Travel Ideas: Minor League Baseball (Vámonos Vol. 3)

It’s easy to find something to do in downtown Chicago.  In the summer cultural events, compete with world class museums and historic sites to attract the attention of out of town visitors.  But as my grandmother often said, “all the world can’t be London and Paris.”  Travelers often find themselves a little farther of the beaten path.    If you find yourself as a visitor to a less metropolitan setting by choice or chance I recommend checking out some minor league baseball.

There is minor league baseball around Chicago, but with 240 minor league teams spread from Maine to Oaxaca it is very possible that there is a team where ever it is you are going.  Here in the Chicago-land–area we have: the Kane County Cougars, the Lake County Fielders, the Windy City Thunderbolts, and the Schaumburg Flyers.   There are a total of 11 franchises currently operating in Illinois.

Right now the Cubs and White Sox may be wrestling with futility and mediocrity respectively, but the Kane County Cougars are in first place.   When I brought this up to their director of PR Shawn Touney joked, “I hope that’s still accurate when (this article) runs.”  He then went on to say “It’s been a very competitive season.  We have some good prospects this year.”

The level of play and facilities of these minor league teams vary wildly.  From stadiums that hold less than 2,000 people to venues that hold more than 10,000 with fireworks shows and future stars on their rosters.  This variety makes each experience a little more tied to the place the game is played.  It gives the game a different feel in different places.

The stadiums and salaries and ticket prices are all smaller in the minor leagues.  This means fans are closer to the action.  A visitor to a minor league stadium has a better chance of catching a ball, getting an autograph, and hearing the dirty words the pitchers yell at the umpires when they don’t get the call they want.  There are some things you don’t get in the minor leagues.  Results won’t make sports center and if you paint your chest you’re friends won’t see you on tv.  Personally I enjoy a lot of the water cooler talk that can follow a big game in the major leagues.  Still when you strip away all that coverage and attention what is left in a baseball game is the baseball.  And that is what we really go to see.


Trip Tips

How do I get excited about a team I don’t know?

Root root root for the home team.  I find that when enthusiasm is contagious. Where ever you are root for the home team and go with the crowd and you’ll find yourself caring more about what happens than you have any reason to.

What should I eat?

If you’re not on a diet, whatever you want.  This is not a seven-dollar-beer territory so you can definitely eat at stadiums from an affordability stand point.

How long are the games?

Baseball is not like football or basketball that have clocks that count down it’s a pastoral game that generally lasts between 3 and 4 hours unless there are extra innings.

What day should I go?

If you have the luxury to pick between a couple of days to go to the park you might look at the calendar of promotions.  Some minor league stadiums are famous for their wacky theme nights and varied extra curricular side activities.  Talking about the Kane County Cougars Shawn Touney said, “We have been described as having a county fair experience and I think that is accurate.”

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