Road Trip

Make a Weekend Getaway (or longer?) a big hit with a Ballgame

By Guy Fletcher | Photography by Dave Ferry | Posted on 05.21.15 – Feature, Lifestyles, People & Places, Travel

In the movie Bull Durham, protagonist and career minor league baseball player Crash Davis soliloquizes about his brief time in “The Show,” his 21 days in the majors that featured, among other amenities, stadiums that were “like cathedrals.” Now, for all the clubhousebanter perfection of Bull Durham, that description is a profound swing and a miss. Stadiums—or, more correctly, ballparks—aren’t really cathedrals at all. They are much more intimate, no matter their mammoth size, more like a country chapel, a revival tent or a park pavilion filled with festive relatives at a family reunion.

That’s because baseball, whether you love it or hate it, isn’t like other sports. Think about it: Its rules are unique, lacking a play clock and featuring a counterintuitive format where the defense controls the ball. Even the dimensions of its playing surfaces aren’t uniform, and are often asymmetrical, varying from ballpark to ballpark. So leave the cavernous, turnstile-straining “cathedral” stadiums to the NFL, college football and international soccer, where the venue merely serves as a vessel for holding fans and their dollars. (Quick, try to wax romantic about your favorite football stadium. See what we mean?)

Baseball, on the other hand, is about a fan experience where the spectators and ballpark are inextricably connected to the sport itself; games and seasons have been inalterably changed simply because of the characteristics of the stadium and the people in the stands (see Jeffrey Maier). In what other sport does that happen? All of this makes a weekend getaway built around a ballpark a great idea. You aren’t just going to watch a game; you are taking in the ballpark experience—the glow of the early evening sun and the smell of beer and fried food—and imagining the ghosts who occupy its sprawling outfield, base paths and in the stands. As a bonus, you get to take in restaurants, bars and other entertainment near the ballpark and throughout the city in which it inhabits. Not too shabby.

Home Plate

We are fortunate to live in this part of the country for many reasons, not the least of which being there are two MLB teams—and fantastic ballparks—within an hour’s drive. Baltimore’s 23-year-old Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the first to combine modern amenities with vintage charm, is the standard against which all new stadiums are compared. In Washington, D.C., Nationals Park drew rave reviews from the moment it opened in 2008. But, let’s face it, these are parks you can visit almost any time. How about expanding your reach, just a little?

The good news is there are several other ballparks within driving distance of Frederick. A few hours west and you can see Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, considered by some to be MLB’s best stadium, and a couple hours past that is Cleveland’s Progressive Field. To the north, the I-95 corridor is loaded with great stadiums and cities, including Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the “new” Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ Citi Field in New York City, and the venerable Fenway Park in Boston, which prides itself as being “America’s most beloved ballpark.”

Of course, the simplest way to put together a ballpark trip is to find one city or team and make a long weekend out of that single destination. For example, check out the Pittsburgh Pirates’ home schedule and build yourself a weekend in the Steel City. Or you could try to combine a weekend of multiple games and maybe even multiple cities, like a Philly-New York or New York-Philly combo. But if you want to get real adventurous, check out the website www.baseball-roadtrip.com. Simply enter the teams you want to see play and when you would like to see them, and in seconds the site will churn out an itinerary of games, cities, dates and game times.

We ran this site through its paces and within minutes were able to assemble a six-ballpark, seven-day tour in late June that, depending on your perspective, sounds either amazing or terrifying. For Mark Wiles, it definitely tilts to the amazing side. The teacher at Urbana Elementary School has taken numerous baseball-related trips over the years, once having pulled off an eight-day, six-city run that included Wiles, his brother and a friend logging hundreds of miles on a rental car while hitting ballparks through the Midwest. “It wasn’t a vacation, that’s for sure,” he says. “It was a trip.”

Hitting the Road

Wiles goes through the list of cities and ballparks he’s visited the way some people might mention their favorite bands or restaurants: Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Wrigley Field in Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Toronto, to name a few. He wants to add Fenway purely for its historical significance, but this Orioles fan draws the line at going to Yankee Stadium. “I’m not supporting the Yankees,” he says.

In fact, being an Orioles fan has given Wiles a particular desire to see different ballparks, comparing them to his favorite, Camden Yards. “I really feel a lot of ballparks are based off of that,” he says. It’s not too surprising that this Baltimore fan isn’t exactly enamored with D.C.’s Nationals Park (“It’s nothing special”), but it might surprise some that he is a big fan of Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. “PNC is fabulous,” Wiles says, citing the views of the bridges on the Allegheny River and city skyline from the park that feels like it was built in 1950. “It has the old, nostalgic feel to it, but it has all the modern conveniences.”

While ballpark travel does give you the opportunity to see and do other things in the city you are visiting, hardcore ballpark chasers like Wiles say they keep focused on the reason they are there in the first place. There was the visit to the CN Tower in Toronto and touring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, but those are mere appetizers to the main dish. Recalling the epic eight-day trip, he’s hard-pressed to recall much of anything he did besides watch baseball. “For me, that is why I pick the destination,” he says.

Frederick resident Casey Jones has traveled to some 17 ballparks, mostly fitting it around his business travel. One of the things he enjoys is meeting fans from different teams, like the woman who was a lifetime season-ticket holder with the Yankees, and discovering that people are just people, no matter the ballpark. “It’s not that different. They are all the same.” But, like Wiles, he keeps coming back to Camden Yards, citing in particular an ambitious gastronomical creation called the crab macaroni-and-cheese hotdog. “Baltimore is still my favorite,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s because I am an Orioles fan, but it’s my favorite ballpark.”