Do you like baseball? Do you like to travel?
This idea has been a fantasy of mine for a long time. I've imagined taking the month of September, the most exciting month in the baseball season, and traveling to as many ball parks as possible. The fact that so many are in the middle Atlantic and mid-west portions of the country have the added benefit of showcasing the Fall foliage at its peak.
I live in the Atlanta area, so I would start with the Braves. They play at a ball park on Hank Aaron Drive, a short bus ride from Atlanta's famous Peachtree Street in downtown. It has another name I refuse to acknowledge because the person whose name is everywhere from the twelve-story high arch over the entrance to the hand-dryers in the bathroom has no batting average. How do you name a baseball park after someone with no batting average or no earned run average? Next year, the Braves will play in another county, in another park that also does not bear the name of Hank Aaron. This stadium will bear the name of a bank. Is nothing sacred?
Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record, right here in Atlanta (over the left field fence, in a spot that has been a parking lot since 1976.) I was there on that rainy Monday night in April 1974, along with fifty-two thousand of my closest friends. He hit the record-breaking dinger in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with Dusty Baker on deck. Fun facts to know and tell. The ultimate anti-climatic at bat for Baker, who has gone on to coach the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago Cubs, the Cincinnati Reds, and currently the Washington Nationals.
Now the Braves are moving out to the suburbs and the name of the new ballpark has recently been announced. It's after a bank. "Say it ain't so, Joe." (We could still name the field after Hank Aaron!)
Next stop: Oriole Park at Camden Yards:
Located in downtown Baltimore, the one-time railroad center became the official home of the Orioles on April 6, 1992. Within walking distance of the city's beautiful Inner Harbor, it is only two blocks from the birthplace of George Herman "Babe" Ruth. Ruth's father operated Ruth's Cafe on the ground floor of the family home, located at Conway Street and Little Paca, now center field at Oriole Park. The ballpark seats 48,876 (including standing room) and the project cost was approximately $110 million. Oriole Park takes its image from baseball parks built in the early 20th century. Steel, rather than concrete trusses, an arched brick facade, a roof over the slope of the upper deck, an asymmetrical playing field, and natural grass turf are just some of the features that illustrate the influence of ballparks such as Ebbets Field (Brooklyn), Shibe Park (Philadelphia), Fenway Park (Boston), Crosley Field (Cincinnati), Forbes Fields (Pittsburgh), Wrigley Field (Chicago), and The Polo Grounds (New York).
Yankee Stadium in The Bronx
No trip of this nature could possibly exclude The House That Ruth Built: Yankee Stadium in New York City. It was built in 284 days in 1922 and 1923, on time and under budget, on the site of an old lumberyard, alongside Cromwell’s Creek, named for the family that had a 19th-century dairy farm in the area. News accounts as late as November 1922 were calling the park Yankees Field, though soon enough it would become the first ballpark to be known as a stadium, and not much after that, as The House That Ruth Built. Since April 2009, there has been a new home for the pinstripes just across the street, but I'll bet it's not the same.
Boston's Fenway Park
It is the oldest major league ballpark in use and carefully preserves the characteristics that have been its hallmark since it opened in1912. The Red Sox became a charter member of the American League in 1901 and built Huntington Avenue Grounds on the site of a wasteland. This wooden ballpark was home to the team for a decade. Red Sox owner, real estate magnet John Taylor, decided to build a new ballpark and sold himself cheap land in "The Fens" of Boston to do just that. He named it Fenway Park to go along with his Fenway Realty Company.
Today's Red Sox are committed to improving but preserving Fenway Park. The organization has stated the seating capacity of Fenway Park will not exceed 40,000 to preserve the historic features of the ballpark. Dedicated Red Sox fans have sold out every Red Sox home game since May 15, 2003. As of March 30, 2011, the Red Sox have had 631 consecutive sellouts, which is easily the best in Major League Baseball history.
And finally, Chicago
The White Sox or The Cubs? As far as ballparks go, it's not a fair fight.
Wrigley Field, which was built in 1914, is hosting Major League Baseball for the 98th season in 2011 - and to the Cubs for the 96th year. Originally known as Weeghman Park, Wrigley Field was built on the grounds once occupied by a seminary. It is the site of Babe Ruth's "called shot" when Ruth allegedly pointed to a bleacher location during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series ... then hit Charlie Root's next pitch for a homer.
The park became known as Cubs Park in 1920 after the Wrigley family purchased the team from Weeghman and named it Wrigley Field in 1926 in honor of William Wrigley Jr., the club's owner. (Again I ask, what did he hit?) The famous vines in the outfield were planted in September 1937. Bittersweet was hung from the top of the wall to the bottom, then planted the ivy at the base of the wall. Lights were not added until 1988, allowing night games for the first time.
There are certainly other beautiful ballparks in the country. Denver, Saint Louis and San Francisco all have much to brag about. I think I'd have a hard time fitting all that highway time into one month. Think those teams might make the effort to get to the World Series just to extend my tour into October?