Baseball on a budget
The average ticket price at a major league baseball game is $28. Factor in $7 hot dogs and parking fees that make your head spin, and your monthly fun budget is blown before the ump says, "Play ball!" That's why we're big fans of the country's approximately 160 minor league parks. Homes of the farm teams that serve as training and development squads for the majors, these parks offer affordable tickets (adult tickets cost $7 or less at most stadiums), killer concessions, much higher chances of snagging a foul or home run ball and team names sure to make you smile. Go, Mud Hens!
We spoke to Graham Knight, who runs the website www.baseballpilgrimages.com, who gave us his six not-to-be-missed minor league parks. Road trip, anyone?
Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach, Fla.
Major League affiliate: Chicago CubsMajor history happened at this minor league park: Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier when he was first allowed to play here, during spring training in 1940. The milestone is commemorated in a small museum and on plaques inside the park. Nicknamed "The Jack," the 4,200-seat facility, home of the Class A Daytona Cubs, sits on a small island and, despite having been hit several times by hurricanes, retains a cozy, old-school vibe, Knight said.
Insider tip: See if you can replicate Robinson's famous home-plate-stealing skills at one of several interactive exhibits throughout the park.
Tickets: $7; call (386) 257-3172; www.daytonacubs.com
Riverwalk Stadium, Montgomery, Ala.
Major League affiliate: Tampa Bay RaysHome of the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, this downtown ballpark features a remarkable mix of modern design, rich history and tasty concessions that include -- you guessed it -- biscuits and gravy. Built on land that once housed a Confederate prison, the 7,000-seat facility incorporates a circa-1900s train shed into its design, and trains still rumble past on the city's active tracks.
Insider tip: Seats in the Locomotive Loft, an upper section near the foul pole, offer spectacular views of the field and welcome breezes.
Tickets: Start at $8; (334) 323-2255; www.biscuitsbaseball.com
Raley Field, West Sacramento, Calif.
Major League affiliate: Oakland AthleticsOpened in 2000, this 14,680-seat home of the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats boasts fantastic views of the city skyline and the Tower Bridge over the Sacramento River, as well as a grassy picnic area around the outfield. It also has some of the best concessions in minor league baseball: think salmon tacos, barbecue nachos and root beer floats. "It's really a mini major league field," Knight said.
Insider tip: Take advantage of $2 draft beer on select Thirsty Thursdays throughout the spring and summer (a promo that's offered at many minor league parks).
Tickets: Start at $7; (916) 371-4487; www.rivercats.com
Fifth Third Field, Toledo, Ohio
Major league affiliate: Detroit TigersWe don't know what we liked more, the team nickname (Mud Hens), the architecture that incorporates warehouses or the economic pick-me-up the ballpark provided to a downtrodden district of Toledo. In 2007, ESPN.com named The Roost, the right-field seats in this approximately 9,000-seat stadium, among the best seats in minor league baseball for their innovative design and great views of the field. Bars and restaurants just steps from the Triple-A park beckon with postgame cocktail options.
Insider tip: Grab some cool Mud Hens memorabilia at the 3,500-square-foot Swamp Shop, the largest souvenir store in the minor leagues.
Tickets: Around $9; (419) 725-4367; www.mudhens.com
Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, Charleston, S.C.
Major League affiliate: New York YankeesCo-owned by legendary comedic actor Bill Murray, this stadium, home of the Class-A RiverDogs, features fantastically funny entertainment between innings --as well as promotions that include Lebowski Night. Plus, you'll likely get a glimpse of Anthony Wright, also known as Tony the Peanut Man, a peanut vendor whose singing and topless straw hat have made him an icon in the Low Country.
Insider tip: Foodies will savor Southern-style concessions, like bacon-wrapped or pimento-cheese-topped hot dogs, that have been featured on the Food Network.
Tickets: Start at $6; (843) 577-3647; www.riverdogs.com
MCU Park, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Major League affiliate: New York MetsThis iconic ballpark, built in 2001, has become as much a part of Coney Island as the boardwalk's amusement park rides in the background. The 7,500-seat stadium, home to the Class-A Brooklyn Cyclones, comes with a view of the beach, $5 parking and a festive atmosphere (promo nights have included a "Jersey Shore" theme). And since the park was designed with all seats angled toward home plate and on a downward slope, the "no bad seat in the house line" is actually true here.
Insider tip: No need to hit the boardwalk for an authentic Nathan's Famous Frankfurter -- they're sold inside the park.
Tickets: Start at $8; (718) 449-8497; www.brooklyncyclones.com