One of the best things about going on a Minor League Baseball road trip is that there's always so much to see beyond the ballparks themselves. In this regard, the Minor Leagues serve as the impetus for explorations of towns and cities that one otherwise might not ever think to visit.
But just because one would never think to visit a particular town doesn't mean that it's not worth visiting, and this is something I've learned time and time again as I've traversed the Minor League landscape over the course of the past four seasons.
A recent example is Midland, Mich., home of the Great Lakes Loons. Prior to attending June 25's ballgame, I took a whirlwind tour of three worthwhile destinations located in close proximity to Dow Diamond.
If you're ever in Midland to take in a ballgame, I'd recommend complementing the experience with stops at the following destinations. (And, on a broader level, I'm always interested in highlighting unique tourist destinations in Minor League towns. Send me an email with your favorites, and I'll do my best to highlight them in a future article or blog post.)
The Alden B. Dow Home and Studio
In many ways, Midland is synonymous with Dow Chemical, as Herbert Henry Dow established the company there in the late 19th century, and its headquarters have remained there ever since.
Herbert's son Alden was a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright who went on to enjoy a distinguished architectural career, and for the last 50 years of his life he lived and worked in a whimsical yet geometrically precise house -- constructed largely with one-foot square "Unit Blocks" recycled from the chemical company -- that has since been designated a National Historic Landmark.
I took one of the house's daily tours, joining a group of about two dozen people. Enthusiastic retired schoolteacher Sarah Yoder led us from room to room while explaining the guiding principles behind Alden's quirky, playful and functional aesthetic.
Highlights include a backyard pond used for both canoeing and ice skating, a model train set circling around a spacious drafting room and a basement theater featuring both a stage and projection screen. As an added bonus, I learned the architectural term "compress and release," a strategy heavily employed by Dow in which intentionally cramped entrance areas open up into spacious areas designed for relaxation and personal interaction.
Midland Center for the Arts
The Midland Center for the Arts is a cultural consortium, a one-stop humanities shop in which "art, science, history, music, theatre, dance, films, camps, classes and professional world-class entertainers live under one roof." The building housing these complementary entities was designed by none other than Alden B. Dow and is anchored by the four-story Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art.
Assistant marketing director Kristen Wuerfel gave me a brief after-hours tour of the facility, passing by attractions such as a mastodon skeleton, an interactive periodic table of the elements and a full-size farm tractor en route to a fourth floor "Icons of the Sky" exhibit featuring the Lego architecture of Adam Reed Tucker (standing amid a 1/200 scale layout of famous skyscrapers, I felt a little like Godzilla but restrained myself from going on a Lego rampage).
"Icons of the Sky" runs through September, at which point it will be replaced by an exhibit featuring a live frog habitat.
"We've displayed everything from the unearthed terra cotta warriors of China to live frogs. It's very diverse, and we try to have something for everyone," said Wuerfel. "Midland is so richly blessed, as you're not often going to find this kind of quality programming in a town of 40,000 people."
Midland's relentless Dow-centricity is perhaps best summed up via the Dow Gardens. This 110-acre sanctuary was developed by Herbert, expanded upon by Alden, and now maintained via the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. Amid the impeccably maintained expanses of grass, curved pathways and idyllic waterways are a variety of sculptures, many of which are installed temporarily. Dow Gardens assistant director Elizabeth Lumbert explained, "Our visitors might not like everything they see, but the art helps people see the landscape in a fresh way."
Dow Gardens currently features an exhibit titled "Zimsculpt," which highlights work done by Zimbabwean artists. Sculptor Patrick Sephani (below), a native of Zimbabwe, tours with the exhibit and was happy to explain a little bit about the process.
"Sometimes we make sculptures that represent a person so that the community can remember him, but other times the sculpture might take on a more abstract form," said Sephani. "It all comes down to the stone. Once you get the stone you try to imagine what comes out of it, and that idea develops into the finished sculpture."
After visiting this triumvirate of Midland cultural attractions, I made the short drive to Dow Diamond to see the Loons take on the South Bend Silver Hawks. There will be plenty to come regarding that particular experience in a forthcoming Ben's Biz Blog post, but for now I leave you with one more Midland attraction:
Located in downtown Midland at the confluence of the Chippewa and Tittabawassee Rivers, the Tridge (an abbreviated way of saying "tri-bridge") consists of three entry points instead of the usual two. I had never heard of such a thing until I visited Midland and likely never would have, and that, in a nutshell, is why visiting Minor League stadiums can be such a beneficial experience.
Come for the baseball, stay for the Tridge.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.