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A Vacation Worth Waiting For

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This past week I was talking with a friend who is planning a mini-vacation with his two sons. He plans to travel to Philadelphia and then to New York, to take in some baseball games at both of the city’s new parks. During our conversation I had mentioned that my son and I did something similar back in the summer of 2006.

Because of this conversation, I decided to bring back an article from the SPM archives.

While I was flipping through the pages of The Sporting News in May, I came across an article by Rich O’Malley entitled “Take a Baseball Buddy Trip.” It was about mini -baseball trips one could take within reasonable driving distance of each other. The goal was to attend games and see various major league venues in a short amount of time. While reading the article, a smirk came across my face. A few weeks before, my son Michael and I had mapped out such a trip, and decided we would take it.

Since my son’s early days playing Little League ball, we have talked about doing something like this together. Finding the proper time was the real challenge, but I knew it was now, or I could find myself lamenting lost paternal opportunities for the rest of my life, a la Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle.”

Michael is 19 and was home from his freshman year of college. Fortunately, the timing was right with my work, so we were finally all set to take our extended vacation.

Our trip took us to six different major league baseball games in six different ball parks, and to one WNBA game. We also toured five different sports Halls of Fame, one truck manufacturing plant and a brewery. We saw the tomb of a former president, the treasures of a boy king, and many museums. We did it all in only 13 days.

If you can name the location of the following six sports facilities, you probably already know the order of our itinerary: PNC Park; The Great American Ball Park; Comerica Park; Wrigley Field; US Cellular Field; Conseco Fieldhouse and Jacobs Field.

As we were driving toward our first major league destination (Pittsburgh), we took a detour off I-80 to Williamsport, PA for a look at the Little League Baseball Hall of Fame. This is the place where Carl Stotz came up with the idea of a scaled-down version of the game for children ages 8 to 12.

In order to get to the Steel City from where we were staying you had to drive though a mountain tunnel (a first time for both of us) and then cross over the Fort Pitt Bridge. The view was amazing; the whole city was spread before our eyes. “To the left were the two pro parks, while on either side of us we could see yellow bridges. These bridges are ubiquitous along the three rivers for which Pittsburgh is known. Directly in front of us was the downtown skyline.”

We spent most of that day at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which features dinosaur skeletons, ancient artifacts, minerals, gems and art of all types. We also spent some time on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Later that night, the Pirates played the Washington Nationals. Pittsburgh banged out 15 hits and won 7-4. PNC Park, which opened in the spring of 2001, is an awesome, beautiful ball park, very family-oriented and very affordable. Outside of the stadium stand 3 statues of former Pirates Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, which give the park an added flair.

The following morning we headed to Cincinnati. The drive wasn’t pleasant, as construction seemed to surround us. We finally arrived early in the afternoon for a two-day weekend stay. Sunday was game day. We were set to see the Reds host the Colorado Rockies at The Great American Ballpark. As I was reading the local morning newspaper, I saw the Reds were having their Hall of Fame induction that morning. Tom Seaver, one of my all-time favorite baseball players, was one of the ex-Reds being honored. Michael and I high-tailed it to the Reds Hall of Fame Museum, located adjacent to the Stadium. The museum was full of Reds artifacts, plaques and memorabilia. Amazingly, they had a whole wall covered with baseballs, representing one for each of Pete Rose’s MLB all-time record 4,256 career hits. The highlight for me was my son having a photograph taken with “Tom Terrific”.

After the pre-game festivities, we watched the game in sweltering heat, which topped 100 degrees on the field. The Reds came back from a 3-1 deficit, scoring 5 runs in the eighth inning and held on to win 6-4.

Great American Ballpark opened in 2003 and holds true to the team name. Everything is red. Besides having its own museum, the rich history of the Reds organization was showcased inside the park, with banners and Italian-marble mosaics.

Our weekend in Cincy was memorable, including stops at the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, and the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. We crossed the Ohio River, walking over the Purple People Bridge to munch out in Newport, Kentucky.

The people we met were very friendly and polite. We ate some of their famous Cincinnati Chili for the first time. I recommend it. We even learned about a new game called Corn Hole, which involves two people standing 10 feet apart tossing bags of corn into a slanted box with a hole in the center. If that wasn’t enough, we managed to catch a Little Feat concert as well.

Detroit was our next stop. As we traveled north to our hotel we passed the exit for 8 Mile Road, invoking thoughts of rap star Eminem and his recent auto-biographical movie. This was mostly a travel day, so we chilled out that evening and went to see Superman. I highly recommend the movie.

Our schedule was jam-packed the following day. We visited The Henry Ford, America’s “greatest history attraction.” We also took a tour of The Ford River Rouge assembly plant and watched auto workers putting together Ford F-150 pickup trucks.

Then we were off to Comerica Park to see the Tigers host the Chicago White Sox. Paul Konerko stroked 2 homers and drove in 4 runs in a 7-1 Chi Sox victory. Comerica Park opened in 2000. The stadium is simply stunning. As you walk to the main entrance, immense tiger statues look down at you. It also features a 50-foot ferris wheel and stainless steel action statues of Tiger legends Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg, to name a few. The decor inside and outside of this stadium is extravagant.

We got a late start the following morning, heading to Chicago for a three-day stay. Traveling west, I saw an exit sign for Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. I have been a Michigan football fan all of my life, so we decided to take a quick detour for a look. Unfortunately, when we arrived, construction was going on and we couldn’t get close enough to view college football’s largest stadium (seats 110,000).

Another detour on the way to the Windy City was a stop at the University of Notre Dame. This college was founded in 1842 and is known for its rich sports history. Seeing the golden dome on the Main Building was enjoyable after seeing it so often on TV during football games. The whole campus is exquisite, and taking the extra time to check it out was definitely worth it. With the time change from Eastern to Central, we thought we’d be at our hotel in plenty of time to go see the Cubs play the Houston Astros later that evening. What we didn’t count on was construction, construction and yes, more construction, plus the hotel where we were staying was not where our internet-printed map said it would be.

Wrigley Field was the one park we both had been really looking forward to seeing. The pitching match-up promised to be a classic, with two future hall-of-famers facing each other — Roger Clemens vs. Greg Maddux. The sad part was that because of the detours, construction and other delays, we didn’t make it to the game until the fifth inning. We missed a leadoff homer by the Astros’ Craig Biggio. The Cubs wound up losing the game 4-2. Clemens struck out 5 to earn his second win of the season.

Just being at the stadium was worth the steep price of admission, though. Wrigley, built in 1912, is the second oldest ballpark in the majors. This stadium is a classic that must be seen by every baseball fan at least once.

We both have been to Fenway Park in Boston, which is the oldest, and Yankee Stadium in New York, the original of which was built in 1923. The new stadiums have their perks, but these three landmarks are extraordinary relics. In my opinion, it’s a shame the Yankees are going to build a new stadium in the Bronx.

Day two in Chicago didn’t start out as well as we would have liked. We drove to the train station, but the only parking available was on the street, and that was clearly marked with signs warning about cars being towed after 8:00 p.m. This obviously didn’t make us happy, but we took our chances and bought the tickets to head into the city. The train was almost an hour late due to complications on the track. This didn’t help, because we had already purchased tickets online to see the treasures of King Tutankhamen, which were on display at The Field Museum.

By the time we arrived at the museum, we were an hour late, and since the exhibit was sold out, we were not sure we would get in. Fortunately, much to our surprise, the young lady at Will Call took pity on us. Finally, some good luck during our visit to Chicago! However, our luck would not last –the exhibit did not live up to its hype. I know of King Tut’s treasures, and what was displayed wasn’t enough to satisfy my knowledge or my son’s, who has taken classes in Ancient History.

We spent the rest of the day touring the city — stood at the base of the Sears Tower, shopping at Navy Pier and eating at the Hard Rock Cafe. I will admit Chicago’s transit system is impressive. The trolleys are free and the subway system costs only a few dollars.

On our third day in the Windy City, we headed north to Milwaukee to check out the Miller Brewing Company before we took in the White Sox game later that night. I have been to beer breweries before, but this was a first for Michael, who was truly impressed with the tour. On an average day this brewery makes 500,000 cases of beer. They are turned over on a daily basis in their huge warehouse. At the end of the tour samples were provided. He had water, while I tried one of their German brands.

As we headed back towards Chicago we took a wrong turn and wound up at Miller Park, the home of baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers.

Back in Chicago, during a rainy and cold night at U.S. Cellular Field, we watched the reigning Major League Champion White Sox take on the Texas Rangers. Michael Young and Mark Teixeria keyed a 5-run third inning, each smacking homers in what would end up a 10-3 Texas win.

This stadium, built in 1991, was formerly known as the “New Comiskey Stadium” — before corporate sponsorship took over in 2003. Of all the new stadiums that we saw on our trip, Cellular Field most resembled a standard ballpark. There wasn’t much flair to it; the renovations that were done after the 2000 season to give it a more retro look were not particularly impressive. However, there were murals of many former White Sox greats along various walls throughout the concourses, including my favorite all-time player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

Our three days in Chicago were done and it was time to start heading back towards home. The drive to our next stop (Indianapolis) was very comforting, with many picturesque, scenic views along the way.

We were only in town for one day, which was very unfortunate. After checking into our hotel, we went to the Indianapolis Speedway and toured their Hall of Fame Museum, which is loaded with vintage cars from past years, along with tons of memorabilia featuring items from the three races that are held at the track annually. The highlight of the visit was actually getting to the drive on the racetrack. The start-stop line is still made out of brick, which is where NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 gets it name.

Later that evening we went to Conseco Fieldhouse to take in a WNBA game between the Indiana Fever and the visiting Los Angeles Sparks. Thanks to our media credentials, we were right on top of the action. Michael sat at courtside on press row, while I sat on the court taking pictures of the game. Tamika Catchings was spectacular, scoring a game-high 26 points for the Fever, but Lisa Leslie and the Sparks were the ones singing at the end of this game, as they came from behind to win, 73-68.

The following morning we were up early for the trip to Canton, Ohio and then to Cleveland, which would be quite a long drive. Along the way we took another detour, this time for the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and the museum was closed. However, we did get to see something pretty cool despite that – a giant statue outside of the museum, in the shape of a sneaker.

A few hundred miles later we finally made it to Canton and the National Football Hall of Fame (NFHOF). It was my third visit and the second for my son. He was very young the last time we were there and didn’t recall much of the visit. The first thing he noticed was a huge photo of Troy Aikman, the former Cowboys great, hanging from the football stadium next door.

He quickly made a sarcastic remark regarding our Cowboys-Vikings rivalry. In almost all sports we agree on our favorite teams, except for NFL football. Whenever these two teams are mentioned, I usually get bashed for Minnesota’s 0-4 Super Bowl record; Dallas has won 5.

Not much has changed over the years in this NFHOF, other than the requisite addition of busts and photos hanging from the walls. It is still an awesome place to visit if you are in the area and love NFL football.

A few miles down the road from the NFHOF is the McKinley National Memorial. We took another little detour to check it out. This memorial honors America’s 25th president, William McKinley. Inside the center of this double-domed mausoleum are the tombs of the former president, who was assassinated in 1901, and his wife Ida. At the rear the McKinley children, Katie and Ida, are entombed within the double walls.

Cleveland was just a short drive north of Canton, so we headed to our hotel for the night. The following day we drove into town and toured the city by foot. Then we were off to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened on September 2, 1995. If you are a music lover, give yourself plenty of time at this 162-foot pyramid of memorabilia. There are many things to look at, such as guitars, clothing, handwritten lyrics and more. There is also a lot of reading and listening involved.

Later that evening the last baseball game of our trip took place, as the Indians hosted the Detroit Tigers at Jacobs Field. This game was virtually over before it got started, as the Tigers scored 5 runs in the top of the first inning en route to a 9-7 victory.

Jacobs Field opened on April 4, 1994, and was the second of the new-style stadiums that featured the classic look of the older ballparks. The architects angled the seating along both foul lines towards home plate, so fans don’t have to turn their heads. Baltimore’s Camden Yards, built two years earlier, doesn’t offer this feature.

With us being on the road for almost two weeks it got to be very tiring, so we were both happy to be heading home. Unfortunately, the trip back home to Connecticut was very long and boring. However, I did manage one more detour on the way back — a stop in Montgomery, NY, where Orange County Choppers is filmed. We stopped by their store to view many of the earth-shattering motorcycles built on the television show, which is watched by millions of people worldwide.

In the second verse of the aforementioned Harry Chapin song, he sang: “Well, my son turned ten just the other day. He said, ‘Thanks for the ball, Dad. Come on, let’s play. Could you teach me to throw?’ I said, ‘Not today. I got a lot to do.’ He said, ‘That’s okay.’ And he walked away and he smiled and he said, ‘You know, I’m gonna be like him, yeah. You know I’m gonna be like him.’

Unfortunately, the song is reminiscent of how I was brought up. My family immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1964. I don’t blame my father for not being there for me, because I knew he was working two jobs and weekends so our family could live the life that this country offers. I am very grateful to my father for everything that he did for our family. Thanks to him, I was able to take and enjoy this memorable and worthwhile vacation with my buddy, my best friend, my son Michael.

VACATION NUMBERS

Total length of vacation: 13 days

Total miles traveled: 3,016 miles

Cheapest game ticket: $9.00 – Pirates upper deck

Most expensive game ticket: $33.00 – Cubs left field Line box seat

Number of states visited: 11 – Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin

Other stadiums we saw: 7 – Heinz Field (Pittsburgh Steelers); Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati Bengals); Cleveland Browns Stadium; RCA Dome (Indianapolis Colts); Soldier Field (Chicago Bears); Ford Field (Detroit Lions) in football and Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers) in baseball

Other arenas we saw: 3 – Mellon Arena (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Joe Louis Arena (Detroit Red Wings) in hockey and Quicken Loans Arena (Cleveland Cavaliers) in basketball

Hard Rock Café’s visited: 4 – In Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Indianapolis

Great Lakes seen: 2 – Lake Michigan and Lake Erie

Highest price of gas: $3.59 (Chicago)

Lowest price of gas: $2.79 (Pittsburgh)

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