I don’t know about where you are, but up here in the Great White North, the weather has been truly awful this winter and it’s making me pine away for spring and, of course, baseball. Despite having a little bit of a thaw up here that’s actually melting the sheets of ice that rained down just before Christmas, nothing helps us mentally escape the long, cold winters in Canada like planning a baseball road trip for the summer. And a hat tip goes to Minor Leaguer (@Minor_Leaguer), a blogger for Bluebird Banter, for the idea for this post.
In the summer of 1999, I went on a 10-baseball-park road trip that had me hitting Montreal (before the Expos left), New York (both “old” Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium), Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh before they built new stadiums, Boston, Chicago (both Wrigley and Comiskey), Baltimore and, of course, Toronto. It was a great trip but it was before the latest boom of stadium building (I’ve since gotten to Citi Field on my latest trip to New York) and, to be honest, going to a big league park and partaking at least a little bit in the food and beverages is going to cost you an arm and a leg.
If the minor leagues are what catches your interest, you’re going to need a Minor League Road Trip (or two, or three) this summer. I couldn’t do any trips in 2012 because I was living in Germany (although I worked out with a German baseball team in school gym a couple of times that winter) but in 2013 I made several trips to cover some of the Toronto Blue Jays minor league affiliates.
My home in Toronto is not the best for day-trips for the minor leagues. We’re not like the Minor League meccas around New York, L.A. or even the Midwest where teams are everywhere. Our closest minor league team involves crossing the US Border and going to Buffalo. One game I went to in Buffalo last year was the same night as a Buffalo Bills exhibition game and the line to get back to Canada at the border took over an hour.
Aside from multiple trips to Buffalo, I took longer road trips too. I visited Lansing, Michigan twice to watch the Class-A Lugnuts with an extra little jump to Midland, Michigan to catch the Lugnuts on the road at the beautiful Dow Diamond, home of the Great Lakes Loons. I have to say that the ballgame experience in both Lansing and Midland are quite excellent. Both teams get some great crowds (especially on Fireworks Nights) and the in-game entertainment is well done. The Lugnuts fans love Big Lug, the team’s mascot and the relatively new Dow Diamond is a great place to watch a game.
I also went to Manchester, New Hampshire, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats for a few games. It’s a little longer drive (about 8 hours) but it’s a nice town in the mountains with a nice ballpark that is right on the flight path of Manchester Airport.
Finally, I also went down to Bluefield, West Virginia to see the Appalachian League Blue Jays. Going to see Rookie Ball is a completely different experience. It’s very raw and much less slick than what you see in A-ball and above, both on the field and off. Bowen Field has a pretty spectacular backdrop of a mountain (a small one) that was pretty awesome when it got hit by lightning just before the first pitch of a game (resulting in a delay).
So here’s the question, dear readers. Where are you going to take a road trip to in 2014? What are your favorite minor league destinations? Favorite minor league ballparks? Favorite minor league atmosphere?