My daughter wasn't interested in baseball until she was in college, and had no time for this by then. I've found these little treks an excellent way to have some quality, one-on-one time with each individual kid and build some great memories. Of course, if you want to include more than one child, that works, too. Living in the northeast, there are plenty of destinations within a day or two from home that do not require plane tickets and are relatively affordable. And Inter-league play has added more destinations for Phillies road games than ever before.
Start by asking your son or daughter whether the idea of a road trip sounds appealing. You'll be making an investment in time and money with this and it's only worth it if your child is enthusiastic. I waited until my sons were 12 because by then, they were old enough to enjoy a game and were better able to handle the rigors of the road. Once your child is engaged, check the schedule as soon as it comes out early in the new year. Talk over possible destinations with your son or daughter and see which places sound interesting and practical.
Tough Tickets vs. Easy Tickets
Certain stadiums like Fenway in Boston or Yankee Stadium in the Bronx will sell-out fast and be much more expensive when it comes to after-market sales. If your kid insists on one of these "hot" spots, my advice is to check with the team's website to learn the exact date and time regular, single-game tickets go on sale. Then jump on line as soon as that happens to see if there are any decent, affordable seats available. However, you may find that it's a lot easier to choose a team whose games do not regularly sell out. In these cases, you may even find great seats available directly, or with less of a mark-up on ticket sites. For example, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Toronto, Baltimore and Washington all have beautiful, dynamic stadiums with less expensive, more available seating. Personally, I'm a big fan of StubHub.com, the after-market ticket site that has teamed with Major League Baseball to allow fans to buy and sell tickets directly from each other. Since individuals set their own price and the mark-up collected by StubHub is relatively small, it's possible to score very nice seating for relatively close to what you would pay at the box office. In 2010, I purchased tickets 6 rows behind Charlie Manuel's perch in the Phillies dug-out in Cincinnati for $75 a seat from a fan---only about $10-$15 extra. The next day, my son and I sat 20 rows behind the Reds dug-out for $50 per seat, an even better deal. Pittsburgh fans were also selling great seat locations very close to the infield for a small mark-up. Of course, upper deck seats were available for far less, both on StubHub and the team websites, if you want to take that route.
Play ball, stay affordable
For hotels, I try to plan at least some of my overnights away from cities, mainly to save money. For example, on the way to and from Cincinnati, I always aim for Interstate exits in places like Zanesville, Ohio, where the hotels are less expensive, the parking is free and breakfast is included. However, once inside cities, it's sometimes fun to splurge a little. In Pittsburgh, for example, there are several hotels directly adjacent to the stadium. These run about $190 a night, versus under $100 in small towns, but the convenience is worth it to me. In Toronto, there's a Renaissance hotel inside the stadium with some rooms that overlook the field. We stayed here once and were rewarded after the game when some of the Blue Jays players and their families came onto the field and started flying model airplanes around the ballpark and right by our window! My son and I set up a card game in a café the next day, and watched Jimmy Rollins doing laps around the field below us for a half-hour. These experiences made the extra expense worth it for me. In Cincinnati, by the way, it's possible to stay across the river in Covington, Kentucky, with great views of the Cincinnati waterfront.
More than just a game
While on the road, I highly recommend additional activities other than the baseball games. Whenever we're faced with a particularly long day of travel---say, six or seven hours of driving---I break it up with a movie. It's easy to find theaters along the way prior to departing home, as well as what's playing, and show times. You can also do a search for summer release dates and see if there's a movie coming out shortly before your trip. My son and I, for example, knew Toy Story 3 was going to be part of our plans in 2010, even before the movie was officially released. Other entertainment options include mini-golf (a great small-town diversion which is also researchable online), amusement parks, water parks, and zoos. And definitely bring along board games for the hotels. Risk and Monopoly are favorites in our house. Sometimes, we head to the hotel lobby for games.
Involve your child in the planning and packing, and once on the road, let them help with navigating. By the end of a four-day road trip recently, my 12-year-old had absolutely mastered the GPS and was happy about his contributions, not only getting us places, but keeping track of how far we had to go. Have something planned for each day, and have a fall-back in case weather hinders your original plans. And speaking of weather, keep in mind that some of your games may not happen if it rains (assuming you've chosen ballparks without retractable roofs). You should explain this to your child in advance, to avoid disappointment. It's also a good reason to have other activities in mind. During my first "baseball" trip with my older son, we actually only saw 1.5 innings the whole trip. But we saw a movie, spent an entire day at a great amusement park, and had a super time, despite the rain-out. Another year, it poured the entire day before a night game in New York, so my son and I toured the United Nations and saw a little of Manhattan, before the rains cleared and the game got underway. In any event, if you and your child have your hearts set on seeing baseball, I would recommend buying more than one game, or choosing a domed stadium.
Here are some possible road trips, with suggested itineraries:
Toronto and Cooperstown. Go see the Baseball Hall of Fame, and stay in the neighborhood for a night. The museum only takes a couple of hours to tour, but the town is beautiful and there are great little baseball souvenir shops to roam. Cooperstown is located on the base of one of New York's Finger Lakes. Go for a swim or a pontoon boat ride while you're there. Proceed to Toronto. Book early (as soon as the baseball schedule is released) and rent a room in the Renaissance Hotel overlooking the field. You can do this for just one night to save money, if you like. See a couple of games. Take a ride up to the top of the CN Tower for an absolutely stunning view of the city and ballpark. Ride roller coasters and swim at Canada's Wonderland north of town, or take a ferry out to the islands just off the city's waterfront. If the Phillies happen to be here during Canada Day festivities in early July, you'll enjoy waterfront fireworks while you're in town. On the way home, visit Niagara Falls. By the way, remember to take passports. The Canadian customs agents are very wary about letting kids into the country without proper ID. This actually has to do with child abductions, I'm told. They'll give you a hard time if you don't have paperwork that proves your kid is really your kid.
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Head west toward Cincinnati, and take in a movie along the way. There are two multiplexes about four hours from Philadelphia, near Washington, PA, which is a perfect resting point. Or head to Johnstown and check out the two museums covering the great Johnstown Flood. Stay along the highway somewhere between Zanesville and Columbus. While in Cincinnati, visit the world-famous Zoo. If you're a member at the Philadelphia Zoo, you get in for half price. Just across the river from the downtown Cincinnati, there's a new, world-class aquarium in Newport, Kentucky. Head north to Sandusky, Ohio, and spend a day at Cedar Point Amusement Park, the "roller coaster capital of the world". Or head back toward Columbus and do the rides at King's Island Amusement Park. Once in Pittsburgh, check out the Sandcastle Water Park, an affordable, expansive attraction with a lazy river, a wave pool, and tons of slides. Or, just up the road, is Kennywood Amusement Park, perched on the top of a hill so that some of the roller coasters leave the station and actually drop before they climb!
Baltimore and Washington. Visit the National Aquarium, eat crabs at the Inner Harbor and then catch an Orioles Game. In D.C., tour the free Smithsonian. Then, grab the Metro to nearby Nationals Park, where there are usually plenty of seats. It's a new stadium, pretty and friendly.
Cleveland. If the Phillies play an Inter-league series here any time soon, it's a great option. Seats are usually available and Cleveland's downtown is pretty neat. You can tour the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame while you're there, as well as an old Great Lakes cargo ship next door. And Cedar Point Park, with its mountains of roller coasters, is right down the road.
Boston. Take in a ball game at Historic Fenway Park. Visit Cambridge across the river, home of Harvard and M.I.T., along with countless other colleges. Head downtown to Old Ironsides, North Church and Bunker Hill. Or, check out Concord and Lexington, where the Revolution got going. Or, ride the Coasters at Six Flags, New England. South of Boston, you can see Plymouth Rock and tour a replica of the Mayflower, along with a reconstructed Plymouth Settlement, complete with colonial re-enactors.
New York. There's plenty to do and see in the city, but I have a warning for Phillies fans planning on wearing your colors and rooting for your team. New York fans (at least for two games I saw the last year Shea Stadium was still in existence) are by far the most aggressive and abusive of any my kids and I have encountered. Many of them enjoy taunting out-of-town fans loudly and crudely, and it matters little that you're a well-behaved dad on a trip with your son or daughter. Seriously, the fan ill-will there easily topped anything I've witnessed during hundreds of games in Philadelphia. In fact, it's usually the New York fans who behave the worst there too, from what I've seen. In my opinion, if you're looking to have a nice time with your kid, you'd be better off heading somewhere else, or going with a large tour group on the theory that you might feel more comfortable traveling with large numbers. Also, the stadiums for both the Yankees and Mets are located in unappealing, rather dirty neighborhoods, with relatively large safety issues as compared to the other cities and stadiums I've visited.
While there are exceptions to the rule in any city, my kids and I have been treated the best in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Cincinnati, in particular, has been inviting and extremely friendly on both visits. The city near the stadium is dramatic and clean, and there's plenty of parking nearby (a few dollars cheaper than most other places, too). Covington, Kentucky, across the river is a delightful spot with its nice historic district. The outskirts of Cincinnati away from downtown, are a little worn-out and generally less appealing. Pittsburgh also tends to be friendly, and there are nice hotels adjacent to the ballpark, which is a nice touch. Boston fans treated us extremely well, but don't wear a Yankees hat in that ballpark---you'll get a different reception. Toronto fans enjoyed some good-natured razzing the weekend we were there, but I'm not sure whether anger over their beloved Roy Halladay's departure to Philadelphia has affected that. At any rate, we found most people there pretty good-natured. I've had no issues in D.C., both at the old stadium and the new one. And the new ballpark is located in an up-and-coming area a short Metro ride from the National Mall.
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