O.K., so you love baseball and you’ve managed to attend games in some of the sport’s most hallowed and passionate venues – Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, Busch Stadium. Maybe you’ve also been wowed by games at such fields as San Francisco’s AT&T Park or Baltimore’s Camden Yards. And you have, of course, been to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
So, what’s next? Well, if you’re truly a baseball aficionado, it might be time to explore the sport at a few intriguing but under-the-radar destinations. Here are seven less well-known places where you can experience the history and wonder of baseball.
Elysian Fields – Hoboken, New Jersey
Baseball history in Hoboken, you say? Actually, this is where your beloved game began. The first official contest was played at Elysian Fields on June 19, 1846 between the New York Knickerbockers and the New York Nine. Today, a plaque records the spot of the first contest.
While you’re in the area, you might also want to cross the Hudson River into New York and head over to Madison Square Park. That’s where Alexander Cartwright in 1845 founded the Knickerbockers club and created the game’s earliest official rules, including 90-foot basepaths laid out in a diamond shape.
The first World Series – Boston, Massachusetts
Baseball’s first World Series in 1903 was won by Boston over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Today, you can visit the Boston site of the Huntington Avenue Grounds, which hosted four games in that Series. Although the stadium is gone, there is a small park on the campus of Northeastern University that has a statue of baseball legend Cy Young at the spot where the pitcher’s mound was located. Young’s statue peers down at a plaque shaped like home plate, 60 feet away. You can stand in the grass and imagine Young on the mound during the 1903 World Series, or perhaps during the 1904 perfect game that he pitched there.
Although there are no other historical markers, this whole area of town used to be a hotbed of Boston baseball. The South End Grounds were just a few minutes walk south, between Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street. This was the home of the Boston Nationals, who later became known as the Boston Braves before moving to Milwaukee and then Atlanta.
Life of the Babe – Baltimore, Maryland
The most enduring figure in baseball history is Babe Ruth, who still looms larger than life more than a half century after his death. If you want to learn more about the Babe, then head to his hometown of Baltimore and the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum. Ruth was born at 216 Emory Street, not far from the current site of Camden Yards. His father, in fact, owned a saloon on grounds that are now part of the ballfield. Ruth’s birthplace has been turned into a museum with exhibits that trace his life and career.
The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame – St. Petersburg, Florida
Babe Ruth doesn’t have many challengers for the title of the game’s greatest hitter, but one of those on the short list is Ted Williams. The last .400 hitter in baseball (in 1941), Williams devoted his career to the science of hitting. In retirement, he was instrumental in founding the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame. This 7,000-square-foot museum is located in Tropicana Field and is free to anyone attending a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game. The museum includes memorabilia from Williams’ life in baseball along with a Hitters Hall of Fame that pays tribute to several dozen of the game’s greatest hitters.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum – Kansas City, Missouri
Every baseball fan knows about the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but far fewer are aware of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. For the first half of the 20th century, African Americans were banned from playing Major League Baseball, meaning some of the country’s best ballplayers were restricted to the Negro Leagues. This museum tells that story and includes a Field of Legends with life-sized sculptures of 12 of the Negro League’s all-time greats. The museum is located in Kansas City’s 18th and Vine historic district, which was for decades a center of black life, culture and music.
Louisville Slugger Museum – Louisville, Kentucky
Another less well-known alternative to the Hall of Fame, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory will still give you a thrill. The factory produces one million bats per year, many of them custom made for major league ballplayers, while the museum has an incredible collection of memorabilia and interactive exhibits. Visitors can see a bat used by Babe Ruth during his 60-home run season, by Joe DiMaggio during his 56-game hitting streak, and much more.
Field of Dreams – Dyersville, Iowa
Baseball and movie fans alike will appreciate a pilgrimage to the small town of Dyersville, Iowa. There, you’ll encounter baseball’s Field of Dreams, where the classic 1989 movie with Kevin Costner was filmed. If you travel there in the summer, you’ll not only enjoy the memorable view of the field in the shadow of swaying cornstalks, but you might even get in on a pickup game with other visitors. Maybe you’ll hit one into the corn field or play catch with Shoeless Joe.