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An East Coast Baseball Tour, Part I

I went on a tour of six east coast ballparks and the Hall of Fame in one week. Come check out what happened!

Pictured here: a little-known ballpark tucked away in a Massachusetts town.

At the tail end of June -- which is already somehow over a week ago — I embarked upon the sportiest vacation I’d ever dreamed of (which is a sentence that sports-loathing childhood me would look upon in disgust.)

It was seven full days of nonstop action, lots of bus riding, and most of all: baseball. For one week, me, my dad, and 23 others were escorted via charter bus to six east coast ballparks and one particular museum in Cooperstown, New York.

It was all thanks to Jay Buckley’s Baseball Tours. Founded in the 1980s by a Wisconsin native and popularized by a small newspaper advertisement, Buckley’s tour company is now in its 35th season of bringing fans from around the world on unforgettable, fast-paced tours that leave you with a few incredible experiences, hundreds of photos, and countless memories. (That sure reads like an ad, doesn’t it? It’s not. I genuinely recommend this company and think it’s awesome.)

Without further ado, here’s a brief recap of each stop on the tour, complete with behind-the-scenes photos, pictures of ANYTHING Twins-related I could find, and a totally meticulously-calculated personal ranking of each individual park.

DAY ONE: Yankee Stadium

Guess where I am?

After flying into Newark, New Jersey on Saturday night, Sunday morning opened with our baseball-loving party assembling for the first time to meet Jay (the man himself, who happened to be leading our tour group this week), Frank, his assistant escort, and Darryl, our bus driver extraordinaire.

Our first destination: the Bronx, to see the Texas Rangers take on the New York Yankees.

I hate the Yankees. I don’t like ‘em. Not at all.

Aaron Judge is a monster. I like Aaron Judge. He’s cool. But you see my dilemma.

All right, I’ll admit it. I was excited to check out Yankee Stadium for the first time. And when we got there, holy moly — it looked incredible.

Not pictured: the aggressively loud subway behind us.

It actually looks like a cathedral. The architecture (parkitecture?) was gorgeous. The exterior looked like a holy museum, and given the amount of Yankees history inside the building, that’s not an outlandish description. It’s a relatively new ballpark, so there’s nothing noticeably worn-down about it; the concourses were clean, the seats were comfortable; it was very pristine.

Monument Park was also pretty cool. It can be kind of a joke, just how many numbers the Yankees have retired, but when you go into center field and read all those plaques you realize just HOW good all of those guys were. The fact that they all had extended playing time with the Yankees is ridiculous.

We actually arrived and stood in line at 9:30 am that morning, because the gates were opening at 10:00 for a special 71st Annual Old Timers’ Day promotion. This promotion involved a few dozen Yankee greats jogging out onto the field one by one after dedicated introduction videos played on the jumbotron, narrated live by the YES Network play-by-play guys.

Then they all played a four-inning baseball game. The whole event lasted a few hours, and included some pretty incredible special guests. They had every old timer from Jorge Posada to Paul O’Neill to Goose Gossage to Whitey Ford to Dr. Bobby Brown and DON FREAKIN’ LARSEN. I had no idea he was still alive. He’s 87 now.

After the Old Timers’ Game, the actual game began, and it was a good one. I saw my favorite MLB player, Carlos Gomez, swing and miss like an idiot. We saw a good game in which the Rangers went up 7-0, and the Yankees came back to make it 7-6. And we saw the aforementioned Aaron Judge (complete with “All Rise!” scoreboard graphic and robe-wearing and rubber gavel-touting fans in the right-field Judge’s Chambers), but he didn’t hit a game-tying home run in the 9th like he should have.

RATING: 8.5/10. I wish I could have gotten to see Old Yankee Stadium, but this was pretty cool.

DAY TWO: Fenway Park

“I did it Fen Way” - Original lyric draft for Frank Sinatra’s signature song

When we were looking at tours, we were trying to find east coast summer trips that included Minnesota playing somewhere we’d be during that time period. And we lucked out — the Twins were scheduled to play Boston on the second day of this trip. As though Fenway Park wasn’t gonna be exciting enough!

Once again, we all arrived to the park early, but not because the gates were opening — this time, we had a tour. We got to explore the concourses (which are littered with memorabilia and artifacts of the Red Sox’s past), go to pretty much every seating area, and head to the top of the Green Monster. There’s a lot of things in Fenway that have been there since it opened in 1912, from seats to old water heaters to a trio of trees that grow beyond the outfield walls. (Not the Citgo sign, though...that came later.)

Before letting us wander around Boston for the afternoon, Jay inexplicably brought us into a small quad-like retreat in between a bunch of nearby school buildings. The baseball connection was quickly apparent -- a statue of Cy Young stood quietly across from a home plate buried in the grass, engraved with the explanation that this was the former site of Huntington Avenue Grounds, host of the first-ever World Series in 1903.

Cy Young? More like...heh...more like Cy OLD!

That night, we saw a highly anticipated pitching match-up, as Jose Berrios took on Chris Sale. Unfortunately, the Twins looked a little Twinsier than I would have liked them to that night, and although Chris Gimenez homered over the Monster, the Sox struck early against La Maquina and came away with the win. We got to sing “Sweet Caroline” though, so it was all good.

Rating: 9/10. SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD

DAY THREE: The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York (of Anaheim)

Those of you with 3D monitors -- you’re welcome.

Cooperstown, New York is in the absolute middle of nowhere.

Jay narrated a great portion of the bus rides with baseball-related trivia and general trivia about the cities we were driving through and towards (and played baseball documentaries on the DVD players when he wasn’t doing that — seriously, there wasn’t a moment of downtime or boredom on this entire trip), and I think he put it best as we were driving into town. “There is no freeway that exits directly into Cooperstown. So there are no true ‘tourists’ here. There are only dedicated baseball fans, because if you stumble into Cooperstown, you’ve been lost for 45 minutes.”

And the Hall of Fame really is just smack-dab in the middle of this quaint, early 20th-century-style town, this little village that doesn’t allow chain restaurants or businesses and does everything it can to remain a snapshot of what we picture when we think of Babe Ruth’s era of baseball, or Ty Cobb’s.

There’s so much history in the Hall. Obviously, you have your plaques of everyone ever enshrined, but you also have another two entire floors full of stuff. There’s a broadcaster exhibit, there’s a baseball movie exhibit, and there’s a baseball library (which, according to staff on-hand, Ichiro Suzuki is known to frequent in the offseason). Perhaps my favorite exhibit was the walk-through of baseball history, an entire floor with about one glass case of baseball history for every year since the 1800’s.

There’s also a more modern section, where each team gets a locker full of memorabilia that’s no more than about 8-10 years old. The Twins’ locker included the hat worn by Francisco Liriano during his no-hitter, the first hit ever recorded at Target Field, the bat Jim Thome used to hit #587 and claim 8th place on the all-time home run list (as well as the #600 ball), the jersey Dozier wore when he hit his 40th homer as a second baseman (an American League record), a set of Joe Mauer’s bats from each of his three batting title seasons, the gloves and helmet Jason Kubel wore when he hit that grand slam to complete the cycle against the Angels, third base from Game 163, and the shovel that broke ground on Target Field. Whew!

All of the above, pictured right here in a handy-dandy locker!

Altogether, the Hall of Fame is a wonderful museum, and a worthwhile pilgrimage for any baseball fan to make. Whether your team is over 100 years old or debuted in 1998, there’s genuinely stuff for everybody to see.

Check out Part II of my East Coast baseball tour, including PNC Park, Camden Yards, and Citi Field coming soon...