Caple: Baseball's Great Dates of 2007
Ten great baseball dates and road trips to mark on your refrigerator magnet schedule:
1. April 16, Angels at Red Sox, Boston
The annual Patriots Day game begins at 10:05 a.m. that's right, 10:05 A.M. The earliest first pitch in the majors may seem a tad premature for a beer (or maybe not; after all, these are Red Sox fans we're talking about), but it provides you with the opportunity to witness two great sporting events.
First, you see a Red Sox game at the oldest stadium in the majors, Fenway Park. And after the game, you can walk over to Kenmore Square to watch the Boston Marathon pass by.
2. May 30, Rickwood Classic, Birmingham, Ala.
Built in 1910, Birmingham's Rickwood Field is the oldest ballpark in the country still in use. Attending the minor league Birmingham Barons annual game here is like stepping back to the 1940s, or 1930s, or even the 1920s. You can practically see Willie Mays in center field (where he played with the Negro League's Black Barons).
3. June 15-25, College World Series, Omaha, Neb.
Reserved tickets to the CWS are so precious in Omaha that Marlin Perkins may still be on a waiting list; but general admission tickets are usually available. The only catch: They print more tickets than seats available, so you better show up early or risk standing in line until enough fans leave the park. Of course, this celebration of college baseball is worth the wait.
4. June 22-24, Reds at Mariners, Seattle
Barring injury, Ken Griffey Jr. returns to Seattle for the first time since the Mariners traded him seven years ago. Seattle fans heckled A-Rod mercilessly and showered fake money on him when he returned for the first time. But most ill will toward Junior for his trade demands has dissipated. Expect this to be a lovefest. Grab a Red Hook, some garlic fries and enjoy.
5. July 8-10, All-Star Game, San Francisco
We can't keep track of what they're calling the place these days, but the second-best ballpark in the majors (sorry S.F. fans, Pittsburgh's is No. 1) hosts the annual Midsummer Classic. The Home Run Derby should be especially entertaining with balls splashing regularly among the kayaks in McCovey Cove.
Want more ball? Catch the Athletics and Mariners across the bay, in Oakland, the weekend before the game or stay on in San Francisco afterward for the Giants-Dodgers series July 13-15.
6. July 17-22, Baseball Minnesota, Twin Cities
To experience the true heart of baseball, see it at every level during the Minnesota summer. The Twins play the Tigers (July 17-19) and the Angels (July 20-22) in the Metrodome, while across the mighty Mississippi River, the famous and always fun minor-league St. Paul Saints play the Sioux City Explorers (July 18-21) at Midway Stadium. (Note: Bad News Bears Night is July 20.)
Whatever you do, be sure to make the drive out to nearby Miesville, Jordan, Sleepy Eye or Stark for some amateur townball, a state tradition in which the game is played for nothing more than the sheer love of baseball on diamonds that could have come straight out of "Field of Dreams.'' (Visit Minnesotabaseball.org for details.)
7. July 28-29, Hall of Fame Weekend, Cooperstown, N.Y.
The closest hotel vacancies may be in Buffalo, because Baltimore fans probably booked this weekend years ago while Cal Ripken Jr. was still adding to his playing streak. Get some autographs at the many stores and tables where the players appear during the day, then watch Cal and Tony Gwynn and all current Hall of Famers as they enter the museum for a private party Saturday evening.
Can't find a room for the weekend? Here's a great road trip alternative: the Ripken Tour. Visit Cooperstown in mid-August, see the man's Hall of Fame plaque on the wall, then follow the Susquehanna River from its source in town to Williamsport, Pa., where you can catch a couple of games in the Little League World Series. From there, continue to the river's mouth at Havre de Grace, Md. (500 miles from Cooperstown), which, as all good Orioles fans know, is where Cal was born. And while you're there, drive to nearby Aberdeen for an Ironbirds game at Ripken Stadium, then on to Baltimore for an Orioles game at Camden Yards.
(And if you have a chance, go see a Nationals game at RFK Stadium before they move into the new park next year.)
8. July 27-Aug. 5, California Dreaming, Los Angeles, Anaheim
and San Diego
Start with the Angels-Tigers series at the Big A (July 27-29), then head up to Los Angeles for a Dodgers-Giants series (July 31-Aug. 2), when Barry Bonds just might be closing in on Hank Aaron's record. And follow the Giants down to San Diego for three more games Aug. 3-5. And if you get a little tired of baseball, we hear there's a certain amusement park in the Anaheim area worth spending a day or two.
9. Aug. 17-20, Cardinals vs. Cubs, Chicago
Will the Cubs' $300 million offseason investment finally get them to the World Series? Probably not, but as long as the beer is cold there is no better seat in baseball than the Wrigley Field bleachers during a Cubs-Cards game. And with any luck you'll get a chance to see manager Lou Piniella toss a base onto Waveland Avenue.
Need more ball? Load up by driving 90 minutes to Milwaukee one day that same weekend to catch a Brewers-Reds game, then stay in Chicago for the White Sox-Royals series Aug. 20-22.
10. Aug. 21-30, Big Apple Baseball, New York City
If you love bright lights and a big city, you'll love this trip to New York. You can enjoy the minor-league Brooklyn Cyclones as they wind down their season in one of the most delightful parks around (Aug. 22-24 and 28), or watch the Mets play the Padres (Aug. 21-23) and Dodgers (Aug. 24-26) at Shea, then cap it all off with a Yankees-Red Sox clash (Aug. 28-30) at Yankee Stadium. Just leave your David Ortiz jersey at home.
If all that isn't enough to satisfy your baseball appetite, don't worry: The postseason will be just a month away by then.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His Web site is back up at a slightly different address jimcaple.net, with more installments of 24 College Avenue. In addition to his book "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," his new book with Steve Buckley titled "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans" is now on sale.
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