Baseball pilgrimages

Take me out to the ballgame at 30 big-league parks

 

Associated Press

If you’re a baseball fan looking to add a new pastime to your vacation itinerary, consider setting a goal to visit all 30 of the sport’s major league stadiums.

I began my crusade about five years ago, joining a growing number of other zealots making the pilgrimage to baseball’s cathedrals.

It has become such a popular pursuit that you can buy baseball-stadium maps to document where you have been and plot where you still need to go. The one decorating my den shows I’m halfway through my odyssey, with 14 more fields of dreams still to be seen. If you need more memorabilia, there’s also a book called The Major League Baseball BallPark Pass-Port that provides tips about each stadium, with slots to file ticket stubs and a place to “validate” each visit with a rubber stamp.

But all you really need is a love of baseball and a passion for exploring new places to relish this journey.

All the baseball teams are based in cities with engrossing things to do and savory places to eat when you aren’t attending a game. These attractions should help the cause of fans trying to recruit a spouse or other traveling teammates who may not appreciate the pleasures of the game.

My tour already has introduced me to things that wouldn’t have been on my radar if I hadn’t booked a trip to see a stadium.

When I went to St. Louis to visit Busch Stadium in 2010, I rented a car one day and made the two-hour drive to Samuel Clemens’ childhood home in Hannibal, the Mississippi River village that inspired Mark Twain’s best-known booksabout the childhood adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The Hannibal visit had a ripple effect when I went to Boston to see Fenway Park, prompting me to rent another car to drive to Hartford, Conn., to visit the custom-built home where he spent the happiest and most productive years of his adult life.

When I went to Baltimore to see a game at Camden Yards, I took a water taxi out to Fort McHenry in the Chesapeake Bay to tour the site where Francis Scott Key watched American troops in 1814 thwart an all-night fusillade by English ships.

Many of the stadiums are landmarks in their own right. My favorite stops so far have been baseball’s oldest stadiums, Fenway Park (opened in 1912), and Wrigley Field (originally known as Weeghman Park when it opened in 1914) in Chicago. Both are located in wonderful neighborhoods that turn into street festivals during the three or four hours leading up to the game.

The stadiums of more recent vintage all have their merits too, largely because so many were built to evoke a sense of nostalgia. This retro movement started in 1992 when Baltimore’s Camden Yards opened.

When drawing up your travel plans, strive to arrange your stadium visits so they coincide with your favorite team’s trips to the same destinations.

My favorite stadium sojourns so far have included my favorite team, the Oakland Athletics. Those trips gave me a chance to wear my green-and-gold Athletics’ gear in hostile territory, which has led to lively repartee with the fans of the local team. Try to get tickets behind your team’s dugout on the road.When I finally cross the final big-stadium off my list in a few years, I am going to have to find a new quest. Well, I hear there are lots of quaint minor-league baseball stadiums located in rustic towns all across America…

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