Baseball's open road offers Americana up close
PITTSBURGH -- The pilgrimage, as it were, began in New York City and reached the Steel City, where a gaggle of fast-tweeting, Facebooking, picture-snapping MLB.com employees stepped off a bus that is bound for Kansas City and the All-Star Game.I met them here to tag along -- or, rather, to "hashtag" along, given the social media circumstances -- and to help chronicle the experience of burning up turnpike terrain en route to baseball's Midsummer Classic. That the All-Star Game is so centrally located in 2012 only accentuates the notion of the baseball world coming together from points east, west, north and south to celebrate the midway mark and the sport's top talent. "Going to Kansas City" is a mindset romanticized by the Leiber and Stoller concoction, and it's one hammered home by a marquee event that draws from far and wide. So that's what drew us here to this Pittsburgh pit stop, for a Pirates-Astros affair. And on Independence Day, we'll continue on to St. Louis, a baseball town second to none, before passing Independence, Mo., on an Interstate 70 escapade that will reach a K.C. climax on Thursday afternoon. This is, of course, but one way to make a journey centered on ball, and that, I suppose, is the ultimate point. Baseball, after all, is a sport that lends itself to the road more than most, with the hum of the highway dotted by modest Minors towns and occasionally broken up by the beauty (or, at worst, the bustle) of the big league cities. Summer's here, and the time is right and ripe for such explorations, because, on any given night, there is, somewhere, a game to be had. You'll find no shortage of opinions on the best baseball excursion. Votes will be cast for the California coast, where five teams reside. You've got to find your way to Fenway at least once in life, and Wrigley is another given. You can go the obvious route -- say, taking in your own version of the Subway Series, exploring the I-95 corridor or traversing your way through Texas -- or you can get a little more experimental, picking up the Pioneer League trail through Montana, Idaho and Utah. A recent Orange County Register article offered the opinion that a jaunt from Louisville to Cooperstown is your best bet for baseball Americana, what with the ease of pit stops situated in Cincinnati, Columbus (home of the Triple-A Clippers), here in Pittsburgh and Williamsport (home of the Little League World Series), among others. It was a compelling argument, no doubt, especially ending as it did at the holy temple of the Hall of Famers. Or if you're really ambitious, you can repeat the feat completed earlier this year by Reggie Deal, the blind fan who went to all 30 parks in 30 days. That's ambitious, all right. Obsessive, too. This sport lends itself to such obsession, because it's an everyday existence. And as such, it promotes the possibility of exploring America, step by step, city by city. Really, the best baseball trips are the ones that mirror the pace and the plot of the sport itself -- a little on the long side, with plenty of pauses to stop and gather yourself (like a batter stepping out of the box) or to get off the beaten path (like a pitcher shaking off the signs). The best paths are slightly counterintuitive, because what's more counterintuitive than a sport in which the greatest players fail seven out of 10 times? Waywardness wins. Go to any Major League market on any given night, and you'll find those wayward souls among the masses. On this night, it was the occasional red or blue hat in a seat of black and gold -- folks who made the journey, by happenstance or habit, to a game in which their rooting interest either defies that of the general populace (and really, there are few things better, as a sports fan, than infiltrating enemy territory) or doesn't exist at all. These were folks who aren't from here but are here, because baseball gave them a reason to take in a new town. It was early in the Astros-Buccos game when one member of our traveling party, a native New Jerseyan who bides quite a bit of his free time at a certain cathedral in the Bronx, made the bold proclamation that PNC Park was "the best ballpark I've ever seen." And in that moment, it was a difficult point to dispute, particularly with a perfect sky above, a spectacular skyline view in front and an ice cream sundae in hand. But a mere 24 hours later, with the soaring Gateway Arch in the distance at Busch Stadium III, he might dispute himself. And then, come Tuesday, when the All-Star squads take the field in front of the fountains at Kauffman Stadium, he might call his rankings into question yet again. That's the experience of exploration, the wonder of wanderlust. And no sport supports it quite like baseball.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.