Baseball and the open road -- could there possibly be a better combination?
This special, Opening Day edition of Roadtrip provides four Minor League travel itineraries, with each one covering a distinct region of the country. So why not declare an impromptu vacation in order to enjoy the national pastime as it was meant to be enjoyed, live and in person?
Enjoy and feel free to share your own personal opening-weekend travel plans in the comments section.
Braving the elements in the Northeast
Chiefs tickets | Mets tickets
| Yankees tickets
| Phillies tickets
April 8: Lehigh Valley IronPigs at Syracuse Chiefs, 2 p.m. (all times local)
April 9: Akron Aeros at Binghamton Mets, 7:05 p.m.
April 10: Buffalo Bisons at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, 1:05 p.m.
April 11: Portland Sea Dogs at Reading Phillies, 1:05 p.m.
April weather in the Northeast is often less than kind, but some fans enjoy drinking hot chocolate at the ballpark. And you never know -- the conditions might be downright pleasant, especially considering the recent heat wave and that three of these four games take place during the day.
Let's kick things off at Syracuse's Alliance Bank Stadium, where the Chiefs will be celebrating 50 years of community ownership by wearing throwback 1961 uniforms. Joe Altobelli, a member of that club, will serve as the Chiefs' honorary captain. Mayor Stephanie Minor throws out the first pitch, and opera tenor Vernon Di Carlo sings the national anthem. ... Our steady southward descent then brings us to Binghamton, home of NYSEG Stadium and the Binghamton Mets. Enjoy local delicacies such as the Spiedie sandwich during the game and stick around for the first postgame fireworks show of the year. ... From there we cross the state line to Pennsylvania (to see a New York affiliate, ironically enough). The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees have experienced a dramatic spike in attendance since aligning themselves with the Bronx Bombers prior to the 2007 campaign, as the club is just 90 minutes away from the Big Apple. ... Deeper into the Keystone State are the Reading Phillies, who have been affiliated with Philadelphia since the Johnson administration. Sunday's game boasts the formidable combination of a Ryan Howard photo ball giveaway and $1 hot dogs.
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Gone to Carolina
Tourists tickets | Drive tickets
| RiverDogs tickets
| Pelicans tickets
April 8: Lakewood BlueClaws at Asheville Tourists, 7:05 p.m.
April 9: Delmarva Shorebirds at Greenville Drive, 7 p.m.
April 10: Lexington Legends at Charleston RiverDogs, 7:05 p.m.
April 11: Wilmington Blue Rocks at Myrtle Beach Pelicans, 3:05 p.m.
The Carolinas are a hotbed of Minor League Baseball, with a dozen teams operating within the two states. The first three clubs on the following itinerary play within the fittingly named Class A South Atlantic League, while the Pelicans play in the even-more fittingly named Class A Advanced Carolina League.
Asheville is home to a variety of local breweries, so why not kick off the season by enjoying "Thirsty Thursday" drink specials at McCormick Field? Imbibe while watching the visiting Lakewood BlueClaws take on this year's crop of Rockies prospects, who will once again be led by veteran skipper Joe Mikulik. ... Not far across the South Carolina state line to Greenville, home of the Drive. The club is a Red Sox affiliate, and Fluor Field boasts both its own "Green Monster" and "Pesky's Pole". Bask in the Fenway-esque atmosphere while enjoying the team's Friday night tribute to the music of the Rat Pack. ... A drive south on Route 26 will lead to Charleston, where the RiverDogs pack 'em in nightly thanks to crazy concessions and peculiar promotions. Make sure to get to "The Joe" in time to receive Saturday's "Snuggie" giveaway, and then make a beeline to the concession stand in order to sample the brand new "Pickle Dog" (yes, a hot dog with a bun for a pickle). ... A northward drive along the Carolina coast will lead to the resort town of Myrtle Beach, where the Pelicans have been able to establish themselves as a premier entertainment option. Sunday's game includes the option to have a pregame catch on the field, with the first 1,000 kids 12 and under receiving a replica bat.
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Royals tickets | Cubs tickets
| LumberKings tickets
| Cougars tickets
April 8: Memphis Redbirds at Omaha Royals, 7:05 p.m.
April 9: Nashville Sounds at Iowa Cubs, 6:35 p.m.
April 10: Peoria Chiefs at Clinton LumberKings, 6:30 p.m.
April 11: Burlington Bees at Kane County Cougars, 1 p.m.
This three-state itinerary begins with two stalwart franchises of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and wraps up with a pair of clubs from the Class A Midwest League.
Thursday is the final Opening Day at Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium, as the team will be relocating to nearby Sarpy County for the 2011 campaign. The 25,000-seat facility is perhaps best known as the annual home of the College World Series, but it has also hosted the Pacific Coast League Royals for the past four decades. Now's the time to say goodbye. ... It's time to say hello in Des Moines, however, as the Iowa Cubs' new skipper is none other than Chicago legend Ryne Sandberg. Fans will be flocking to Principal Park to see "Ryno" all season, and a generous promotional schedule will keep them coming back. Saturday's game features a fielder's mitt for all fans 13 and under. ... Clinton is on the easternmost edge of Iowa, and it is there where the LumberKings reside. The club plays within intimate Alliant Energy Field, a marked contrast to the Triple-A atmospheres of the previous two days. The inimitable bearded mascot Louie the LumberKing is always a highlight, as it's not every day one gets to meet a graduate of Paul Bunyan University. ... The trip ends as it began: With a home opener. The Kane County Cougars host their first 2010 game on Sunday, taking on the Burlington Bees amidst an atmosphere of ceremonial celebration. The crowd is sure to be sizable, as the Chicago-area ballclub regularly ranks among Midwest League attendance leaders.
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The lonesome, crowded West
Aces tickets | Nuts tickets
| Rawhide tickets
| Blaze tickets
April 8: Fresno Grizzlies at Reno Aces, 6:05 p.m.
April 9: San Jose Giants at Modesto Nuts, 7:05 p.m.
April 10: Stockton Ports at Visalia Rawhide, 7 p.m.
April 11: Lancaster JetHawks at Bakersfield Blaze, 1:15 p.m.
After enjoying the sights and sounds of raucous Reno, this trip then veers into the Golden State in order to see a triumvirate of teams from the Class A Advanced California League.
The Aces, who in their previous incarnation were known as the Tucson Sidewinders, are entering their second season as the premier sporting inhabitants of the so-called "Biggest Little City in the World." Their Opening Night opponents are the Fresno Grizzlies, who sport a Triple-A battery that will seemingly never run out of power: ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner and backstop Buster Posey. ... After experiencing all that star power, a little time in modest Modesto will be good for the soul. Friday night at John Thurman Stadium features a fireworks show, but a more novel form of entertainment is the "Intern Olympics" that will take place througout the evening. What better way for the club's newest employees to ingratiate themselves to the fan base? ... The Visalia Rawhide play in 64-year-old Recreation Ballpark, but the uber-intimate facility no longer shows its age after undergoing a series of extensive renovations. As befits a team named the "Rawhide," Saturday night's game will be dedicated to the celebration of Country and Western Music. Wear your sharpest cowboy apparel to the ballpark. ... It's fitting that this column should go out in a "Blaze" of glory, as Bakersfield is the final stop. The club plays in Sam Lynn Ballpark, a 58-year-old facility rich in both history (Don Drysdale made his professional debut there) and idiosyncracies (a 354-foot center field fence, the shallowest in all of Minor League Baseball).
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