America is full of baseball pilgrimages and road trips. Fenway Park in Boston turns 100 this year. Wrigleyville, the neighborhood around Wrigley Field in Chicago is the best baseball neighborhood in the country. California has five major league teams to visit. New York City has two major league teams and two minor league ones. Roadtrippers can enjoy the Pioneer League with stops in Montana, Idaho and Utah.
But for me, a road trip from Louisville to Cooperstown is the quintessential baseball journey. From the place where bats were built to its greatest shrine, with stops along the way at great baseball parks, major and minor. All but one day requires less than 200 miles of driving. You'll have to get out the team schedules to match up your drive dates with when teams are playing. But even in early spring or late fall, there's plenty for a fan to see along the way.
Baseball's favorite lumber yard
Over 125 years, Hillerich & Bradsby have made over 100 million bats, with the Louisville Slugger wooden bats used by top professionals finished in the old brick factory in downtown Louisville that visitors can tour. It's the one with the six-story tall bat out front. Bats are made of various quality grains of white ash and maple, with the best and tightest grain going to the pros. Though its onetime near-monopoly has been undercut by newcomers like Mizuno and boutique batmakers like Marucci (Albert Pujols' favorite), Louisville Slugger still accounts for 60 percent of the bats used in the American and National Leagues. Along with a museum to the history of the bat, visitors can stop by and have an ash wood bat fashioned with their own name emblazoned on the barrel.
800 W. Main St., Louisville, KY. More info: sluggermuseum.org or 502-588-7228.
Distance: 100 miles
Home of baseball's oldest franchise.
The Reds' history goes back to the year after the Civil War ended, when a group started the Red Stockings as an amateur club. It went pro in 1882, eight years before the National League was born. The oldest major league club plays at the Great American Ball Park on the banks of the Ohio River. When the Reds hit a home run, a steamboat whistle goes off near the scoreboard. It's usually easy to get walk-up tickets except for games against the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians. The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame is adjacent and open even when the Reds are out of town.
100 Joe Nuxhall Way, Cincinnati, OH. More info: cincinnati.reds.mlb.com or 513-381-7337.
Distance: 106 miles
Baseball's best minor league team
The Columbus Clippers are the reigning champs of the highest level of minor leagues, having won the Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game for the second straight year in 2011. Now affiliated with the Cleveland Indians, the team formerly was affiliated for nearly three decades with the New York Yankees. The team plays in 10,100-seat Huntington Park, which has won accolades for incorporating an old sawmill and other industrial buildings beyond its fences into the park layout.
330 Huntington Park Lane, Columbus, OH. More info: clippersbaseball.com or 614-462-5250
Distance: 185 miles
The best new ballpark in America
Best baseball road trip: Louisville to Cooperstown
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