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Roadtrip: Short season, long on fun07/08/2010 4:01 PM ET
By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com
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School is out, the weather's warm, and all 160 Minor League teams are in operation. In other words, it's a peak time of year for baseball. This edition of "Roadtrip" takes a look at each of the four short-season leagues: Class A New York-Penn and Northwest, and Rookie-level Appalachian and Pioneer. Teams in these four circuits only play 38 home games per season, meaning fans have to get while the getting's good.
What follows are eight itineraries, featuring clubs located in the same league and in (relatively) close proximity to one another. Hopefully this will serve as inspiration for your own Minor League road trip in 2010 and beyond.
New York-Penn League
In Name Only:
July 24: Connecticut Tigers
In addition to New York and Pennsylvania, the NYPL boasts one team each in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maryland. This trip features three of those teams (apologies to the Aberdeen IronBirds), all of whom offer distinct reasons to visit. The Connecticut Tigers are in their first season after relocating from Oneonta, playing in the spacious confines of Norwich's Dodd Stadium. The bobblehead-crazy Lowell Spinners compete at perpetually sold-out LaLacheur Park, benefiting mightily from a Boston affiliation in the midst of Red Sox Nation. The Lake Monsters, meanwhile, are the only professional baseball team in the state of Vermont. The Burlington-based franchise plays in the oldest stadium in Minor League Baseball. Centennial Field opened as a college facility WAAAY back in 1906.
New York, New York, and Then Some:
Aug. 7: Brooklyn Cyclones
Minor League Baseball doesn't rank very highly on the Big Apple's overflowing list of attractions, but the city's two teams should not be overlooked. The Cyclones are based out of Coney Island -- the Playground of the World -- playing amidst carnival rides, boardwalk-strolling revelers and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean. The Staten Island Yankees, meanwhile, provide an excuse to visit NYC's most neglected borough. Their stadium is accessible via a free, half-hour ferry ride from Manhattan, providing the chance to grab a beer at the snack bar before snapping photos of the Statue of Liberty. Located just north of the city are the Hudson Valley Renegades, a member of the promo-crazy Goldklang Group (their Aug. 9 game is "Anti-Green Night"; your guess is as good as mine). Playing in the state capital region are the Tri-City ValleyCats, who offer the unbeatable combination of a Spiedie at the concession stand and mayoral mascot races between innings.
Cruising Through Washington:
July 16: Spokane Indians
Spokane is not a Cleveland affiliate, as the name would suggest. The "Indians" moniker is a nod to eastern Washington's large native American population, and the club's logo was designed in conjunction with the Spokane Tribe. After moving southwest through ample outdoor recreational areas and an abundance of wineries, one will come across the Yakima Bears. The team's Kids Area includes a home run derby Wiffle ball park, which is, in a word, awesome. And speaking of whiffs AND home runs, the giveaway on July 17 honors Yakima alumnus Mark Reynolds, who provides many of both for D-backs fans. Completing this triangular route, appropriately enough, are the Tri-City Dust Devils. The team is based in Pasco, a town with a large Hispanic population and, therefore, no shortage of spicy cuisine (the city even hosts an annual "Fiery Foods Festival").
Up the Coast, Out of the Country:
Sept. 2: Eugene Emeralds
The Emeralds are in the midst of their first season at PK Park, a beautiful (if yet up to professional standards) facility owned by the University of Oregon. The club is presided over in these new environs by longtime manager Greg Riddoch, who has announced that this will be his last season. After a short drive "erupt-ward," one will find the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. The team is off to a slow start this season but can't be counted out after having won the league championship in three of the last four seasons. Finally, why not end the summer (and the season) by checking out the sole affiliated team located outside of the U.S.? The aptly named Canadians are ample proof that baseball can thrive outside of our arbitrary geographical boundaries and play in a city which has a lot going for it (to put it mildly).
Aug. 6: Burlington Royals
Aug. 16: Elizabethton Twins
Travel is kept to a minimum in the Appy League, as the five teams in each division are all clustered around one another. The Eastern Division swing might be a bit circuitous, but it does provide the opportunity to visit the stadiums of all five of its clubs in as many days. Despite the relatively close proximity of one club to another, the division still manages to encompass three states (North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia).
The Western Division is even more tightly packed with only Bristol located outside the northeastern quadrant of Tennessee. But regardless of what team and what state, the Appalachian League provides the greatest small-town community feel of any Minor League circuit. Catching a game in these rustic settings has a timeless charm all its own while serving as a reminder of just how long the road to the Major Leagues really is.
Sweet Home, Montana:
July 19: Missoula Osprey
The Pioneer League only has eight teams, four of which are based in sprawling but sparsely populated Montana. This quartet of clubs are the only affiliated teams in the state, and the above itinerary includes a stop at three (apologies to the Billings Mustangs). Missoula, Helena and Great Falls are each surrounded by natural beauty, with Glacier National Park to the north, Yellowstone to the south and Lolo National Forest to the west.
No Need to Buy a Vowel:
Aug. 10: Orem Owlz
Located just south of Salt Lake City, the alliterative (and creatively spelled) Orem Owlz regularly play in front of packed houses at five-year-old Brent Brown Ballpark, which the team simply refers to as "the home of the Owlz." Be sure to pass on congratulations to mascot Hootz and his beloved Holly, as the two got married in a stirring on-field ceremony last season. Moving northward from Orem to Ogden entails a switch from birds to dinosaurs, as the Raptors make this fossil-laden territory their home. For each of the last two seasons, the club has distributed one million free tickets at local McDonald's, so scoring admission to Lindquist Field shouldn't be a problem. Finally, cross the border into potato country to check out the Chukars. This Idaho Falls institution plays in sparkling Melaleuca Field, a three-year-old facility with a name that just rolls off like tongue like a grounder over its pristine infield.