Every year around this time, the same headlines appear: “Pitchers, Catchers Report to Spring Training.”
For baseball fans, they may as well read: “Life Begins Again.”
Spring Training is a magical time of year, a cheerful affirmation that the brutal winter has passed and our TVs and radios will soon be dominated by world-class athletes (and Milwaukee Brewers) engaged in an epic battle for baseball supremacy.
If you’ve never been to Spring Training, you’re missing out. From the Grapefruit League in Florida to the Cactus League in Arizona, it’s a chance to soak up some sun, score some autographs, and watch the stars of today field grounders and hit BP with the legends of the past. And with game tickets usually available for under ten bucks, you’re sure to have plenty of money left over for $14 ballpark beers come August.
Spring Training is a must-experience for any serious baseball fan, but it’s not the only one. Here are nine other adventures that belong on any diehard’s Ultimate Baseball Bucket List:
Walk the Hallowed Halls of Cooperstown
The world’s most popular sports shrine, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown merits top billing on any fan’s to-do list. Considering it houses nearly 4,000 artifacts, hundreds of rotating exhibits, and more than 2.5 million historic photos and articles, it’s a steal at $25 a ticket. Kids’ tickets go for a mere $12 and military enter for free.
Cheer (or Jeer) the Bronx Bombers at Yankee Stadium
The Yankees are undoubtedly both the most revered and most hated team in the Majors; winning 27 World Series tends to have that effect. Rooting them on, or giving them the Bronx Cheer, at Yankee Stadium deserves a prime spot on any baseball bucket list.
Catch a Red Sox-Yankees Game at “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark”
It’s baseball’s fiercest rivalry, at its most historic venue. Enough said.
To make this bucket list excursion even more memorable, arrive at Fenway Park a few hours early for the pre-game tour, which includes visits to the top of the Green Monster, the seats from 1934, and the warning track. It’s a bit pricey – $30 for all ages – but someone has to pay David Price’s salary, right?
Attend a Day Game at Wrigley Field
Sometimes referred to as “The World’s Largest Beer Garden,” Wrigley Field in Chicago isn’t just a great place to catch a game, but to party like it’s 1908 and the Cubbies are World Series-bound. The ivy walls, rooftop seating, hand-turned scoreboard, and 7th inning “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” singalong combine to make Wrigley the most nostalgic and entertaining venue in baseball.
As a bonus, you won’t miss any action because you got distracted gazing at any pesky World Series banners hanging from the rafters.
Join the “Sea of Red” on Opening Day
They’re a distant second (to the Yankees) at capturing championship rings, but when it comes to electric Opening Day celebrations, the St. Louis Cardinals are aces. A citywide celebration featuring live entertainment throughout the day and appearances by Clydesdales, celebs, and Hall of Famers, Opening Day in St. Louis is mightier than a ‘roid-fueled Mark McGwire moonshot. If you can spend just one day at Busch Stadium, aka “Baseball Heaven,” make it this one.
Pay Tribute to Mr. Robinson
Put this one on the back end of your bucket list for now, considering the Jackie Robinson Museum in lower Manhattan is six years late (and counting) to open its doors. When it finally does launch (in 2017, hopefully) expect it to become an instant mecca for baseball and civil rights enthusiasts alike. The museum will include interactive kiosks, Jackie Robinson artifacts, a theater, traveling exhibits, and more.
The museum has raised about half of its campaign goal of $42 million, so if you have a spare $20 million lying around, feel free to donate it to the Jackie Robinson Foundation to speed things up.
Fish for a Splash Hit in McCovey Cove
Kayaking in McCovey Cove and waiting for a “Splash Hit” (a home run that lands in the water on a fly) has become an instant tradition in the Bay area. Rent a kayak at South Beach Harbor (adjacent to AT&T Park), then paddle 10 minutes to the cove and wait for the long balls to sail your way.
City Kayak provides paddles and life jackets, but bring your own waterproof A.M. radio so you can listen to the game. Depending on the kayak you choose, plan to spend $70-$150 for the McCovey Cove experience.
Visit the Birthplace of Baseball
Cooperstown gets all the glory, but baseball was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. The first organized game took place at the small city’s Elysian Fields in 1846, with the cleverly-named New York Base Ball Club overcoming the Knickerbockers in a 23-1 nail-biter.
The fields are long gone, but a bronze plaque stands between where first and second bases used to lie. In honor of the game’s pioneers, you can also enjoy a beer at Maxwell’s, a restaurant and live music venue situated adjacent to the old third base.
Visit the Magic Field Where Dreams Come True
Field of Dreams isn’t a baseball movie; it’s the baseball movie. Making a pilgrimage to the field where it was filmed (in Dyersville, Iowa, a couple hundred miles west of Chicago) is something that baseball junkies and pop culture gurus alike should add to their bucket lists. Admission is free, and beginning in July of this year, White Sox ghost players will take the field for special performances every other Sunday. See their website for more info.
Kidnapping James Earl Jones en route to the Field of Dreams is highly recommended.
Marcus Whelchel lives, plays, and writes in St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife and daughter. Those who know him best suspect he took a Louisville Slugger to the noggin or something. When his beloved Cardinals lose, he gets angrier than Albert Belle when someone calls him ‘Joey.’