Happy Opening Day! I really enjoyed assembling this slide show of small baseball-oriented businesses for CNBC.com’s Small Business site, in time for the start of another baseball season.The slide show received wide pickup on the Internet, including on Yahoo Sports, and received excellent traffic.
As the major league teams hit the road for the start of another baseball season, many fans are also ready to embark on their own baseball road trips. America’s favorite pastime offers a great lens through which you can see the country.
While most recommended road trips will take you to major and minor league stadiums, we offer another kind of tour: businesses and nonprofit ventures that give you a different window on the game. If you time your visit to these places right, you will never be too far from a ballgame.
And if we’ve whetted your appetite for baseball’s attractions, check out “The Baseball Fan’s Bucket List: 162 Things You Must See, Do, Get & Experience Before You Die,” by Robert and Jenna Santelli.
So, what are some of the greatest attractions in baseball? I’ll put the text below, but I recommend going to the site to see the gorgeous photos. And here’s a few spoilers: Sites include museums dedicated to Yogi Berra and Ty Cobb, Hall of Fames for Negro Leaguers and Little Leaguers (and of course Cooperstown), and the Field of Dreams movie site in Iowa.
Bergino Baseball Clubhouse
Location: New York
It’s the kind of tiny treasure that you can only find in Manhattan. Tucked in a landmark Greenwich Village building, the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse is dedicated to the notion that — never mind soccer — baseball is truly the beautiful game.
Bergino makes baseballs — beautiful baseballs. At Bergino (named for Jay Goldberg and his founding partner, creative director Tony Palladino), you can buy leather baseballs embossed with the U.S. Constitution, holiday decorations, The New York Times crossword puzzle, and maps of great baseball cities like Boston, Chicago … and Jerusalem? Bergino baseballs come in colors and camouflage and even suede; they tout messages, like “Believe,” “Love,” “Peace” and even “It’s a Boy” (or girl).
And the clubhouse offers so much more — cuff links, pens and wallets made from game-used major league baseballs and vintage ballpark seats; rare, one-of-a-kind items; original baseball-themed pieces from premier artists and framed vintage magazines.
Even if you don’t want to buy anything, take a seat on the wood bleachers and watch whatever game or baseball program is on television. You will feel yourself a part of the pastime.
Field of Dreams Movie Site
Location: Dyersville, Iowa
The disembodied voice telling the Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner, “If you build it, he will come” in the movie “Field of Dreams” has become almost as much a part of the game as gloves and bats. The movie ended with cars snaking through the Iowa cornfields, proving the prophecy correct. But the story did not end there.
In real life, fans of the 1989 movie also flock to the real-life farm in Dyersville, Iowa, that was the movie set. The Lansing family, which has owned most of the site for 107 years, purchased the left field portion in 2007.
“People who visit the farm are welcome to walk the bases, hit a few balls, purchase concessions, or just sit in the bleachers and dream,” owner Becky Lansing says. The field is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, April through August.
Is it heaven? No, as they say in the movie. It’s Iowa.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Location: Kansas City, Mo.
The great shame of baseball is its history of segregation, which was not rectified until Jackie Robinson crossed the color line for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. For decades, African-Americans were banned from the national pastime. In 1920, at Kansas City’s Paseo YMCA, Andrew “Rube” Foster met with several team owners to establish a professional Negro League, which thrived until the major leagues finally opened the doors.
Now, around the corner from that historic YMCA, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum shares its home with the American Jazz Museum, and offers up a history of the players from this era of American apartheid. It is not a Hall of Fame, but instead features photos, artifacts and multimedia exhibits about the players and executives who defined the Negro Leagues.
You can learn not only about all-time greats like Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson — who are memorialized with other superstars in life-sized bronze statues — but also about the anonymous everyday players for teams like the Kansas City Monarchs and New York Black Yankees.
Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum
Location: Louisville, Ky.
The Louisville Slugger bat is synonymous with baseball. The company has been making baseball bats since 1884, when 17-year-old Bud Hillerich crafted the company’s first bat. More than 125 years later, the Hillerich family still owns the business. You can tour the factory and see how raw wood becomes the legendary lumber, and maybe even get a custom-made bat for yourself.
There’s plenty of history and novelty on display as well, from the world’s biggest bat — a 120-foot tall replica of Babe Ruth’s bat — to bats used by real sluggers from Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench to Cal Ripken Jr. and Derek Jeter. You can see the notches that Ruth carved into his Louisville Slugger for every home run he hit with it, as well as noted bats like the one Joe DiMaggio used in his 56-game hitting streak.
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Location: Cooperstown, N.Y.
No baseball road trip is complete without a stop at baseball’s ultimate shrine, The Hall of Fame. Never mind that baseball was not really invented in Cooperstown — Abner Doubleday’s bit of revisionist history has been convincingly debunked. But the rest of the history in this upstate New York village is right on the money.
The Hall of Fame is the fabled corridor with the plaques that commemorate all the greats of the game. Spending time in this sanctuary allows the faithful to commune with everyone from early inductees like Christy Mathewson to those of more recent vintage, like Ozzie Smith.
But that’s just an entry point to the rest of the museum, where more than 38,000 items commemorate the history of the game and the people who played it.
Ty Cobb Museum
Location: Royston, Ga.
The Georgia Peach remains, by some measures, the greatest hitter ever to play the game. And even though Ty Cobb’s reputation as a nasty fellow may lead you think he’s not someone you’d want to spend time with, this museum in his former hometown offers another side, as well as some singular baseball memorabilia.
“This building is part of the Ty Cobb Health Care System,” notes the museum’s Sharri Hobbs. “The whole system got started with a $100,000 donation Ty Cobb made back in the 1950s,” and now includes a hospital, several doctors offices and clinics, and assisted living facilities. Royston is a town of fewer than 3,000 people, about 90 miles from Atlanta.
The museum features Cobb’s 1907 batting award, studded with diamonds and gold. It has autographed balls, Cobb’s uniform and glove, and even some bats he made himself, turned on a lathe at his next-door neighbor’s furniture store. You can also see Cobb’s duck-hunting rifle, and a needlepoint his wife gave him when he won baseball’s Triple Crown in 1909, leading the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in — only the fourth player to do it. (And it’s only been achieved 11 times since.)
If you hunt around yourself, you can find other ballplayer museums, from Babe Ruth’s birthplace in Baltimore, to the Bob Feller Museum, in Van Meter, Iowa, Rapid Robert’s hometown.
Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center
Location: Little Falls, N.J.
He may be famous for his malapropisms like “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” but baseball fans know something else about Yogi Berra: He was a winner, playing on more World Series teams than anyone. He was also a three-time MVP and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Berra accumulated enough awards over his lifetime to fill a museum, and that’s what he’s done, on the campus of Montclair State University adjacent to Yogi Berra Stadium, where the minor league New Jersey Jackals play.
You can see Berra’s 10 world championship rings, watch a film of his life in a ballpark-like theater, and learn the values that Berra imparts to the many school groups coming through: respect, responsibility and integrity.
Saint Paul Saints
Location: St. Paul, Minn.
We had to put at least one actual baseball team on our road trip, but the Sant Paul Saints are special. First of all, they’re not affiliated with any major league squad, but instead play in the independent American Association. Second, their owners include Mike Veeck, son of legendary owner Bill Veeck (the man who once sent a midget to bat in a major league game), and comedian Bill Murray.
The Saints are known for not taking themselves too seriously. They use a pig to deliver satchels full of baseballs to the umpire during games. One bobblehead giveaway commemorated former Sen. Larry Craig’s infamous arrest in the nearby Minneapolis Airport — fans lined up to receive a replica bathroom stall, with a “bobble-foot” protruding beneath. This year, in honor of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints getting punished for paying bounties to injure opponents, the St. Paul Saints will pay bounties for all of their big hits in an August game — giving the money to concussion research.
“Our motto around here is, ‘Fun is good,’” said Sean Aronson, director of broadcast and media relations.
Little League Museum
Location: Williamsport, Pa.
Ever since Carl Stotz founded Little League Baseball in Williamsport, Pa., in 1938, American kids have known exactly what to sign up for to learn the fundamentals and compete like their idols in the big leagues. The concept took off after World War II, with the Maynard Midgets of Williamsport winning the first Little League World Series in 1947.
Now it’s worldwide, and the World Series is broadcast on ESPN. But if you go to Williamsport in August, you can go to the games for free. They don’t even charge for parking.
Williamsport also has a museum that is “basically a walking history of Little League,” according to Steve Barr, director of media relations. “There are all kinds of artifacts from uniforms to gloves to baseballs that were signed by different people of high notoriety that have attended the World Series.”
A Hall of Excellence honors Little League alumni who have gone on to big achievements, some in Major League Baseball, but mostly in life. Honorees include Vice President Joseph Biden, former President George W. Bush, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, movie star Kevin Costner and football Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome.
Lefty O’Doul’s Restaurant and Lounge
Location: San Francisco
Baseball-themed restaurants make a great stopping point on any road trip. Many are haunts right near the ballpark, like Boston’s Cask ‘n Flagon or Chicago’s Cubby Bear. Willie McCovey’s in Walnut Creek, Calif., offers a veritable Hall of Fame of memorabilia, and St. Louis has an endless appetite for baseball, as witnessed by restaurants owned by Ozzie Smith, broadcasters Joe and Jack Buck, and Albert Pujols, who brought two titles but is now persona non grata for skipping town in the last off-season.
The granddaddy of them all is a dark-paneled haunt off San Francisco’s Union Square. Before there were sports bars, there was Lefty O’Doul’s, a homespun tavern that a retired baseball legend opened in his hometown. O’Doul may be the greatest player not in the Hall of Fame — after a dismal start as a pitcher, he reinvented himself as a hitter, winning two batting titles with a lifetime .349 average. He’s not forgotten in San Francisco, where a bridge near AT&T Park is named in his honor.
His bar is loaded with many of his personal photos, including shots of old pals like Babe Ruth. O’Doul also helped establish professional baseball in Japan. Ballplayers love to visit; Mark McGwire and the Giants’ Barry Zito often stop in, and late Phillies’ announcer Harry Kalas used to tickle the ivories and belt a few songs.
Midnight Sun Baseball Classic
Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
It sounds like a baseball fan’s dream: If the sun shines all night long, why not have a game? So every year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks host a game that starts at 10:30 p.m. and usually finishes around 2 a.m.
“We don’t need to turn on the lights,” said Todd Dennis, associate general manager of the Goldpanners. “It gets to be dusk around the sixth or seventh eighth inning, but the sun’s coming up by the end of the game. It just dips beyond ridge.”
The game’s been going for more than a century. The Goldpanners are part of the Alaska Baseball League, a wood bat league for college players. Many stars have come through and participated in the classic, including Tom Seaver, Dave Winfield and Barry Bonds. Bill “Spaceman” Lee pitched in it as a collegian in 1967, and again as a 61-year-old barnstormer in 2008.
Be warned: The last two years, the game has gone into extra innings. Talk about your twilight double-headers.