Seventy-three days of summer are left, and it's high time you took a vacation. The lights are beckoning from Chatham, Mass., to the Chavez Ravine in L.A. -- grids of ballpark beacons craning their necks over treetops, or sitting nestled in cityscapes, all broadcasting the same message: baseball. Tonight. On any given eve in July or August, like this Friday, the 14th, there are 15 ballgames in the big leagues, hundreds more in minor, independent and college summer leagues, and thousands in lower-profile amateur fields across the Lower 48. That leaves more than a million seats, from lawn chairs to luxury boxes, and one challenge: How many parks can you hit?
SI.com's Luke Winn and Dan Hoyle (that's us) recently dropped in on six games in six days across the Midwest to whet your appetite for baseball tourism. Then, Pablo Torre plotted out five other loaded itineraries -- the Tour of Texas, the Metropolitan N.Y. Tour, the New Englander, the Southern Swing and the California Cruise-- to provide vacationing options nationwide. Peruse the guides, and hop along for the ride by reading our journal, which rolls out in installments over July 12-17. Consider it free advice from the SI Travel Desk.
Day 0: Pre-Departure The Ground Rules Of Baseball Road Tripping
By Luke Winn
There are ways to couch the premise of this trip in patriotic romanticism, but I'll be straight with you: I was instructed to tour the Midwest, take in a work-week's worth of ball, poison my body with life-threatening levels of ballpark food and draft beer, and keep a journal. The whole thing made me nervous, initially -- but not about the travel. Nervous that I should've left Manhattan in the middle of the night, for fear someone would wise up and pull the plug on this thing at the 11th hour. Had that happened, my five essential rules for planning a baseball road trip would've never been put to use:
1. Choose your touring partner(s) wisely. They've gotta breathe baseball as much as you do; i.e. someone who won't want to leave games early to, say, catch Grey's Anatomy in the hotel room. They've gotta be good friends who won't get on your nerves by Day 4, when you're perspiring last night's Bud Light while stuck in an interstate traffic jam. And they've gotta bring something to the table; such as an interesting disposition ... or a better car than yours. Dan Hoyle, a college friend of mine, lacked an auto (we rented an Altima) but had a rare perspective on the pastime, after spending his high school and college summers as a vendor at Candlestick, Pac Bell Park, Oakland Coliseum and Wrigley Field. Fresh off of a Fulbright study of oil politics in Nigeria, the kid was thirsty for an overdose of Americana. And he had the free time, so I signed him up.
2. Diversify the scenes so you don't burn out. We targeted a swath of the Upper Midwest that was ripe with teams from MLB (Cubs, White Sox and Brewers), the minors (Quad Cities, Beloit, Kane County and Peoria), independents (Gary and Schaumburg), college summer leagues (Madison) and amateur contests -- just to make sure things didn't get stale.
3. Put a LaRussaian (meticulous) effort into planning. The Midwestern Loop was devised because it was a halfway point between myself (a New York City resident) and Hoyle (a San Francisco guy); and it had a lineup with both sentimental value (Wisconsin for me, Wrigley for him) and uncharted territory (Indiana and Iowa). We plotted out our potential clubs' home games for a three-week stretch, and then weaved the best possible itinerary -- a circuitous route through five of the 10 possibilities.
4. Meet a local character at every park. Actual ballplayers tend to speak in boring clichés. So while they're just taking it one inning at a time, chat up the usher, the beer man or the superfan near you. Their personal histories are bound to be more interesting. We put one of these dudes -- dubbed the "Road Trip All-Stars" -- in our journal from every park.
5. Don't even try to be healthy. The less you care about the negative bodily implications of a diet with two food groups (sausage and beer) the less you'll be concerned about growing sensation that you're acquiring Don Zimmer's figure.
Day 0: The Route
After extensive deliberation, we settled on the route below. Note that the World Series champion White Sox weren't excluded because we don't like them (or because we're Cubs fans -- we're not) but merely because they were on the road when we passed through. Blame the schedule-makers.