Commentary

Caple: Twelve for 2009 – A calendar of must-sees

Updated: February 2, 2009, 8:25 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com


• Photo gallery: Month-by-month look at the best events of 2009

It's a big world out there and the Road Warrior's mantra is that our globe doesn't truly revolve around the sun, it revolves around sports. Earth's 365-day trip through its orbit merely provides fans with chances to take in 365 games (not counting doubleheaders).

What to see

From the ice of Minnesota to the surf of Hawaii, Jim Caple's list of 2009 events will lead the sports tourist across the country, and around the globe. See for yourself in the gallery.

What sporting events would you like to see most as you journey through the next year?

Here's my list for each month in 2009, focusing as much on the destination as the event. With a caveat that I wouldn't repeat any event from last year's itinerary, this schedule offers a wide mix of U.S. and international travel, well-known and lesser-known events, and even some trips that will help you keep what is left of your 401k.

After all, admission to January's event is free, just so long as you don't count the hospital fees for being treated for frostbite.

JANUARY
U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, Minneapolis (Jan. 23 to Jan. 25)

The interesting thing about Minnesota is that in the 80-degree sunshine of summer you can go inside to watch baseball (and be sure to catch the Twins' final season in the Metrodome this year), and during the depths of winter you can brave 30-below temps to watch hockey outside. The annual U.S. Pond Hockey Championships started in 2006 and have grown to include 248 teams competing for the coveted Golden Shovel (players are occasionally required to shovel snow from the 25 rinks). Past competitors include NHL vets Brian Bellows and Mike Crowley, as well as Gov. Tim Pawlenty. It's amateur sports at its best -- that is, plenty of beer, which we can only assume will be cold.

FEBRUARY
North Carolina at Duke (Feb. 11)

Precious few rivalries in all of sports match up to this one on Tobacco Road, where the two campuses are barely a Christian Laettner three-pointer from each other. Watching a game in the Dean Dome will leave you awestruck at the sight of banners honoring former greats. But the quintessential college hoops experience is wading through K-Ville and squeezing into Cameron Indoor Stadium while the band is playing and the Crazies are in their full, psychotic frenzy.

MARCH
World Baseball Classic, multiple locations (March 5 to March 23)

With three rounds and host cities ranging from Mexico City to Tokyo and Toronto to San Diego, the hardest part of the second WBC is choosing which games you want to witness. Dodger Stadium hosts the championship March 21 to March 23. But the most intriguing matchups could be in the second round, March 14 to March 18, in Miami, where the U.S., Canada, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico could meet, and where dark horses Venezuela and the Netherlands may wind up. And, no matter what happens, you're in Miami.

APRIL
Patriots Day, Boston (April 20)

Anytime is a good time to visit Boston, but it's hard to top Patriots Day, which officially is a holiday commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord but is an unofficial holiday commemorating sport. The Red Sox play a morning game timed to end just as the Boston Marathon is heading through nearby Kenmore Square. Book early and hoist a Samuel Adams while wondering how fast you could complete the marathon course in a bullpen cart.

MAY
Giro d'Italia (May 9 to May 31)

While not well known in America, Italy's grand stage race is second in prestige to the Tour de France and has hosted some of cycling's most dramatic rides (consider Andy Hampsten's epic climb in a blizzard on the Gavia in 1988). And as part of his comeback, Lance Armstrong will ride the Giro for the first time. The stages take you to some of the world's finest cities (Florence, Rome, Venice), but my pick is Stage 10, a 250-kilometer race from Cuneo to Pinerolo on May 12 with five staggering climbs, including the final climb up Sestriere (where the men's downhill was in the 2006 Olympics). Wave your U.S. (or Texas) flag, while enjoying a good bottle of Barolo, pasta in truffle sauce and a gelato cone, all while rooting Lance on to victory. Bonus: Hang around for the Champions League final in Roma.

JUNE
College World Series, Omaha, Neb. (June 13 to June 24)

Omaha is seldom the destination for anyone's dream vacation, but it should be each June, when summer is just heating up and the city welcomes baseball fans to the College World Series. Omaha is the perfect fit for the series -- a sufficiently large population to make the CWS a big deal but still small enough that the CWS will always be the focus. Even if you can't get a ticket, don't worry; the state-fair-like atmosphere outside is nearly as fun as being inside. You can eat so much and so well during a short ramble through the tailgaters that Mutual of Omaha will raise your premiums due to the risk of clogged arteries.

JULY
Wimbledon (June 22 to July 5)

While a repeat of last year's thrilling final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is unlikely, the tennis courts by the Wimbledon tube stop are always special, a timeless place that not even Nazi bombs could destroy. You can get tickets to virtually all the matches by camping out the night before. And with the British pound at historic lows, strawberries and cream may never be easier on the wallet.

AUGUST
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Sturgis, S.D. (Aug. 3 to Aug. 9)

Hey, I'm not big on motorcycles. In fact, I was scared away from riding one as a little kid when Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl safety Karl Kassulke was paralyzed in a crash. So I'm only going to say this -- whether you enjoy motorcycles or not, if you go to Sturgis you will see things you won't believe and return with some incredible stories to tell (or not tell, depending on your personal involvement and marital status).

SEPTEMBER
Yankees, Mets in their new stadiums, New York (Sept. 6-7)

Can we be honest here? Its grand history aside, old Yankee Stadium was a dump. The concessions were terrible, the concourses claustrophobic and, worst of all, there were always lots of Yankees fans. And Shea was even worse. There still will be plenty of Yankees fans in the Bronx, but the new ballparks opening this year will have far more fan amenities -- along with higher prices. Check out the two on back-to-back days when the Mets host the Cubs on Sept. 6 and the Yankees play the Rays on Sept. 7. Just be sure to bring lots of cash.

OCTOBER
Florida vs. Georgia, Jacksonville, Fla. (Oct. 31)

What could be better and wilder than the world's largest outdoor cocktail party? Answer: The world's largest cocktail party … on Halloween. (You'll have to imagine the possibilities on your own, because this is a family-friendly Web site.) This is one of college football's best rivalries, with both teams usually challenging for the SEC championship and more. Best to arrive early for this one … say, during August two-a-days.

NOVEMBER
Maui Invitational (Nov. 23 to Nov. 25)

Ahhhh, early winter in Maui. Stretching out on the warm sands of Makena Beach. Watching the surfers at Ho'okipa. Cycling around the rugged west Maui coast. Gulping Longboards at sunset. With all that, you might be tempted to skip the tournament. But don't. With Arizona, Louisville and Gonzaga already on the schedule, along with Wisconsin, Maryland, Vandy and Chaminade, you'll have plenty of reason to swap the sunscreen for face paint.

DECEMBER
Big 12 Championship Game, Arlington, Texas (Dec. 5)

We can't say which teams will be playing in this game next season, but we certainly do expect highly ranked opponents who really dislike each other, with the game's outcome directly affecting the BCS. The game also will provide a chance to see the Cowboys' $1.3 billion stadium; Jerry World is supposed to set the new standard in stadium design, which we're not sure is necessarily a good thing.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send in your comments and travel questions to Jim,
a k a The Road Warrior
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• Photo gallery: Month-by-month look at the best events of 2009

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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