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Journeys would cover Minor Leagues across US (and Canada)
April 1, 2020

Recently, staffers pondered our favorite Minor League memories. That got us wondering about going the extra mile -- namely working up our dream road trips. And the results traverse the country, encompassing all levels and organizations of Minor League Baseball.

Recently, staffers pondered our favorite Minor League memories. That got us wondering about going the extra mile -- namely working up our dream road trips. And the results traverse the country, encompassing all levels and organizations of Minor League Baseball.

Michael Avallone (Florida State League): I've got the sunscreen on the convertible rocking in the Sunshine State. There's no shortage of ballparks to visit, but baseball is a game of nostalgia, so what's better than three of the Minor Leagues' oldest ballparks? I kick things off at LECOM Park in Bradenton, home of the Pirates' Class A Advanced affiliate as well as Pittsburgh's spring headquarters. Although renamed and refurbished, LECOM Park -- better known for 55 years as McKechnie Field to honor Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie -- opened in 1923 and is the third-oldest ballpark used by a Major League team. From there, it's a quick hop up I-275 to TD Ballpark, home of the Dunedin Blue Jays and Toronto's Spring Training HQ. Although the stadium has undergone several renovations, a lot of the original charm remains from its opening in 1930. I save what I deem the best and most historic ballpark for last, revving up the engine on I-4 to Daytona. As I pull up to Radiology Associates Field at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, I will be overcome with a sense of history and pride. Not only is the home of the Tortugas celebrating its 90th birthday, it's the site of professional baseball's first modern integrated game. I transport myself back to St. Patrick's Day 1946, when Jack Roosevelt Robinson played second base for the Triple-A Montreal Royals. He went 0-for-3 with a stolen base and a run scored that afternoon against the team with which he made history one year later -- the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Andrew Battifarano (Northeast): I know there's some East Coast bias here, but to follow a route from Brooklyn to Hartford to Portland would be my ideal trip. Catching a Class A Short Season Cyclones game right on the water in Coney Island (with a Nathan's hot dog, of course) is an experience I'd recommend to all Minor League fans. Next, I'd swing on up to Hartford to see the one and only Double-A Yard Goats. Dunkin' Donuts Park is one of the newest venues in the game and always has some amazing culinary concoctions. If you can't tell, I'm a foodie, so this is an ideal spot. Last but not least, getting to Maine to watch the Double-A Sea Dogs would close out a wonderful weekend. A Minor League spin on Fenway Park in the form of Hadlock Field in a beautiful locale? Hard to beat that.

Joe Bloss (Lake Erie): I'm a birder, so we'll start in northwestern Ohio -- also known as the warbler capital of the world. One of the hot spots in the area is Magee Marsh, legendary land teeming with avian wildlife migrating north and fueling up for the flight over Lake Erie. May will be the best month to go, but there'll still be a lot of birds to see, regardless of the schedule. After a thrilling day hopefully filled with lifers -- the first bird you've seen of a given species in your life -- we'll head a half-hour west to Toledo and stay on brand with a Triple-A Mud Hens game. Day 2 will be more extreme. On our way to Lake County to catch the Class A Captains, we'll get in a few rides at Cedar Point, the roller-coaster capital of the world. The park boasts 18 of them, including the Top Thrill Dragster, which stands 420 feet high and reaches top speeds of 120 mph to earn rankings of second-tallest and third-fastest coaster on Earth. We'll then get back on I-90 and finish the weekend with a visit to the Double-A Erie SeaWolves, catching three levels of the Minors in just as many days. 

Sam Dykstra (Northwest): I've got plenty of flannel to pack. My journey starts in Hillsboro, Oregon, just northwest of Portland, at Ron Tonkin Field. The Hops are well-known for having one of the most successful teams in recent Northwest League play, having won three of the past six league titles -- including last season. With the D-backs' core of young talent, there's a good chance success isn't going away soon. Traveling north on I-5 [following a stop at Voodoo Doughnut], next stop is Tacoma, Washington -- a bit of whiplash from Class A Short Season all the way up the ladder to Triple-A. Cheney Stadium has a bit of history, going back to 1960, but I'm also in it to see what an actual pitchers' park looks like in the Pacific Coast League. Add more whiplash with the move up to Everett to get a wide look at the burgeoning Mariners system [and Puget Sound while I'm at it]. Finally, I'll end north of the border with the only Canadian Minor League team in Vancouver. A big market by any other measure, Vancouver led Class A Short Season clubs in attendance each of the past four seasons with close to 5,000 fans in the stands on average last season. Baseball knows no borders.

Kelsie Heneghan (Central New York): This trip is all about celebrating baseball of the past, present and future, starting in Auburn, New York. The Doubledays get their name from Abner Doubleday, a Civil War general believed by some to have invented baseball in Cooperstown. Doubleday grew up in Auburn -- the perfect namesake for the Class A Short Season affiliate of the World Series-champion Nationals. After taking in a game at Falcon Park, I head 30 miles east to Syracuse. There, I can see 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and the Mets take on International League foes on the verge of Major League callups at the Minors' highest level. The next day, I head southeast toward Troy, New York, for another New York-Penn League game but first will make sure to stop in Cooperstown on the way. Baseball's Mecca allows me the opportunity to flex my new Abner Doubleday knowledge while honoring all the greats and picking up some fun facts along the way. I finish my trip with the East Coast Tri-City (as opposed to the Tri-City Dust Devils of southeast Washington) to witness the potential next wave of baseball legends.

Ben Hill (Pennsylvania): I've been on many ballpark road trips, but all in a professional context. My dream trip would be to simply travel as a fan, unencumbered by the anxiety and chronic overthinking that often accompanies work-related pursuits. I chose Pennsylvania because it's the state in which I grew up. On this trip, I'm reconnecting with friends and family, sharing memories and making new ones. Stopping at Sheetz and Wawa, celebrating the merits of each, artfully sidestepping taking a side in the state's great convenience store debate. The first Minor League game I saw was the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in their inaugural season of 1989. This was where it all began for me, so my trip begins there. The Red Barons, then a Phillies affiliate, are now known as the RailRiders, the Triple-A affiliate of the Yankees. The Phillies' Triple-A affiliate, meanwhile, is now the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Their home of Coca-Cola Park, a deeply fun environment, would be stop No. 2. From there, it's a short drive to FirstEnergy Stadium to see the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils. It's a beautiful baseball location, classic but still vital, just like Minor League Baseball itself.

Josh Jackson (Midwest League): One night in January 2019, noticing three Class A towns on the Mississippi in Iowa, I emailed Ben Hill [subj.: "Floating an idea"] suggesting a canoe trip and volunteering as bow- or sternman. Ben replied, "Dude, I will definitely do this. Let's make it happen." We haven't. Yet. We'd launch upstream of Clinton and head to a LumberKings matinee. That evening, we'd make for Swan Island off Comanche, where we'd camp -- "the legality/practicality of which are a little bit of a mystery to me at present," I wrote to Ben last March. This remains true. The next day, we'd paddle 15 or so miles for a motel or more camping. About 10 miles on the river the following day would land us right at Modern Woodmen Park. I envision arriving with enough time before first pitch to take a ride on the iconic Ferris wheel. Realistically, we'd probably swap the canoe for a car after the River Bandits game. Paddling to Burlington -- where Community Field is inland, anyway -- would make this a 115-mile river journey. For now, "realistically" can take a flying leap. I'm penciling us in for a few extra days of Mississippi adventure before we pull ashore to catch the Bees.

Tyler Maun (Southeast): The Carolinas are the cradle of Minor League Baseball, and having worked in the Carolina League for a few seasons, that area still stands out as the best to experience the Minors. For this trip, I picked three areas with three different MiLB identities. Durham Bulls Athletic Park is 25 years old but still feels like a modern gem, constantly updated and impeccably clean in a delightful neighborhood and with some of the best food and beer options in the sport, plus a trip to Durham Athletic Park to do your best Nuke LaLoosh impression is a short drive away. An hour and 45 minutes southeast is my favorite park in the Minors, Kinston's historic Grainger Stadium, now home to the Down East Wood Ducks. Grainger opened in 1949, and the moment you step inside its gates, you feel as though you're stepping into its inaugural season. The small town setting, covered grandstand and perfect sightlines from everywhere in the park are a dream. Don't miss hitting Kings for barbecue while you're there. Finally, cap your trip on the shore with a trip to Myrtle Beach, where the Pelicans are the perfect franchise for their surroundings. Stay on the beach, walk to the ballpark on a beautiful day, hit Dagwood's for a Bubba's Kickin' Chicken sandwich [and send me one] and relax under an Atlantic Coast sunset.

John Parker (1998 flashback): I lived in Arlington, Virginia, in 1998. That summer, my roommate, Bill, took a job in San Francisco. As he planned his cross-country drive, I put together this road trip with help from the young and very slow internet: 14 games in 19-plus days while driving 3,953 miles -- perhaps a bit ambitious. I'm not sure how many of the stops he managed to make, but he did send me caps from Akron and Omaha. Aug. 14: New Haven Ravens at Akron Aeros, 7:05 p.m. (Eastern League) 347 miles from Arlington. Aug. 15: Baltimore Orioles at Cleveland Indians, 1:05 p.m. 64 miles from Akron. Aug. 16: Oakland A's at Detroit Tigers, 1:05 p.m. 170 miles from Cleveland. Aug. 17: Ohio Valley RedCoats at Kalamazoo Kodiaks, 7:05 p.m. (Frontier League) 136 miles from Detroit. Aug. 18: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs, 7:05 p.m. 150 miles from Kalamazoo. Aug. 19: Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers, 1:05 p.m. 89 miles from Chicago. Aug. 20: New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins, 7:05 p.m. 337 miles from Milwaukee. Aug. 22: Colorado Springs Sky Sox at Omaha Royals, 7:05 p.m. (Pacific Coast League) 383 miles from Minneapolis. Aug. 24: Tacoma Rainiers at Colorado Springs Sky Sox, 7:05 p.m. (PCL) 605 miles from Omaha. Aug. 25: Milwaukee Brewers at Colorado Rockies, 7:05 p.m. 70 miles from Colorado Springs. Aug. 28: Tacoma Rainiers at Las Vegas Stars, 7:05 p.m. (PCL) 756 miles from Denver. Aug. 30: Montreal Expos at San Diego Padres, 1:05 p.m. 337 miles from Las Vegas. Aug. 31: New York Mets at Los Angeles Dodgers, 7:05 p.m. 124 miles from San Diego. Sept. 1: Montreal Expos at San Francisco Giants, 7:05 p.m. 385 miles from Los Angeles.
Paige Schector (California League): My road trip would start off with a particular goal -- to visit four of the five Cal League teams mentioned on an episode of the TV show "Life," but that's just the jumping-off point. In the first-season episode "Farthingale," detectives Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi and their boss, Robin Weigert, solve a mystery based on five ballcaps and five bottles of wine in the possession of a dead man living two lives. Bakersfield may no longer be an option, but I'd be able to take in games in Stockton, Modesto, Visalia and Lancaster and score my own ballcaps. Although "Life" may be the impetus for the trip, the actual journey would afford me the chance to visit sights and sounds of California I have never experienced. So Barkleyville Dog Park (Stockton), Yosemite National Park (Modesto), Giant Sequoia National Monument (Visalia) and the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve (Lancaster) would be on the itinerary. Not to mention some other pop-culture references: A visit to Modesto in June might enable me to take part in one of the annual "American Graffiti" celebrations. And I'd be looking to make stops at Stockton's Conservatory of Music's Faye Spanos Concert Hall ("Raiders of the Lost Ark"), the Water Lantern Festival in Visalia and the Two Pines Chapel ("Kill Bill") in East Lancaster to round out the adventure.

Daren Smith (Pioneer League): When you live most of your life within a 45-minute train ride of New York City, one of the appeals of Minor League Baseball is smaller crowds. So my road trip would take me to the Pioneer League. It begins in Ogden, Utah, at Lindquist Field, which our own Ben Hill selected as having the best ballpark view in all of Rookie ball. You don't want to have to drive too far in one day, so the next stop is Idaho Falls, home of the Chukars. Melaleuca Field would enable me to cross Idaho off my list of states visited, bringing the total to 47. The final stop is Missoula, home of the rebranded Paddleheads and this cool cap. While we covered much of Montana on the return home from a childhood trip to Yellowstone Park, we didn't make it as far west as Missoula.

Brian Stultz (Alabama): When the weather gets warm, there are no other places I would rather be than at a baseball stadium or on a golf course. With that in mind, I'm taking a trip through the Yellowhammer State to see three Minor League games and play three Robert Trent Jones golf courses. We begin at Riverwalk Stadium to catch the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits in the state's capital. After a matinee, I drive 40 miles up I-85 to the home of my alma mater, Auburn University, where I get in a round at Grand National. The two-hour trek along Highway 280 to Birmingham is next and watching the Barons and future Chicago White Sox compete in downtown Regions Field while trying to break 90 at Ross Bridge in nearby Hoover. The final drive is north, all the way to Huntsville, to check out the brand new Rocket City Trash Pandas [purchasing a shirt will be a must] while playing the final of the 72 holes in four days at Hampton Cove.

Rob Terranova (Western New York): Since my daily life revolves around food, it's no surprise my ideal road trip does as well. I'd start my weekend in Syracuse for a Mets game. The chance to see my favorite professional athlete, Tim Tebow, up close and in person is a bonus, but this is really about getting some chicken riggies from Francesca's Cucina, as well as another local favorite -- frittata with coneys. From there, I'm off to Rochester to catch a Red Wings game. It's no surprise this stop would include a garbage plate. something that's been on my bucket list for some time. My weekend would conclude with a trip to Buffalo to see the Bisons and indulge in some chicken wings. However, having been to this Western New York culinary gold mine before, I know the city offers a lot more than The Anchor Bar or Duffs [my personal favorite]. It would be blasphemous to leave without visits to The Old Pink for the most glorious steak sandwich ever crafted, Mighty Taco [nostalgia purposes] and the area's absolute best bone-in pork chop, served at Rizotto's -- a stone's throw off the beaten path in Williamsville. All of these teams being Triple-A affiliates also affords me the chance to see former big leaguers and prospects on the cusp, all at a reasonable cost.

Chris Tripodi (Maryland and the Virginias): The DMV isn't just a place you wait for hours to renew your driver's license. It's also a region that encompasses Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia and plays host to 17 Minor League baseball teams. This trip starts at Triple-A Norfolk, where fourth-ranked Orioles prospect Ryan Mountcastle could treat fans to a show. Mountcastle hit .328 with 15 home runs and a .941 OPS in 62 games at Harbor Park in 2019, and it doesn't hurt that he's a lock to start the season in the Minors after he was reassigned March 19. Head up I-64 for the next stop on this trip, The Diamond -- home of the Double-A Richmond. Top Giants prospect Joey Bart should be back as he looks to build on a .316/.368/.544 slash line in 22 games with the Flying Squirrels, numbers that came after an injury-plagued first half. For the final leg, a straight shot up I-95 to the new state-of-the-art home of the Class A Advanced Fredericksburg Nationals. The team moved from Potomac for the 2020 season, but if construction isn't completed by Opening Day, they'll play at the old home of the P-Nats -- Pfitzner Stadium. A bonus part of this trip? Washington, D.C. is just about an hour up I-95 from either stadium.

Jordan Wolf (Pioneer League): I've always wanted to see the Northern Rockies, so my road trip will take me through the states of Montana, Idaho and Utah. I would start in Missoula, catching a PaddleHeads game on Friday night and enjoying the town's nightlife. I'd hop in the car and drive a few hours south to Idaho Falls for the Chukars. After seeing the game [and the falls themselves], I'd get up early and cruise down to Ogden to watch the Raptors play a day game. Not only would this allow me to see a number of beautiful ballparks [Ogden especially], it would drop me right into the beautiful scenery as I drive straight through the mountains and national forests. It'd be tiring to spend that much time in the car, but I think the views around me would make it worth it.

Katie Woo (Texas): I've done plenty of baseball-related travel since the start of my career, but I've never been to Texas -- despite all of the lore that resides there. My ideal Minor League road trip would include three stops in the Lone Star State. I'd start in the Panhandle, with my first stadium being intriguing HODGETOWN, home of the reigning Texas League champs, the Double-A Sod Poodles. Amarillo fans captured my attention with their love for the team and the game in the inaugural 2019 season. After, I would make my way south, stopping in Midland for some RockHounds action [because who wouldn't want more Texas League adventure in their life?] For my final stadium, I would saunter west to the border, wrapping up my trip in El Paso. After spending the 2018 season covering the San Diego Padres, Friars fans were quick to inform me that El Paso [home of San Diego's Triple-A affiliate] is one of the top places to catch a ballgame. From the food scene to the culture and, of course, the plentiful baseball talent, Southwest University Park seems like the perfect place to round out my road trip. Plus, as a chihuahua owner, I'm just a tad biased toward the mascot.