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Take Me Out to the Ballgame

miller-article1Although Jacksonville, Florida, is my home, I love traveling throughout the United States.

I have been fortunate enough over the years to have traveled to 36 of our nation’s states.

During my years of travel, I have made it a point to visit interesting sports venues along the way.

Some of my favorites include Hall of Fames, college football stadiums and Major League Baseball (MLB) parks.

Nothing makes me happier than attending an MLB game in a breathtaking stadium with an ice-cold beverage.

It is especially memorable because my father and I have gone to 14 MLB parks. Since 1995, we have averaged one new park each year.

Last week, I returned from a weeklong getaway with my parents to Chicago and a few surrounding cities.

Although Jacksonville is 1,065 miles by car from the Windy City, it seemed like a world away.

cubsThe unseasonably cool weather made the Midwest feel like Jacksonville in March. Fortunately, I packed well because I wore a sweater for the first time since April.

However, I always realize in other cities that, if nothing else, sports can be that common link between two places.

Now, I’m not presently pursuing Rick Steves’ job, but every sports enthusiast should take a week off to hit these sports hot spots.

The trip began in Chicago. When we arrived, the Chicago Cubs and White Sox were both on away stands so a baseball game had to wait until the last leg of the vacation.

The first stop was Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to see the Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds play.

When I approached Miller Park, its impressive brick façade and convertible roof caught my eye immediately.

Although the Park was built in 2001, and is eight years old, it looked no more than eight months old.

While inside, my Dad and I sat everywhere between home plate and the left field bleacher seats. At Miller Park, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. No, I was not given a special pass because of my surname!

millerOf course, I sipped on a delicious Miller product, which didn’t happen to be cheaper than other locales, even though the Miller Brewery is directly across the highway.

With the roof closed because of nearby thunderstorms, the temperature inside the Park had to be well under 70 degrees. It was definitely the first time I’ve been cold at a ballpark that was enclosed.

But, the highlight of the night began when Brewer leftfielder Ryan Braun hit a ball deep to left, where my Dad and I were sitting. Once Braun connected with the little white dot, my Dad nudged me and said, “Richard, it’s coming our way.”

We both stood up in anticipation. However, neither one of us had a glove in hand so we could call for the catch. I called my Dad off telling him, “If you catch it barehanded, you’re breaking at least one finger.”

He kindly took my advice as the rocket of a foul ball smacked three feet from where my Dad had been spectating. The baseball ricocheted back onto the field leaving a nice ding in the bleachers next to us.

Although the two of us left empty-handed, that foul ball gave us a story for a lifetime. I’m positive that over time the story will gradually become more entertaining.

After a few days of sightseeing in between, Green Bay, Wisconsin, was our next sports town. And, with Green Bay only comes one thought – the Packers.

Having heard nothing but incredible stories of Lambeau Field, I knew it was a must-see. The tour of the venue was better than I ever could have dreamed.

lambAt the main entrance, which was redone in 2003, the statues of NFL legends Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau welcomed us to the Field’s Atrium.

The Atrium is where the Packer Hall of Fame tour starts and where the Pro Shop (which sells upwards of $20 million worth of Packers gear yearly) is located.

And, the Hall of Fame, which opened in 1976, gave me goosebumps as I walked the halls for an hour with my Dad. Seeing the plaques of Packer greats Forrest Gregg, Don Hutson and Bart Starr was surreal.

My favorite part of being in Green Bay was stepping onto Lambeau Field. In my head, I pictured myself performing the Lambeau Leap in front of the Packer faithful. I attributed this thought to the lack of humidity in Green Bay.

a-notre-dameGoing from one hallowed ground to the next, South Bend, Indiana, was next on my checklist. Except for the toll fees on the approach to South Bend, the city is most well-known for being home to the University of Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish campus was even more beautiful than NBC portrays it on a Saturday in Fall. High definition does not do it justice.

An hour-long bike ride in the 60-degree weather allowed me a glimpse at the Fighting Irish football practice fields, Touchdown Jesus and the Golden Dome.

While biking the gorgeous Notre Dame campus, I thought for a moment I heard Knute Rockne’s voice or Joe Montana’s changing the play at the line of scrimmage. I attributed those voices to hunger and sore legs.

It’s quite amazing how all that history is contained in the 1,250 acres of the Catholic university’s campus.

Following a full day in South Bend, it was back to Chicago for the final leg. My most anticipated event the entire trip was a Cubs game.

Having seen tons of games at Wrigley Field on television, I knew of its natural beauty and mystique.

Other than my father and I trekking from our hotel to the Field (it was rush hour on Chicago’s L), it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The hometown Chicago Cubs defeated the Houston Astros in a 4-1 final. But, it was so much more than a ball game.

Wrigley Field embodies the way all sporting events should be held. It has history, passion and diehard fans.

Fans were wearing jerseys ranging from current first baseman Derrek Lee to Mr. Cub Ernie Banks. Everyone oohed and aahed at every strikeout and double play. You would have thought it was Tinkers to Evers to Chance.

I left wanting more to follow, a double-header or even a quadruple-header, if Bud Selig obliged. It’s the one baseball park I could see myself having season tickets for and actually attending every game.
Wrigley Field was the ideal location to end a fantastic vacation. I half-expected renowned broadcaster Harry Caray to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as my Dad and I made our way to the hotel. I attributed that to being sleepy.

The week-long trip was a combination of four special sports venues, which every sports fan should venture to attend. Even if you can only make it to one of them, it’s well worth your time.

Otherwise, Vince Lombardi himself might toss this one at you: “We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.”

8 Responses »

  1. Until the day I die, I will always remember my stadium visits with my father. I attended a Cubs game once. They have rabid fans and a packed stadium for every game. The experience cannot be beaten. And even today, you can bring in any food, soda and even bottled water. Imagine that. Shame on any stadium baseball, football or other does otherwise.

    Their stadium does not even have a jumbotron! The lack of advertising in the outfield provides you with a feeling of days gone by. Notre Dame is on my bucket list for attending a game. Good job! Everyone should remember that their parents will not be around for ever. Beat em bucs!

  2. Wow. What an awesome article. Saving my money for my trip right now. You sold me!

  3. Cool trip. I have been to Wrigley Field and I agree with you that it is awe inspiring to see the devotion of the fans. It represents what baseball is all about in this country.

  4. Fantastic article! Thanks for telling your story with such great enthusiasm.

    Your description of the game at Wrigley Field reminds me of the Brooklyn Dodger games at Ebbets Field. The fans were really part of the game.

  5. What's Tinkers to Evers to Chance?

    • Tinker to Evers to Chance is a 1910 baseball poem presented from the point of view of a NY Giants fan watching the Chicago Cubs infield shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers, and first baseman Joe Chance complete a double play in 1902.

  6. After the baseball strike that nearly ruined the game, the sport is finally returning and fans are streaming into parks. It is good to hear of your experiences attending games.

    Maybe the lack of tattooed players, grunting hitters (tennis), sponsored sports greats (with logo'd sports apparel) and rude and non-conforming attitudes has truly hurt the game. Bring back family values in sports!