

The next morning we proceed on our tour of the ballparks of the Pacific Coast League(AAA) and the Northwest League (Short Season A), visiting the Vancouver Canadians and the Tacoma Rainers before proceeding to the main reason for the trip, the wedding, which was held on Orcas Island in Puget Sound in a small hotel right next to  the ferry, which blasted its arrival and departure horn at God-awful times in the early morning. Otherwise, it was a wonderful event. The next morning we were back on our baseball trip, which took us to Oregon and through Washington state.

On the last day of the trip we headed back toward Seattle for our flight that didn’t leave until midnight. We had arrived in town at 6 pm but had no desire to sit in the airport for six hours. What to do? Then Ginny proposed going to the movies, another one of our favorite pastimes. So the new problem was that we were in a town that we hardly knew at all looking for a movie theater. It can generally be acknowledged that even the maps from the American Automobile Association do not list movie theaters—but they do identify malls on the city inserts and we figured, if you can find a mall you can find a movie close by.  So we headed to the closest mall; however, we failed to locate a theater. It had to be the only mall in Washington state not to have a movie theater near by. But then Ginny had another great idea (she’s a smart girl—sometimes).  We could go into the mall to find a public telephone (yes, there were still a few around back then) or at the very least ask someone. And since the task at hand included the possibility of asking someone for directions, the task naturally fell to Ginny. Dan is a man and it goes against his genetic makeup to ask for directions. Instead he parked the car, while Ginny headed into the mall for directions.

Since he needed something to while away the time, Dan fiddled with the car radio trying to find anything but opera or rap, when he heard “the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard about baseball,” then he realized that he was the one speaking! Just at that point, Ginny had emerged from the mall and was walking toward the car.

So there we were, on the radio.  As the interview ended, we looked at each other in amazement that “we” were on the radio. And then Dan began shouting at Ginny that when he was flailing his arms about desperately trying to get her to do something, that it was a good idea to do it! It might just save her life! She really still hasn’t grasped the concept, even after Dan watched her almost get killed in Nashville—yet another story.

Several months after the trip, when we had completely forgotten about the interview, we received a package in the mail. A cassette tape (yes, now an historical artifact) with a very nice note from Katy thanking us again for the interview. It’s with the rest of our stuff, jumbled up in a drawer somewhere. We’ll have to get it out someday soon and play it before our old tape deck goes the way of all technology—to the Salvation Army.

Baseball Travel Guidelines: Make Sure I Have a Room

OK, now that you have your copy of the Baseball America Directory, (or maybe it’s on order), we can talk about the details of planning your family (or without) baseball vacation. Here are the threshed out details that we mentioned in our last post.

1)   Determine approximately when we want to go and how much time we can take.

2)   Decide where we want to go and consult Baseball America Directory for parks in the general geographic area we’ve targeted and dates they’re playing.

We need to discuss both one and two above together, because they are often interchangeable. Our trips usually start as a conversation between us about where we might want to go on our annual baseball trip, how much time we have for a trip, if there is someplace that we have to go to which we can attach a minor road trip, or some reason we can justify taking a special trip someplace, and whether there is someone we want to see (for example, some relative we can mooch off of).  We start our planning almost as soon as we get home from the current trip. We hash out some grandiose ideas and then continue tossing around ideas throughout the fall and winter—always thinking (wishing) we could do some fall and winter baseball. The conversation about where usually comes before when, because, being academics, we’re not always sure if one of us is teaching during the summer months, or if there are plans for family visits, or conferences to attend. So once our summer schedule is solid, then we can finalize our choice of where.

As mentioned above, we sometimes have the opportunity to connect our baseball trips to other trips, be it family- or business-related. Being academics, we attend a number of professional conferences. These conferences vary in location and time every year, some during the school year—October, March, April—or some in the summer. When we know that we will be attending one of these conferences, the first think we check is whether there is baseball close by. Even if it’s visiting a stadium during the off-season.

For instance, the first time we saw the Round Rock stadium, we were driving from Dallas (where we had flown in) to San Antonio for the Conference on College Composition and Communication. It was March, too early for the team to be playing yet. The front office—and most important—team store were open. We stopped…of course, we did. And we shopped. (Ginny wears her last-year’s-model-discounted-drastically Round Rock denim jacket everywhere). After hearing about our enthusiasm for minor league baseball, the people in the front office also graciously gave us a tour of the stadium that was being readied for opening day a few weeks away. Several years later we finally had the chance to actually see a game at this stadium.

3)   Lay out a tentative itinerary based on when teams are playing and a basic logical (or a close approximation to logical) geographic pattern so we aren’t backtracking too much.

The next step is to use the Baseball America Directory to find what teams play in that part of the country, and figure out who will be playing at their home field during the time frame that we will be traveling. Dan starts tracking down schedules in January on websites (getting the website addresses from the Directory). Schedules start coming out in mid-January for a number of the leagues; sometimes you can get tentative schedules for triple A affiliates at the end of the previous season. Check the league websites to see if the teams are still playing and if there are any new teams just starting up. Part of the reason we start this early is to make sure we can get tickets for the new teams, whose games are often all sold out. In the inaugural year for the Lansing Lugnuts, we could only get lawn seats (standing room) for a grassy knoll out at the end of the third base line in left field—and it was a “family-no-beer-drinking zone.”  Likewise, the first year of the Dayton Dragons we were out at the end of the left field, but at least we had seats and Dan could have a beer.

At this point, if you have your firm dates, and flying is required to your chosen region, you might want to book your flights. Considering the ever-changing costs of air travel, the sooner you have your tickets, the better. Of course, you may run into other problems later on, such as we had in the summer of 2011. We finalized our decision in March to make the trip to Texas and Oklahoma because we could get a flight to Dallas much cheaper than other places we wanted to go. However, by the time August rolled around, it turned out to be one of the hottest summers on record for both states. They had already both been ravaged with tornadoes, fires and floods. We had begun to believe that Armageddon had arrived for them. But it wasn’t too exceedingly bad, if you didn’t mind sitting perfectly still at the ball park and sweating through that new souvenir t-shirt you just bought. And it was still in the bag!

4)   Fill in with sites that we would like to see along the way, leaving enough lag time in between for serendipity—that is, those great sites found along the way.

Other sites will depend on your personal interests. Our trips tend to follow our primary interest of baseball and then our secondary interests of American history, women’s issues, writers, food and kitsch. Some examples of baseball related sites we’ve seen are Geneva, New York’s McDonough Park which now hosts a New York Collegiate League team, but was for a number of years home to the Geneva Reds, a New York-Penn Leagueteam whose roster once included Tony Perez and Pete Rose. Likewise, there is Robin Roberts Field in Springfield, Illinois, which was the site of games of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League’s Springfield Sallies.

But life is not all baseball, so we check out the many other sites/activities that an area may offer. Over the years we have been to places such as Graceland, a coon dog cemetery, the place where James Dean was killed, the movie site of Field of Dreams, the grave of Mark Twain, the place where President Grant died, numerous Civil War battlefields, Shaker villages, Dollywood, the grave of Dan’s great, great, great grandfather, and one of our personal favorites, taking the opportunity to renew our wedding vows with Elvis in a Las Vegas wedding chapel.

The AAA Guide to the states is the next most handy item to set up a trip. They give a good overview of some of the places you will be going and will list some of the sites of interest that you may not have known about. Some of the other references that we use include Road Food (interesting road side restaurants), a guide to historic baseball sites, several guidebooks on American kitsch and places of the weird. Besides these, we peruse the guides to Civil War sites, women’s history sites, political history sites, religious history sites, Revolutionary War/War of 1812 sites and then some of our favorite movie/TV sites. (For a list of these references, see the appendices.)

The danger here is in locking yourself too tightly to your itinerary. You want to make sure that you give your family enough options for sites to visit, but not be so rigid that you can’t just bag the original planned visits when you serendipitously stumble across something you all just have to see. Always leaving some time open for those surprises led us to one of our favorite finds: the monument to the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise in Riverside, Iowa.

5)   Once the itinerary is somewhat definite, book flights, reserve a car, buy game tickets and book the motel rooms (or contact those family members off of whom we intend to mooch).

Second only to deciding how much time and where to go is finding those places to sleep. You notice we don’t say finding a place “to stay.” Usually, on these trips, with few exceptions—like the three-day Florida trip—we are always on the go: museums, historical sites, food. Even if a game gets rained out, we still ordinarily use the motel room only to sleep and store our stuff. Why always book the motel ahead of time? As we stated earlier, you don’t want to sleep in the car. We once spent over two hours after a night game driving around the back roads of Illinois searching for a motel. We were not happy campers (especially Ginny). Speaking of which, there are many campgrounds that the more adventurous may choose to use. We, on the other hand, believe that the definition of “roughing it” is when the motel TV doesn’t get HBO.

We normally book our flights fairly early on, at least as soon as we have some dates and know for sure that several of the teams will be playing at home. Then make sure that you line up those game tickets—as we said before, you don’t want to go all that way and get shut out. The car reservations are a little different. We’ve often reserved a car at about the same time as the flight, but then Ginny (who does the flight and car bookings) will revisit the rental car sights to check for cheaper deals. Only once have we used the “book a hotel + car for a great deal.” That was our trip to New York City and indeed it was a great deal! You can also check with your own travel clubs—AAA, etc.—or you can use your frequent flyer miles. Our flight to Texas was a “freebie” because of Ginny’s credit card miles. (All those Christmas presents and household appliances can sometimes pay off.)

Mooching, well…visiting family and friends is a great way to save money on these trips. Any time you can combine a family/friend function with a trip, it’s a good deal. Any time you can combine a family/friend function with a trip AND get a free room out of it, you’ve hit a homerun. That’s the case for most people. One problem we have, though, is that we don’t like staying at other people’s homes, not even a Bed and Breakfast. (Ginny loves staying at her parents’ house, but even after 37 years of marriage, it still makes Dan feel a bit uncomfortable.) It really is wonderful to see friends and relatives on our travels. We often just opt to sleep at the motel down the road. So you and your family need to make those decisions for yourselves.

6) Pack lightly, leaving room for all those souvenirs and baseball kitsch, and don’t forget the rain gear.

Since the airlines now like to nickel and dime us to death, charging for every little thing imaginable, it’s a good idea to pack light. Depending on what part of the country you’re going to, you might get away with nothing but shorts and t-shirts. For our trip to Texas and Oklahoma during a record heat wave, we took one nice set of clothes each (for Sunday church) and a few pairs of shorts and enough t-shirts to last half way through the trip. Then we did laundry in the motel (which can be problematic, depending on the reliability of the washers and driers). Before the trip, Ginny even bought a couple of very cheap shirts that could be thrown in the dryer and she wouldn’t care how they came out. As it was, we still had to pay $25 for each of the two bags we checked with the airlines. That was an extra $100 for the trip. You need to make sure you’re prepared for these possible “hidden” costs.

The main reason that we took two bags instead of one is because of the souvenirs. Of course, a trip is not an adventure without the collectibles (or crap—given the “eye of the beholder” and all that). There are the team programs, the giveaways at the gate, the lucky number drawings and game prizes…and that’s just the baseball game take-aways. Don’t forget all the sites you’ll be visiting and the souvenirs, t-shirts, hats, jewelry, books, brochures, CDs, DVDs, just to mention a few of the possible items that will find their way back to your car and into your luggage. We even like to do Christmas shopping while we’re on these trips. Dan has two young pre-school nieces for whom we often pick up shirts from unusual places. So far, they’ve received shirts from the National Bowling Museum, the National Tattoo Museum and the Jello Museum. Their father and grandfather always get quite a chuckle out of our choices. (What can we say—Dan’s family has an unusual sense of humor.) When the girls get a bit older, I’m sure they won’t appreciate being the recipients of such not-quite-understood humor as much as they do now.

And by all means, don’t forget the camera! We own an Olympus SLR that does a great job, but it is bigger and heavier than the compact models that also take lovely photos. Someone will have to carry the camera through the airports and schlep it onto the plane. Think about the extra weight when deciding on a choice through which to preserve those memories.

Finally, it’s a fact of nature that rain happens. Some years we’ve had no rain at all, and others so much rain we thought of going to Home Depot to buy ark materials (what is a “cubit” anyway?). Be prepared. Ginny always carries a white plastic poncho that she bought at the Akron Aeros team shop (guess what the weather was like) because it covers both her and her scorekeeping paraphernalia and does a rather good job of keeping out heavier rain. Dan tends to tough it out, or moves to a place where there’s shelter. If the rain lasts too long and is too hard, Ginny will join him. Yes, being rained on can be unpleasant, but it can also be entertaining watching the grounds crew, or the other fans and how they deal with it. A few times, we have been among a hand-full of people who stuck it out to see the game either finished, or finally called a rainout. Our secret is being prepared for the weather—and a whole lot of patience.

We love baseball and any reason, despite the weather, is always a good excuse to do a minor road trip. A little planning, a good relationship with your traveling companion and the philosophy “Some times you win, sometimes you lose, and some times you get rained out” helps you to enjoy the trip no matter what.

Baseball Travel Planning: Can’t Just Jump in the Car

Over the last 17 years or so, we have been in pursuit of seeing a game in every minor league baseball park in the US and Canada—thus, the title of our website, Minor Road Trip. We are not fanatical about it; we are not those people who spend their entire vacation going from park to park. The most we have ever done in one season is 15 and, hey, we were both on sabbatical that year. In fact, one year we only did three. But on the average we hit about eight or nine new parks a year. Some years, as a bonus treat, we’ve been able to squeeze in a short three-day trip because we had a long weekend. All these trips can be jam-packed with things to do or they can be extremely restful. Over one long weekend, we flew into Orlando, checked into a hotel, saw two Florida State League games within a short driving distance, and spent the rest of the time either sitting by the hotel swimming pool or sleeping. Okay, on the last day before catching our evening flight home we had to do the kitsch: We went to Gatorland to see the Jumping Gatoroo Show and to have our picture taken holding a live baby alligator. But on the whole, this was a very restful trip—except for the part of walking around an entertainment complex where Dan worried he was not the highest thing on the food chain.


You could, as the title states, jump in the car and take off. But our experience has been that you only leave yourself wide open for trouble if you haven’t done some planning ahead of time. Besides, without reading about the areas you’ll pass through, you may miss some of the best sites.

After deciding that the family is going to take the plunge into a baseball adventure, the big questions are how much time do we have, then where in the world are we going? This is generally followed by a series of less critical questions, such as, what are we going to do once we get there, what are we going to do along the way, where are we going to sleep, and whose car are we going to drive? This is then followed by a series of parameters that are placed upon any trip prior to any inkling of planning: “We will have hotel reservations for every night.” “No, I do not want to stop and see the birthplace of Monica Lewinsky.” And finally, “Can we please stay in at least one hotel for longer than one night!?” This last one is always both a request and a demand.

Planning a minor league baseball road trip takes some work—the amount of work depends on what you want out of it and how obsessive-compulsive you are. The simplest amount of planning for this is to have a copy of the Baseball America Directory and a roadmap. If this is your desired level of planning, you may also want to plan on sleeping in your car some, missing a few meals, and having a traveling companion who is on the cranky side. Planning out the logistics of the trip alleviates the anxiety of where you are going to sleep, whether or not you even have tickets for the game and what else you are going to see along the road. However, it may take away some of the spontaneity of doing things you just happen upon as you drive some of the back roads of America. If you plan it well enough, you can have both organization and spontaneity. You will have time to see most all the places and things you wanted to and you will also have time for those strange little sites that aren’t always in the guidebooks.

The way we plan our trips is in a little more detail than just getting the Directory, a map and jumping into the car. Actually, a lot more detail. Ginny has this thing about sleeping in a car. Dan calls it her lack of an adventurous spirit; Ginny calls it common sense. Therefore, our trips are planned out in some detail. Ginny calls the amount of detail that Dan does in planning out our trips a manifestation of his obsessive-compulsive nature. Dan does the in-depth planning because Ginny gets cranky when she doesn’t know where she is going to sleep and if Dan had to really sleep in the car, he would be even crankier than she. So we follow some simple guidelines when we go about planning a trip:

  1. determine approximately when we want to go and how much time we can take;
  2. decide where we want to go and consult the Baseball America Directory for ballparks  in the general geographic area we’ve targeted and dates the teams are playing;
  3. lay out a tentative itinerary based on when teams are playing and a basic logical (or a close approximation to logical) geographic pattern so we aren’t backtracking too much;
  4. fill in with sites that we would like to see along the way, leaving enough lag time in between for serendipity—that is, those great sites found along the way;
  5. once the itinerary is somewhat definite, book flights, reserve a car, buy game tickets and book the motel rooms (or contact those family members off of whom we intend to mooch);
  6. pack lightly, leaving room for all those souvenirs and baseball kitsch and don’t forget the rain gear.

We will explain these steps further later on, but above all, we highly recommend obtaining a yearly copy of the Baseball America Directory, primarily because it lists all the necessary telephone numbers, the directions to the parks, current franchise listings of the major league teams, the affiliated teams, and the independent league teams. It can also give you leads to other things such as college level baseball and a number of places related to baseball. Most importantly, it lists the schedules for the majors, minors and independent league teams. The Baseball America Directory is the single most useful thing to have when planning out a minor road trip. It even beats out a computer and websites for quick references and can be bought online or at major bookstores. In fact, you can put in an early order right now for next year’s edition! We’ll wait…and tell you more about planning in our next post.

How Did We Get Here?

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?