For those of us to whom summer means hot dogs, apple pie and baseball games, the recent Major League All-Star Game was a significant milestone. Marking the midway point of the season, the All-Star Game put baseball back in the national spotlight, a place where “America’s Pastime” has only been a part-time player for many years. But while attendance and viewing numbers for Major League Baseball have been overtaken by rival sports like basketball and football, there is one world where baseball still hits a clear home run: its extended family of local baseball teams that make up the Minor Leagues.
For travelers, especially those who love baseball but don’t want to spend $100 to see a game, Minor League baseball is a breath of fresh air. Each Major League baseball team has as many as a dozen Minor League “farm clubs”, where younger players show their stuff and seasoned players get time to recover from injuries or loss of form. For travelers, especially those who love baseball but don’t want to spend $100 to see a game, Minor League baseball is a breath of fresh air. Crowds are smaller and more family-friendly, ticket prices are very low (from $5 to $15, or less), yet the energy levels and quality of play are plenty high. And because many “farm teams” are located within an afternoon’s drive from their Big League parent, a minor league road trip makes great sense for sports fans wanting an affordable summer getaway.
One of the best areas for a baseball road trip centers on sports-mad Philadelphia, which is home to the oldest “one name, one city professional sports club in the USA”: the Philadelphia Phillies. Though the big league club is not reaching the heights it did in 2008 when it last won the World Series, the Philadephia hinterland is home to two of the most popular minor league teams in America, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and the Reading Phillies, both of whom play their home games in the road trip-friendly environs of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
Another team with a strong connection to its surrounding region is the Baltimore Orioles, whose farm clubs make for a great loop trip, down to Annapolis to watch the Bowie BaySox, then across the Eastern Shore to see the Delmarva Shorebirds in action, ending up across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to take in a Norfolk Tides game. This summer, if you complete the full 5-team farm club tour, the Orioles organization will award you with a free T-Shirt and a chance to win a trip to see games in Florida during next year’s Spring Training.
From coast to coast, just about every big league team has a similar relationship with its surrounding region. Out west, San Francisco’s Giants have farm clubs in San Jose and Fresno, while the Los Angeles Dodgers’ longstanding links with teams in Rancho Cucamonga and Albuquerque makes baseball a great theme for a Route 66 road trip tour.