Make the 2018 MLB Baseball Season a trip!
Opening Day of the MLB baseball season has become one of my favorite days of the year. Since I met my wife, I have visited sixteen MLB ballparks around the country. We are fortunate to live in an area where a lot of ballparks are within pretty reasonable driving distance. One of these ballparks I got to thanks to an awesome career fair I attended at the ballpark itself back in 2015. For most of the ball parks in the midwest, my wife and I set out on two epic road trips that were not only filled with baseball fun, they were also filled with memorable trips to visit and eat at other places in those particular cities. Although we haven’t been able to go on as many trips as we’d like, the ones we’ve gone on have been some of the best times of our entire marriage. Sadly, not everybody is lucky enough to have a spouse who wants to do this, but perhaps you have a family member or friend in your life who is as big of a baseball fan as you are. Have you ever talked about going to all the MLB ballparks? Have you ever really considered doing it? Has it seemed a little too far fetched? Well, if you answered yes to these questions, then it is time to start thinking seriously about planning out a trip during the 2018 season. There aren’t too many things I enjoy talking about more than the MLB ballpark experiences I’ve had. With the regular season getting underway and because I wasn’t much of a blogger when I did go on these trips, I’d like to go back and highlight all of the things that made these trips so great. The baseball experiences themselves were amazing, but there was so much more to it than that. Allow me to take you back through my experiences so that you may get inspired to create some of your own memories.
2015: The First Big Trip
Although my wife and I talked about seeing every ballpark when we first started dating, I don’t think either one of us thought it would become a reality as fast as it did. While trying to figure out an extra special Christmas present for her four years ago, a good idea occurred to me. I noticed that one of our favorite musicians, Billy Joel, was going to be on tour in 2015. However, rather than going to see Billy close to home, I thought it would be fun if we could somehow map out a trip around one of his shows. As a result, I started looking through schedules of several baseball teams while going back to Billy Joel’s tour schedule in order to see if I could figure out a plan. As luck would have it, I managed to figure out a trip that would take us through Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Kansas City over the span of five days. By the time we would reach Kansas City, three more ballparks would be checked off our list and we’d be able to see Billy Joel while we rest up for the drive home. Seeing the concert in Kansas City versus New York City or Washington D.C. would also cut down on the cost of the concert as I wanted to be on the floor for the show. After calculating costs, I decided that this was a very doable idea. Once Christmas came, needless to say, she loved the idea and the present.
The first stop on our first big trip was at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. This place always look so cool on tv. Its always had a very modern feel even while watching the games. The city itself didn’t seem particularly, but to be fair, we didn’t really tour much of it. We only stopped her for one night so it may not be fair to be a true assessment of the city as a whole, but I do feel like we saw enough of the ballpark to make a good judgement. Even looking back today, despite the modern feel and the attempts include its long and storied history throughout the ballpark, I felt like something was lacking here. My wife and I are big souvenir cup collectors, but they didn’t even have that. They didn’t even give us a straw for our soda! That just seemed very foreign to me at the time. It still does! The atmosphere was very low key minus the over exuberant PA announcer. Seating was a little odd too. We sat along the third base/left fiend line, but our seats were angled too far away from the pitcher/batter action. We more or less had to angle ourselves in order to see the game. Not exactly the most comfortable arrangement. Overall, it just felt like somebody put a pin through a balloon somewhere and let all the air out of this otherwise gorgeous looking stadium. Maybe we came on a bad day, but it just felt like something was missing here. It lacked all of the fun and excitement we are used to seeing at the ballpark. It was a decent experience, but not one of my favorites.
Although we did have fun seeing Cincinnati, it was then time to move on to St. Louis. I didn’t really know what to expect, but at the very least I knew we were heading to another city with a lot of history. Much like Cincinnati, we didn’t get to see too much of this city, but even though we spent an equal amount of time in both places, I felt like the city of St Louis had a lot more character. Just in the few hours we had prior to the game, we got to see the Arch, some nice parks, and even got a romantic horse carriage ride to the game. Pretty cool stuff! The city in general just seemed much more alive. We also found plenty of Cardinals related sports bars and stops around the stadium which was cool too. You really felt like you were coming into a passionate fanbase territory as you approached the ballpark. The ballpark itself is way bigger than I thought it would be. Both Busch Stadiums always looked a little smaller to me on tv, plus it is located in the midwest so I think I expected it to be a little smaller. One thing I didn’t factor in was how passionate this storied franchise’s fanbase is.
Watching a game in St Louis is a great experience, but I think the most memorable part was the food. Between the grilled hot dogs and the delicious nachos, the food at Busch Stadium has proven to be the best of all the stadiums I have visited to this day. Their food has actually more or less set the bar for all other stadiums. They really got it right here at Busch Stadium. Overall, this was my favorite ballpark on the trip. They managed to get everything right. The atmosphere was lively and fun, the ballpark itself is beautiful, plenty of fun places to go inside, and of course, the food was amazing! The only downside is that it doesn’t feel quite as intimate as other some other ballparks. I can’t really fault them for that as I know they need to accommodate a pretty big fanbase and they are probably one of the biggest metro areas in the part of the country. Overall, seeing a game in St Louis is a great experience. We actually stopped through here again on our way home since we enjoyed ourselves so much. Who could blame us when they serve up stadium food that is so good!
When we finally reached our ultimate destination, Kansas City, we were starting to become pretty tired. Although we are still pretty young, this much time on the road does take a toll on you after awhile. However, our spirits remained high as we geared up for some fun at Kauffman Stadium. I was very excited to see this place as I know they are famous for the outfield waterfall. You can even see the huge Royals logo as you pass by on the highway. A very cool sight to see and one you definitely can’t miss. After we stopped in for some delicious barbecue sandwiches at Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue, we headed in to see our final new ballpark of the trip. Although our view of the game was excellent from our front row left field seats, I found the layout of the ballpark to be a little odd. This stadium was built during the early 70’s and unfortunately it has that look and feel to it. It also has a mix of modern architecture and design thrown into it. Personally, I thought it was an odd mix of that time period and this one. One huge disadvantage is the inability to see much of the game while walking around. This is largely due to the way the ballpark was designed. Watching the game itself is an amazing experience, but enjoying other aspects of the ballpark during the game can be a little difficult if you want to see the game too. The clash of two eras makes it an odd experience. I enjoyed the fact that you were seeing a Major League team in a city that feels like a small town. Although Kauffman Field has its quirks, i’d go back there again.
2017: Finally Able to Do Another Big Trip
After our first big trip, life got in the way of us doing something big again for a little while. Baseball continued to be a big part of our lives, but things changed a lot. Job changes, moving, and marriage all took place over the next few years. We even got married at Citizens Bank Park so obviously we were still pretty committed to our baseball experiences. By the time 2017 rolled around, things had started to calm down a bit and we were once again itching to go on another trip. Figuring out how to plan for a trip in the midwest/central timezone was a bit more challenging than the one we went on a few years earlier. We had a very hard time lining up a trip where both Chicago ball parks could be visited and could also go to a few other places. After much research and discussion, we decided to leave Detroit out for another time since we found a way to see both Chicago teams, Milwaukee and Minnesota. After our vacation requests were approved by our employers, we were off to see some new places and ballparks in August 2017!
The most exciting part of this trip was not only seeing two new ballparks in one city, but also finally getting to experience one of the biggest cities in the country. We were so excited to be here that we wound up going to three games, two at Guarnteed Rate Field and one at Wrigley Field. One thing I didn’t expect was how busy Chicago is. For as much as I’ve been to New York, it has never felt the way Chicago does. From the time you get off the plane to driving through the enormous amounts of traffic and walking around town, the city feels like it never sleeps. Although it does calm down quite a bit at night, I found Chicago to be a very fast and busy city. From walking around the variety of parks in the area to visiting places like the Second City for an evening of improv, our trip to Chicago was action packed and fun filled. It’s amazing what kind of experiences you can have around the country just from using baseball to get you there!
The busyness of this city could really be felt at the home of the White Sox, Guaranteed Rate Field. From the time you walk in, especially in the concourse area, the busy feel of the city can be felt. The high energy feel of this city really caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting that! However, despite being located in such a big city, I feel like the White Sox do a good job of providing a fun game day atmosphere. From the awesome fireworks night to speed pitch cage out in the left field concourse area, Guaranteed Rate Field was a fun place to visit. I like that they maintained the old school feel of the old Comiskey Park with the newer ballpark. Although their team wasn’t very good in 2017, I do feel like they maintain a great ballpark atmosphere. Their Comiskey Dog was a big highlight of the visit. I’ve eaten a lot of good ballpark food in recent years and despite the fact that I can’t place it above anything I’ve had in St Louis, the Comiskey Dog does rank as one of the best ballpark foods I’ve had to date. Overall, Guaranteed Rate Field was a nice, comfortable, old school feeling ballpark that had a good mix of old and modern to it!
After two games on Chicago’s Southside, it was time to shift gears as the Cubs finally came home for a new series against the Pirates. Its a shame that we only had time for one game here because this Wrigley Field was amazing. Other than Fenway Park, nothing gets right down to the core of the game better than Wrigley Field. It is a true old school baseball experience. many of the modern upgrades we are used to exist here. Although they’ve built it up with modern scoreboards in recent years, I don’t believe it detracts from the feel they are trying to establish. When you come to Wrigley Field, you come to see baseball. There are no speed pitch booths or any addional entertainment going on. The layout is exactly as you would expect an old ballpark that was built over a century ago to feel like. The guest relations staff is top notch here. They are very friendly and engaging with all guests at the ballpark. Upon entering, although the prices are expensive, they will take a commemorative picture of your visit that you can take home as a souvenir. Due to the intimacy of the ballpark, you can get very up close with the players as they warm up during the pregame. Thanks to my wife’s persistence, we were able to get an autograph from former Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole. Just being there and feeling the history and atmosphere was truly amazing. From the old school organ music from Gary Pressey to chills I felt during Take Me Out To The Ballgame during the 7th inning stretch, this was a remarkable place to see baseball. Definitely one of the my favorite ballparks of all time!
Coming into this trip, I had pretty high hopes for Milwaukee. Miller Park has always looked like such a cool place to see baseball. This was my first visit to ballpark that had a retractable roof or even had the ability to be indoors at all. Fortunately, there was no indoor baseball on this day as the roof was open for the afternoon business persons special. I like that they take so much pride in the history of Milwaukee baseball. From Braves era to the modern day Brewers, this franchise leaves no stone unturned when it comes to educating fans about their history. They even have a beautiful theater that you can go to at any given point during the game in order to watch a short film narrated by Milwaukee baseball legend Bob Uecker. If that’s not enough, a curtain showing a very cool looking hologram of former Brewers owner Bud Selig comes up towards the end of the film. You almost feel like Bud Selig is in the room talking directly to you. It’s a very good production and a unique idea that gets you out of the heat on a hot summer day. Aside from that, the ballpark has a very modern feel to it, but somehow manages to maintain the authenticity of the game. Much like Nats Park, you can also eat dinner inside a restaurant in the outfield and watch the game too. You just have to pick the right spot or it might be hard to see the game.
Speaking of food, this was another ballpark that didn’t have a souvenir cup. That was a bummer as we love to collect those and they are great to drink out of during the game. I was a little disappointed in the food overall. Our sausage dog was very good, but I was hoping for more considering Wisconsin’s storied food history. We didn’t eat anything bad here, but some upgrades would probably go a long way in helping this to be a more fulfilling experience.
Overall, there is plenty to do at Miller Park. Maybe a little too much to do if you are a baseball purist who just wants to watch the game as it was intended. We enjoyed our experience here. It was a beautiful ballpark that had a very small townish feel to it that reminded me of Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, but much more modern and has better architecture. I wish we had spent a little more time watching the game, but I guess we had to experience all we could since you can’t predict when you’ll get back to this part of the country again in the future.
Minnesota was the last stop on this trip and as of today is the last game we’ve attended (although more games are coming very soon!). Even before you step inside of Target Field, you get an education on the history of the Minnesota Twins. They do an amazing job of making sure every player who has put on the uniform gets a mention. Pennants are lined up all over with the names of every player who played on each team from the beginning of the franchise to today. This is the kind of ballpark you will want to make extra time for so you can take it all in. It’s a very beautiful place to visit. On the inside, you get more history lessons as you can feast your eyes on the seat the Kirby Puckett’s heroic game 6 World Series homerun ball landed. They even give you the option to listen to the local and national game telecast audio as you take a look at this relic from the old Metrodome. My favorite part about Target Field is that it seems to accommodate the large metro area without losing the intimate baseball feel. Even though our seats were upper deck bleacher seats, we still felt like we were right on the field. Although we didn’t eat anything too memorable, I felt like the food was decent and the atmosphere was good. Even for a business person’s special day game! Although it felt like our time here was short, Target Field stood out as one of the better places I’ve ever seen a game at.
Hopefully after reading about all of our experiences, I hope this gives some people an idea of their own for a baseball trip. Because baseball games are a little less expensive than other sports, the kind of trips my wife and I have taken are totally doable for anybody. If you can fit in some extra experiences around town, it makes the experience even more fulfilling. I left out our trips to Lakefront Brewery in Wisconsin and Hells Kitchen in Minneapolis, but need to give them a mention because they too made our most recent trip so much fun and about more than just baseball. Seeing landmarks like the Mississippi River or Mall of America can’t go uncredited either. Our visit to the Negro League Hall Of Fame and Lidia’s Italian Restaurant in Kansas City still stand as some of the most memorable parts of our first trip. The only thing I haven’t done is thank Billy Joel for performing in Kansas City at the absolute perfect time. Otherwise, we may still be planning our first epic baseball trip. So, in 2018 and beyond, check your baseball schedules, look for some fun entertainment in some baseball towns, find a delicious new restaurant, get out there and finally go forth and see all of the MLB ballparks in America. There is so much great stuff and great baseball to see out there. The time to do it is now!