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Ultimate ballpark guide: NL Central

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AL EAST | AL CENTRAL | AL WEST | NL EAST | NL CENTRAL | NL WEST

 

CHICAGO CUBS

 

Ballpark

The ivy, the bricks, the manual scoreboard and, of course, the rooftops make Wrigley Field one of baseball’s top ballparks. Wrigleyville, the neighborhood surrounding the park is a site in and of itself. There isn’t a cozier neighborhood where the ballpark is as much a centerpiece as Wrigley Field is to Wrigleyville.

Fans

Due to going without a World Series title for 102 years, the devotion and commitment Cubs fans have to their team is easily the best in the world. Not the U.S., but the entire world. And it’s not only for home games, either. Cubs fans routinely pack other stadiums around the league year in and year out. They travel to Mesa, Arizona for spring training in larger numbers than any other fan base, and the annual Cubs Convention has been the largest of its kind for decades.

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Food

When it comes to the food at Wrigley, think old school, think traditional, think timeless. You won’t find sushi or fish tacos at Wrigley Field, my friends. When you come here, you’re ordering a Ball Park Frank, a Polish Sausage and some peanuts, and you’re washing it down with an Old Style beer. No frills, no surprises, just the kind of food you’d expect when you go to the ballgame – only better. If you wanna get really crazy, go for the Bison Dog, the Footlong Kosher Dog, or the fan-favorite Chicago Dog, served “Windy City Style” with grilled onions, diced tomatoes, sport peppers, relish, mustard and celery salt.

Music and entertainment

“Go Cubs Go” is piped throughout the stadium after every Cubs home win. It’s the official anthem of the team. Gary Pressey has been the team’s organist since 1987, and the Cubs were the last team to be strictly “all-organ, all the time.” However, that ended just last year, when they finally allowed players to have their own theme music play for them over the loudspeakers when they stepped to the plate. Only three organists have been with their organizations longer than Pressey.

The 7th inning stretch wasn’t invented by the Cubs, but it may as well have been. The Cubs have certainly lifted the tradition to greater heights than any other team in the world, thanks in part to the late, great Harry Caray, who started the tradition when he was with the crosstown White Sox. Since his passing, the Cubs have had a different celebrity singer for the 7th inning stretch every single game. The tradition lives on.

Neighborhood

Wrigleyville is a place unlike any other to take in a game if you can’t score tickets. Murphy’s Bleachers is a legendary bar right outside the right field bleachers, and it has been for decades. The Cubby Bear, Sluggers, The Dugout, Bernie’s Tavern and Merkles are also just a few of the more than 50 bars in a 2-3 block radius of the stadium. Although not part of the Cubs officially, the rooftops of the buildings along Sheffield and Waveland avenues are as much a part of the Wrigley Field experience as anything. The closest thing to the same experience would be those NASCAR fans who erect contraptions several feet high on top of their RVs in the infield in order to see the entire track. The Wrigley rooftops, however, are several floors up, with bleacher seating that puts them even higher. It truly is an experience unlike any other.

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Vacation planner

O’Hare Airport (ORD) is still one of the two busiest airports in the world, although to escape that, flying into Midway (MDW) isn’t a bad idea. Chicago is an unbelievable place for tourists, as attractions such as Rush Street, the Navy Pier, Grant Park, Michigan Avenue, the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), Museum of Science and Industry, Millenium Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo should get you through the day. Then go eat at Gino’s East, the Billy Goat Tavern, Harry Caray’s, Michael Jordan’s, Giordano’s, the Tavern on Rush, Charlie Trotter’s or the original Morton’s of Chicago. As far as the best hotels, check out the Ambassador and the Knickerbocker, and though the W Hotel and the Peninsula are easily accessible to downtown.

Nearby MLB cities

The rival White Sox are only a few miles south of Wrigley, and the Brewers are only a couple hours north in Milwaukee. And, of course, the hated Cardinals are several hours to the south, along with the Royals in Kansas City.

 

CINCINNATI REDS

 

Ballpark

Visit the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum for a tour through the history of the team before the game. During the ballgame, head out to center field for a panoramic view of the stadium from the Cincinnati Bell Riverboat Deck, or check out Club Red deep in the right field corner, bordering on the Ohio River.

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Fans

Fans of the Reds are truly dedicated to the sport. Opening Day is treated like it is a holiday. Fans take the day off work and arrive hours ahead of the first pitch to take in the annual Opening Day Parade. The city comes alive for baseball season, and it stays that way through October. Nothing is more important to the people of Cincinnati than baseball season.

Food

Skyline Chili has its own concession set up inside Great American Ball Park, and Reds fans are loyal to the city's No. 1 chili restaurant. The top seller will be the Chili Cheese Coney, a Cincinnati ritual.

Music and entertainment

The Reds combine an old-school organist and modern music throughout the game. Cincinnati has a tradition they like to uphold, but the players each have a favorite song that they choose to play when it is their turn to bat.

The Reds have three different mascots that can be found all over the ballpark. But every game, the three will meet for a race to home plate. Rosie Red, Mr. Red and Gapper duke it out nightly, but Rosie Red is the fan favorite to win the race, and she usually succeeds.

Neighborhood

Unless you find yourself an office located in one of the towering building in downtown Cincinnati, you're not likely to see the game without a ticket, but that doesn't stop the fans from finding one of several great locations near the ballpark to take in the game. The Holy Grail Tavern & Grille will find itself packed throughout 2011.

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Vacation planner

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) is the closest hub to Great American Ballpark. While in Cincy, take in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra or Cincinnati Art Museum. Nature lovers will enjoy the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden or the Newport Aquarium. History buffs should see the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Or for something offbeat, try the American Sign Museum. Explore your love for baseball even deeper by taking a drive and see where the "crack of the bat" originates. The Louisville Slugger factory is only an hour and a half away from downtown Cincinnati. See how official Major League Baseball bats are created, and have one pesonalized with your name.

Nearby MLB cities

Jacobs Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, and Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, are just a four-hour drive from Cincy. You’ve got three shots at a Reds-Tribe doubleheader this season. Check the Reds website for the schedule.

Follow the team at FOXSportsOhio.com.

 

HOUSTON ASTROS

 

Ballpark

Two Words: Air Conditioning. Houston in the spring and summer can be brutally hot so it's nice to watch a game inside Minute Maid Park without having to brave the heat. It's also just a really attractive and smartly designed stadium. A new HD video board was installed and will debut this season.

Fans

Despite having several recent sub-par years, the Astros fans have still turned out in decent numbers with Minute Maid Park averaging around 3 million per season.

Food

Sheriff Blalock's Nachos are a fan favorite. They’re very Tex-Mex style nachos and big enough for an entire meal.

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Music and entertainment

The Astros are one of the few teams that don’t have an on-site organist. The 'Stros have a new closer this season, so it remains to be seen what kind of entrance music Brandon Lyon will come out to.

Astros games feature a lot of videotaped player interaction features between innings for the fans. Fans also sing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” during the 7th inning stretch.

Neighborhood

The B.U.S. (Ballpark at Union Station) is a popular watering hole right across from Minute Maid Park and Home Plate Bar and Grill is also a very popular hangout. There are tons of good restaurants downtown within blocks of Minute Maid Park, including Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse, Strip House, Yao's, Guadlajara, Irma's Southwest Grille, Kim Son and more.

Vacation planner

Either airport is easily accessible with Hobby (HOU) being a little closer than Bush (IAH). Many great downtown hotels are very close to Minute Maid Park. Hilton Americas, Inn at the Ballpark, a brand new Embassy Suites and the swanky Four Seasons are all close to the ballpark. Houston area attractions include the Byzantine Chapel Fresco Museum, the Houston Zoo, the Holocaust Museum Houston, the Bayou Collection and Gardens and the Beer Can House (you read that right).

Nearby MLB cities

Due to Texas’ overall size, Arlington, where the Texas Rangers play, is the only Major League city close enough to reasonably road trip to and the drive will take about four and a half hours.

Follow the team at FOXSportsHouston.com.
 

 

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

 

Ballpark

With a roof overhead, there’s a guarantee there will be a game every day at Miller Park. Plus, with a new HD scoreboard that is over 6,000 square feet, fans will see replays of the action and stats from the game as if they are in their own living room. Before the game, the smell of tailgating fills the parking lots all summer long. Fans should save some room for when they get inside Miller Park as some of the best concessions in baseball are available inside Miller Park (try the new Klement’s Racing Sausage Kabobs, they are great). The Klement’s Famous Sausage Race and Bernie’s Slide always provide entertainment as well.

Fans

Brewers fans have come out in record numbers in recent years to support their team through the good times and the bad times. They are knowledgeable, friendly and always looking to have a good time at Miller Park.

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Food

In addition to the new Klement’s Racing Sausage Kabobs that won a fan submission contest this year and will be added to the Miller Park menu for 2011, the Brewers also added Canadian Poutine to the menu, but with a Wisconsin twist. The traditional dish will be served with fries, gravy and Wisconsin Cheese Curds.

Music and entertainment

Miller Park features a traditional organ that plays throughout the game. Closer John Axford is currently hosting a Fan Vote for his entrance song via his Twitter and Facebook page.

Nothing beats the Klement’s Famous Sausage Race where the Hot Dog, Bratwurst, Italian, Polish and Chorizo race for the finish at every home game.

Neighborhood

Friday’s Front Row Grill inside Miller Park is a great spot 365 days a year. During baseball season, the tailgating fans in the parking lot create their own little neighborhood community.

Vacation planner

The best airport to fly into when visiting a Milwaukee Brewers game is Mitchell International Airport (MKE). While in the area, be sure to check out Summerfest, the World’s Largest Music Festival in late June and early July. Visitors should also try and stop by the Harley-Davidson Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum, featuring the world famous Calatrava wing. Lastly, the Miller Brewing Company Brewery, where tours are offered in Miller Park’s backyard is a must-see.

Nearby MLB cities

Chicago is only 90 minutes to an hour south of Milwaukee so you can easily take in a White Sox and/or Cubs game.

Follow the Brewers at FOXSportsWisconsin.com.

 

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

 

Ballpark

PNC Park is the ballpark nearest to baseball perfection and home to the team nearest to baseball imperfection. The ballpark itself is an aesthetic marvel. The brickwork is the pinnacle of the retro look. Low outfield walls allow for a spectacular view of the Pittsburgh skyline. With fewer than 39,000 seats, it’s cozy and has nary a bad sightline. The very location of the ballpark, with the Allegheny River 443 feet from home plate on the left-field side, gives PNC a unique feel. Traffic congestion problems came with the ballpark’s 2001 opening, so officials closed the Sixth Street Bridge (now renamed the Roberto Clemente Bridge) to vehicles on game days. Many fans now park downtown and walk across the bridge, both enhancing the game-day experience and benefitting the nearby businesses.

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Fans

If they’re at PNC Park, they’re as loyal as they come. The Pirates’ 18 straight losing seasons have taken their toll, but there was a time this team was ahead of the Steelers in the city’s psyche. Ralph Kiner, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell were, and are, Pittsburgh icons. The club has a lot of work to do to regain the trust of the city.

Food

Manny’s Bar-B-Q offers the favorites of former Bucs catcher Manny Sanguillen. Regional favorite Quaker Steak and Lube brings hot wings. The North Shore Ice Company sells creamsicles and other frozen treats.

Music and entertainment

Friday nights feature pregame block parties, with carnival games, food and live music outside the ballpark. The daily highlight is the between-innings pierogi race. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen giant dumplings sprint.

Neighborhood

The Golden Triangle area of Pittsburgh’s downtown is on the other side of the Roberto Clemente Bridge. It’s home to the power brokers at PNC Bank, U.S. Steel, Heinz and Alcoa. The martini crowd mixes with the shot-and-a-beer folks headed to the ball game. PNC Park itself is in the North Shore neighborhood, which is also home to the Steelers’ Heinz Field. This is an area on the rise, drawing hipsters, foodies and shoppers.

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Vacation planner

The Pittsburgh International Airport is just a 30 minute drive from PNC Park. Pittsburgh is a blue-collar city, but it also has a place in the art world. The Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art call Pittsburgh home. The rivers provide boating and recreation options.

Nearby MLB cities

Cleveland and the Indians are the nearest neighbor. Alas, the football rivalry between the two cities hasn’t carried over into baseball. Spending 111 years in separate leagues tends to keep things civil. Cincinnati, Detroit, Toronto and the northeast cities are all within easy reach for the ambitious baseball tourist.

— Shaun O’Neill, FOXSports.com

 

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

 

Ballpark

The highlights of Busch Stadium include statues of Hall of Famers at the corner of Clark and 8th Street and the Stan Musial Plaza outside Gate 3. Be sure to check out the brick along the sidewalk of the ballpark to see all the best Cardinals team moments memorialized. 

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Fans

Thanks to the Cardinals' past historical standing as the southernmost team in baseball (a distinction they held until 1958) and the strong signal of KMOX, the club developed a fanbase that sprawled from the Great Plains to the Midwest to parts of the South. To this day, you can find Cardinal fans across the country. In fact, each season more than one million out-of-state fans visit Busch Stadium. They’re also not afraid to acknowledge a great play by an opposing player and are fiercely loyal to the team.

Food

The concession stands at Busch Stadium have toasted ravioli, barbecue bacon dog (a delicious- hot dog wrapped in bacon, served over baked beans with barbecue sauce, fried onions, and toppings), and a unique brat-zel (a bratwurst served in a pretzel).

Music and entertainment

The U.S. Cellular Family Pavilion provides a variety of interactive games and exhibits.

Neighborhood

Busch Stadium is conveniently located in downtown St. Louis, steps from downtown bars, restaurants and shops; in view of the famous Gateway Arch; and nestled close to the Mississippi River. The ballpark is close to light-rail and Amtrak stations.

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Vacation planner

The best airport (Lambert International airport in St. Louis), so best place to fly into. St. Louis offers several hotels downtown in walking distance to the park, including two that are right across the street from the stadium (Weston and Hilton). The St. Louis zoo is one of the best in the nation and is free to visitors.

Nearby MLB cities

Kansas City and beautiful Kauffman Stadium is a four hour drive west on I-70. Despite being in different leagues, tension exists between the two fan bases dating back to the 1985 World Series. The White Sox and U.S. Cellular Field are actually closer to the Cardinals than the Cubs, but if you want to see one of the more storied rivalries in baseball, keep heading North to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

Diehard baseball fans can take in two minor league independent teams if they like. One in St. Charles, the River City Rascals, and one just across the river in Illinois, Gateway Grizzlies.

Follow the team at FOXSportsMidwest.com.

Tagged: Red Sox, Royals, Brewers, Athletics, Astros, Nationals, Padres, Rays, Heath Bell, Ian Desmond, Eric Sogard

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