Take me out to the Ballpark Follow the boys of summer to the show: Ride a bus, hop a plane or drive yourself Joe Surkiewicz

May 09, 1993|By -- J.S. | -- J.S.,Contributing Writer

The boys of summer are back, and for a certain kind of baseball fan, that means only one thing: road trip.

For such die-hard fans, taking a tour through the National Pastime provides an unforgettable chance to experience such famed ballparks as Tiger Stadium in Detroit, where Denny McLain put together his 30-win season . . . or New York's Yankee Stadium, where Roger Maris smashed Babe Ruth's home run record . . . or venerable Wrigley Field in Chicago, where the immortal Ernie Banks built one of baseball's greatest legends.

"This summer, I plan to do five parks in eight days in California -- San Francisco, L.A., Anaheim, San Diego and Oakland," says Jack Spector, a Laurel psychologist. "Last summer, I visited parks in Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee."

For fans like Mr. Spector, visiting shrines such as Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, is pure bliss. He doesn't even care who the visiting teams are.

"More than any other sport, the appeal of the game supersedes the appeal of the team," he explains. "It's more than being a fan of the Orioles; the places where baseball is played have an appeal of their own. That's because baseball is a sport where history counts for something."

Whether it's a whirlwind bus tour that hits three stadiums in three days, a custom itinerary designed by a baseball tour operator, or a trip where you go it alone, there are plenty of opportunities to step up to the plate for a road tour.

"Movies such as 'A League of Their Own' and 'Field of Dreams' have had a large influence on the popularity of baseball tours," says Dottie Maitland, president of the Lexington, Ky.-based National Tour Association, a 600-member trade organization of group tour operators. "We're seeing a growing interest in baseball and sporting tours."

Baltimore's Charm City Travel has been escorting Orioles fans to out-of-town games for more than a decade. "New York, Boston and Toronto are our most popular destinations," says Leo Harnen, who organizes the trips. "We order tickets as soon as the official schedule comes out, block space in hotels and planes, and order buses."

Accommodations are an added treat for O's fans taking a Charm City tour. "We stay in the same hotel as the Orioles," says Carole Siegert of Baltimore, who has twice visited Fenway Park on Charm City tours. "I don't bother team members or talk to them, though. But it's interesting to see the team at the hotel."

A sense of history

"Baseball people are unique," says Jay Buckley, a La Crosse, Wis.-based baseball tour operator who's been leading bus trips to major league ballparks for 11 years. "They're into stats and who made their mark on the history of the sport. They can go into a stadium and feel the history."

This summer, Jay Buckley's Baseball Tours offers 20 motor-coach trips, including a 12-day blockbuster tour visiting baseball hot spots such as Royals Stadium in Kansas City, Mile High Stadium in Denver and the Houston Astrodome (the trip costs $945, based on double occupancy; departs July 28 from La Crosse).

Folks who sign up for this trip won't get a lot of sleep. The tour whisks clients to 10 games played at nine stadiums.

"It's a very fast-paced tour," Mr. Buckley says. "We plan on spending eight hours in the motels, so there's no time for lounging around the pool."

He predicts the 900 customers signed up to tour with him this summer -- "male or female, age 8 to 80" -- will love the hectic pace.

Making new friends

Convenience may explain the popularity of motor-coach trips, even the hectic ones. Mr. Buckley buys the tickets, books the rooms, sets up sightseeing tours and shopping trips along the way, and provides all the transportation. The friendships that develop between clients are an added plus.

"A few years ago, a widowed farmer from Minnesota in his late 60s brought his 11-year-old grandson along on a tour," Mr. Buckley recalls. "Then he met a lady on the trip and it didn't take long to realize there were some sparks there. Some nights I baby-sat the grandson while the couple danced the night away. They got married a month later.

"Wives and husbands of die-hard fans enjoy it too," Mr. Buckley says. "There are plenty of other things to do, like shopping and sightseeing."

Tom Broach, owner of Broach Tours in Charlotte, N.C., is in his second year of offering scheduled bus tours to major-league games. His three top destinations are Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Camden Yards.

New -- and old

"It's a new stadium that's designed like an old stadium, so it has atmosphere and a unique personality," says Mr. Broach of Baltimore's stadium. "Camden Yards is the first stadium to go back to the old tradition of stadiums."

Mr. Broach says a lot of fans can tour America's ballparks on their own, but suggests they might be missing something. "The camaraderie of being with 44 other pure fans on a bus is a lot of fun," he says.

Mr. Buckley says there aren't too many tour operators who specialize in baseball trips.

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