by Joan Rykal

Baseball in January? Why are we talking about baseball in January? Spring training is a month away and the regular season won’t start until mid-April.

Here’s why…if you want to plan an MLB road trip this year, we thought we’d get you in the swing of things to pay homage to America’s pastime.

It’s a game that has been around since before the Civil War and evolved into a sport that saw more than 73 million fans attend major league baseball games in the 2016 season.

What’s in a Game?

Alex Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of Keith Allison

Though baseball has been surpassed by football in popularity in recent years (most will say that’s because football is more action-packed and violent) perhaps gridiron fans should read up on some of baseball’s bench-clearing brawls through the years. Notably, when Chicago Cubs catcher Michael Barrett punched Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in the face in an early 2006 match-up between the cross-town rivals or the major melee involving the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox during a 2004 game that started with some choice words from Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez to Boston catcher Jason Varitek and ended with the ejection of several players on both sides, but not until many punches were thrown. Since the first professional baseball league was formed in 1871, the sport has given us heroes and scandals, lots of joy and for the loyal fans of some long beleaguered teams, lots of tears.

Scandalous Times

As wholesome as the sport may appear, a scandal or two (or more) has reared its head throughout the game’s history. The 1919 Chicago White Sox will be forever known as the Black Sox thanks to the eight players who were accused of throwing the World Series to their opponents, the Cincinnati Reds. Those eight players, that included Shoeless Joe Jackson, were banned from baseball for life by Baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Bat tampering has long been an issue and some of the more famous bat scandals included the George Brett/Pine Tar Incident and Sammy Sosa and his corked bat. During a game between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees, Yankees Manager Billy Martin accused George Brett of having excess pine tar on his bat.

Martin brought it to the umpires’ attention after Brett hit a two-run homer that gave the Royals the go-ahead lead after trailing the Yankees in the 9th. The umpire confirmed that the amount of pine tar did exceed league rules and the home run was discounted and the Yankees won the game. However, the Royals went on to protest and the ruling was overturned. The game was restarted several weeks later and the outcome was different with the Royals victorious in a 5-4 win. Six players have been accused of using a corked bat in regulation games throughout baseball history and most recent was Chicago Cubs Sammy Sosa in 2003. Sosa received an eight game suspension for using a bat he said was only meant to be used in batting practice.

Pete Rose 1966 Baseball Card. Photo courtesy of Steve Burns

Pete Rose was banned from baseball in 1989 – as a player, manager and potential Hall of Famer, by then Commissioner Bart Giamatti for allegedly betting on baseball. Rose denied the allegations for years before finally coming clean in 2004. He is still around the baseball world though, most recently as a color commentator during the 2016 World Series.

Most recently, the scandals in baseball surround the use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs, or PEDS, which has caused many riffs throughout the locker rooms across the league. The Mitchell report was released in 2007 after a 21-month investigation on the use of anabolic steroids in the league led by Maine Senator George Mitchell and most recently, Yankee great Alex Rodriguez was suspended for 211 games in 2014.

 

Take Me out to these Ballparks

Petco Park

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Photo courtesy of Ryan Flickr

Home to the San Diego Padres since 2004, fans say there’s not a bad seat in the house and the food selections surpass the standard hot dog and crackerjack fare. Situated at the edge of San Diego’s famous Gaslight District, the ballpark is pedestrian friendly with trolley stops nearby. It was in this park that Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron’s record in August 2007 (he went on to break it a few days later.) Also, during a regular season game against the Toronto Blue Jays in June 2010, players and fans experienced a magnitude 5.7 earthquake. And while every game may not be an earth-shattering event, the San Diego skyline views promise another highlight to attending a game at Petco Park.

Wrigley Field

CHICAGO CUBS

Photo courtesy of Gabbo T

Wrigley Field is quite possibly one of the oldest ballparks to make a Top 10 list repeatedly. What makes this 100-plus-years-old stadium a list topper is the atmosphere? Ivy-covered walls, a hand-operated scoreboard built in 1937, and a charming neighborhood surrounding the park, where it seems like everyone is a Cubs fan. The current team owners, the Ricketts, have made efforts to update the park, but are also aware of the importance of maintaining the park’s old-timey feel.

Fenway Park

BOSTON RED SOX

Photo courtesy of Steven Guzzardi

Boston’s Fenway Park is Wrigley Field’s big brother coming in at two years older. Opened in 1912, the field has been home to the Red Sox ever since. Unique to this ball park is the Green Monster, a menacing outfield wall that stretches 231 feet from left field and stands 37 feet high, which was original to the field. The first Red Sox player to hit over the wall was Hugh

Bradley in 1912, while Babe Ruth was the first opposing player to hit a ball over the Green Monster while playing for the Yankees in 1934. On game day, the street surrounding the park, Yawkey Way, is closed to traffic and transformed into a pregame party for ticket holders and features live music, food and vendors hawking all kinds of BoSox goods.

Great American Ball Park

CINCINNATI REDS

Photo courtesy of Redlegsfan21

The Cincinnati Reds play their games in this stadium located on the banks of the Ohio River. Inside the park, make sure to enjoy a bowl of Skyline chili, a Cincinnati hometown favorite, topped off with some (legal) moonshine in the Party Barn. Take in a night game where nothing beats the moon over the Ohio River on a warm summer night.

AT&T Park

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Photo courtesy of Randy Chiu

If you plan to attend a Giants game, you might get lucky and see a “Splash Hit,” which would be a ball hit into McCovey Cove by a Giants batter. And by the way, McCovey Cove, which is officially China Basin, was named for Giants former first baseman, Willie McCovey, a fan favorite. There have been 71 “Splash Hits” since the park opened in 2000. Another option for the long ball is to land in the giant baseball mitt that sits behind left field. At 27 feet high and 30 feet wide, a batted ball would have to fly 500 feet to land in the glove. Another ballpark that offers spectacular views – in this case the San Francisco Bay – and a variety of things to do pre-game, AT&T Park consistently ranks in the top 10.

Spring Training MLB Preview 2017

Training games begin in late February and if you plan ahead you’ll be able to get an advance look at who’s hot and who’s not for the 2017 season. The Cactus League plays their games in and around Phoenix, Arizona while Florida’s Grapefruit League teams are in several key Florida locations. For a complete listing of teams, locations and schedules visit www.mlb.com/springtraining.

Photo courtesy of JNash Boulden

One major event to note is the Cactus League’s Spring Festival, scheduled for Saturday March 4, 2017. This all-day, award-winning family event brings together all the best of baseball. There are interactive and educational exhibits, food and beer vendors, sports memorabilia and best of all, legends of the game. You can test your skills, check out the baseball card show and attend autograph signing events. For more information visit www.scottsdaleaz.gov/springtraining-festival.

Teams have been flocking to sunny Florida to prepare for the regular for more than 125 years. The best thing about the Grapefruit League, from a vacation standpoint, is that you can road trip around Florida and catch plenty of games on either coast and a few in the center of the state as well.

Brand-new this year, the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, which is the training facility for the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, and plans to open in January. Located on the Atlantic coast in the city of West Palm Beach, this is a unique, two-team training facility that features a 360-degree concourse and a 6,500 seat stadium. The plan with this new facility was to be an “immersive spring-training experience that takes fans through the training fields and workout facilities before they even step foot in the ballpark,” according to Ballpark Digest.

Go Cubs Go!

The Curse is Broken after 108 years

Next year is here! After a 108-year drought, the Chicago Cubs have finally won a World Series.

Cubs winning Game 7. Photo courtesy of Arturo Pardavila III

They’ve come so close to post-season play many seasons since but that darn “curse” seems to be in play again and again. Remember 1969 and 1984 and 2015? But as Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder has been singing for the past several years about his beloved Cubbies “someday we’ll go all the way.” And go all the way they did in the 2016 season. After a record-breaking 103 regular season wins, the Cubs were not going to lose their shot this time. But it wasn’t easy and many times loyal fans were ready to say “wait til next year.”

Well next year is here and if you want to be in the thick of things, take a trip to Wrigley Field. If you can’t get tickets to the game stop in at one of the many sports bars in the area or simply enjoy the charm of the Wrigleyville neighborhood!

Categories: Local Guides