Parenting: Baseball Trip

David Murphy and son at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

David Murphy says the Phillies are still providing family fun on the road.
June 29, 2011 5:38:15 AM PDT
David Murphy says the Phillies are still providing family fun on the road.

I've written about this before, but since some of you asked, here's an update on this year's version of "The David Murphy and Sons Baseball Road Trip".

My 13-year-old and I hit the highway for five nights last week with Busch Stadium in St. Louis as the focal point. This was the longest baseball trip I've ever tried with one of my kids, which resulted in both good and bad aspects. I'll tackle the bad part early and dispense with it, since it's limited and pretty obvious. The distance involved was great, which required us to be away from home for a longer period of time, not a big deal when the whole family is along for the ride, but less fun for the wife and the others stuck at home working a normal work week. Basically, I felt bad about being away from the others for so long.

But oddly, the best thing about this adventure also stemmed from the miles travelled. Because we knew we were covering a lot of ground, my son and I intentionally took our time and planned lots of stops, which kept us fresh and provided plenty of chances for fun.

Movie Anti-Madness

As usual, we paused on the way to West Virginia to see a flick (Super 8, a very enjoyable popcorn movie, by the way). We spent the next day in Kentucky, which has so much to offer, you could actually spend a week there. We visited the Kentucky Horse Park outside of Lexington, a working horse farm that doubles as a museum for anyone interested in learning more about the history of the horse in America and Kentucky's proud thoroughbred tradition. Even if you're not into horse racing, this is a great spot, complete with a movie, an excellent museum, and tons of stables where you can have a close encounter with everything from tiny ponies to enormous draft horses. My favorite section was the Hall of Champions, where famous horses are housed and celebrated. They brought out Funnycide, Cigar and Da Hoss while we were there, with little video introductions for each that featured a synopsis of their impressive racing careers.

Next, it was on to Louisville where we hunted down a Skyline Chili restaurant, a fast food chain we discovered during last year's trip to Cincinnati (order the Coney, if you go---yum). A few minutes later, we were inside the Louisville Slugger factory for what the tour guide claimed is the ninth most popular factory tour in the world. It fits perfectly with a baseball trip, of course, but whether you're there for baseball reasons or not, my son and I both pretty much agreed that it was great! The "factory" is more of a large wood-working shop that covers very little ground, so it's easy to tour. But it's all fascinating, and you wind-up learning lots of fun facts about bats, like the difference between what a major leaguer gets versus a minor leaguer. Look closely and you might see, say, Shane Victorino's next batch ready to be shipped to Philadelphia (we did!).

Nearby, we visited the birthplace and boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln. We also spent two hours underground at Mammoth Cave National Park. Get there early and you can hitch onto the main tour which takes you into some of the largest vaults as well as some of the smallest! This was a very cool experience, actually, and even the tight spaces aren't so small as to cause discomfort for most people.

Phillies in Those Road Grays

In St. Louis, we saw two games (a win and a loss, which is par for the course with us). The new Busch Stadium is beautiful, although behind Citizens Bank Park in a few aspects, I felt, including the ease of watching the game from the concourses. St. Louis fans have a reputation as being civil and friendly, and that was exactly our experience. As in Cincinnati, everyone seemed happy to have us in town and didn't seem to mind much, even when Cliff Lee was shutting their guys down.

As luck would have it, it was Marine Week in St. Louis, so the place was crawling with Marines and their equipment, all of it on display. We sat beneath the famous Gateway Arch and watched a demonstration of Marines taking a beach head (in this case, the banks of the Missouri River), with amphibious tanks, helicopters, jet fighters and ground forces.

The Gateway Arch was also a big hit with the kid. St. Louis, if you decide to go next season, has tons of hotels downtown within seven or eight blocks of the ballpark, and is a very walkable city, replete with gardens and fountains, and a safe, clean feel throughout the Center City area.

We also stopped by Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in suburban Lindenwood (a local institution suggested by earlier visitor Matt Pellman, who is a great guy for recommendations---he seeks out the local flavor and color everywhere he goes and then remembers it all so he can give tips). After that, it was a five-minute drive to the totally FREE St. Louis Zoo, which really ought to be charging admission, because it's dynamite.

Homeward Bound

On the way home, we had to cancel plans to visit a county fair in Ohio which was staging a demolition derby because the weather was threatening, and we didn't want to go a couple hundred miles out of our way for a possible rain-out. We did, however, stop in Zanesville, Ohio, for the second straight year for a couple of rounds at an indoor glow-in-the-dark mini-golf course they have at a mall a couple of miles off the interstate. That's becoming a real tradition!

In short, baseball trips are a great way for a parent and child (or entire family) to have some fun. In some of the smaller markets, you'd be surprised at how inexpensive tickets are, especially for good after-market seats. I usually shop on Stub Hub and have gotten some decent deals the last two years. St. Louis was a bit of a haul that requires more time. Shorter, cheaper trips are possible to New York, Washington, Boston, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and even Cincinnati. Personally, we're hoping the Phillies visit Cleveland some time in the next couple of years, as that would take us to a new part of the country with a cascade of tourist opportunities on the way to and from.

The best advice is to plan ahead and arrange other activities outside the game. For every city we drive to or through, I always do a web search for "Things to do" and the itinerary fills up in no time!

---David Murphy

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