Friday, March 3, 2006
Updated: June 4, 2:42 PM ET
Ultimate Baseball Experiences
By Jim Caple
[Editor's Note: Jim Caple couldn't boil his lifetime of baseball experiences down to just 10, so the first installment of the "Travel Top Ten" goes into extra innings.]
The ultimate baseball experience is sitting behind home plate while your favorite team scores the winning run in Game 7 of the World Series. But you can't count on that happening very often -- especially if you live in Cleveland. Still, here are 10 "Don't Miss" baseball experiences that are always available for the perfect road swing.
1. Afternoon at Wrigley Field, Chicago
There are two quintessential American experiences -- visiting Disneyland and sitting in Wrigley Field's bleachers with a summer sun shining down. This is America's own Wayback Machine, transporting fans back to the way the game was when their grandparents were young enough to collect baseball cards (the price of tickets aside). Despite what our parent company claims, if the Cubs are winning and the wind is blowing out, this is the happiest place on earth. After all, Wrigley Field serves beer.
• Cap'n Jimmy's Wild Ride: Caple visits Wrigley Field (2002)
2. Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y.
Look, there are shoeless Joe Jackson's shoes. And there -- that's the promissory note selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees. And over there -- it's the green-light letter from FDR granting baseball the right to continue during WWII. And Hank Aaron's bat. And Roy Hobbs' bat. And Ernie Harwell's scorecard from the Shot Heard Round the World (notice how he was too excited to fill in Bobby Thomson's home run?). And on and on and on. The Hall of Fame ought to replace its doorway with pearly gates because this is heaven.
(Note: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City is worth a visit, as well.)
3. Spring training, various cities, Florida and Arizona
Football has vomit-inducing two-a-days in the August heat; baseball has batting practice amid the palm trees just when you need it most after months of shoveling snow and scraping ice. Whether you're watching the Dodgers in Vero Beach or the Rockies at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, winter will seem a world away. Just buy a ticket for a spot on the grassy outfield berm, generously spread the sunscreen over your body, buy a cold beer and sit back and ... relax. You'll never want to go home. Or back to work.
4. College World Series, Omaha, Neb.
The NCAA moves the basketball tournament from major city to major city each spring, but the baseball championships have a permanent home in the heart of Omaha and Omaha residents (tickets have been in some families for decades). Take the drama of a World Series, add the passion of college sports, multiply by the warmth of Midwest hospitality and you have just an idea of what the CWS is like. The rest you'll have to experience on your own.
5. Minnesota townball, various towns, Minnesota
Why go to Dyersville, Iowa, when you can see a real-life Field of Dreams? There are no ghost players walking in from the cornfields, just real people proudly representing the local towns. There are dozens of fields throughout the state -- many with a cornfield rising beyond the outfield fence -- but our favorites are in little Stark Township, just off I-90 in southern Minnesota, and in Jordan, 30 miles and a world away from Minneapolis. Such a sublime bit of Americana, the only thing missing is Garrison Keillor doing the play-by-play.
• Cap'n Jimmy's Wild Ride: Caple at Stark Ballpark in Minn. (2002)
6. Caribbean World Series, various sites
Can't clear customs in Havana (although you can always sneak into Cuba through Canada) to experience the passion of Latin baseball? Then check out the next best thing, the Caribbean World Series. It's like our World Series, only instead of stadiums filled with suits using their corporate tickets and sitting on their hands, the seats are filled with real fans as passionate about baseball as those on Tobacco Road are about college hoops. And how can you beat a Caribbean vacation in the depth of winter?
7. Prague Baseball Week, Prague, Czech Republic
Yes, they play baseball in Europe. Not as well as here, but our national pastime is a growing cult sport in, of all places, Prague, which hosts a weeklong European summer tournament. You get baseball with a European flavor in one of the world's most beautiful cities -- and did we mention that Czech beer is some of the best you'll ever taste?
8. Midnight Sun Game, Fairbanks, Alaska
Ever wish you could watch baseball all night long? Well, you can in Alaska, where every year on the summer solstice, Fairbanks hosts the Midnight Sun Game. Some of the game's best players -- Tom Seaver, Dave Winfield, Bret Boone, Jason Giambi -- know the feeling of taking the field at midnight and playing until the wee hours. And because the sun never really sets (it just sort of glances off the horizon) the stadium operators not only don't use artificial lights, they're not even sure whether they work.
• Caple at the Midnight Sun game (2005)
9. Minor league baseball, Charleston, S.C.
Minor league baseball can be experienced all across the country, but there is no better place to watch it than with a team run by the impresario of the minors, promotional wizard Mike Veeck. Whether it's Mother-in-Law Night (you get in free; your mother-in-law pays double) or Tonya Harding Mini-Bat Night, you'll always be in for a treat (well, maybe not if it's Vasectomy Night).
10. Hiroshima Carp game, Hiroshima, Japan
The stadium isn't anything special -- it's reminiscent of the old park in Arlington -- but what makes this site unique is that it allows you to experience the joys of the best thing America has ever exported to the world and a painfully sobering reminder of the worst. The Carps stadium is directly across the street from where the atomic bomb detonated.
11. Evening at Fenway Park, Boston
Why go to a retro park when you can visit the original? Any time is a good time to visit Fenway, but the charms of the majors' oldest stadium are best seen under the lights, when all that green is more vibrant than ever. There might be no prettier sight than the white of a baseball as it hangs briefly silhouetted against the night sky just before disappearing beyond the Green Monster.
• Cap'n Jimmy's Wild Ride: Caple goes inside the Green Monster (2002)
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com who has covered baseball in every major league city, on four continents and in Cuba.