If you can’t remember the last time you took the kid somewhere worth remembering, then you have a making-memories problem. In that case (and assuming you raised the kid well enough to know that watching a game at the ol’ ballyard beats listening to Joe Buck moralize about nut scratching on the TV), here’s the solution: A 7-day straight shot from Birmingham, Alabama to Chicago, Illinois, hitting a different classic minor league stadium every day of the trip.
This route just happens to take you through the heart of barbecue country, so each stop includes a local classic smoked meat Mecca. This way, Junior can learn the difference between ribs, butt, and brisket, and get up to speed on red, white, thick or thin sauce. If you don’t finish the trip with memories to last a lifetime, you must have had some kind of stroke (and given the amount of pork you’re about to eat, that’s not entirely unlikely).
Stop No. 1: Regions Field, Birmingham, AL — Home Of The Barons
You’ll want to make sure the gloves are well-oiled before setting foot on Home Run Porch at the Baron’s nearly new, $64 million baseball oasis. Baseball America calls this park the best in the country (and they’re experts on baseball in America). Opened in April of 2013 — the same year the Baron’s won their last league championship — Regions is located in heart of the city inside the reinvigorated Parkside District.
Eat: Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ
Let’s just say the original Big Bob Gibson didn’t get to be 6’ 4” and nearly 300 pounds by only eating all his vegetables.
Next park 237 miles via I-22 and US 78 W
Stop No. 2: Autozone Park, Memphis, TN — Home Of The Redbirds
Even with sagging attendance and struggling financials, Baseball America calls this the second best park in the minors. Autozone Park recently underwent a $6.5 million renovation and is known for it’s major league feel. The place was definitely built with kids in mind, too. Features include heroic looking statues of former players lining the entryway, a 24-foot rock wall, games, and a boardwalk where teenagers can do teenage stuff.
Eat: Central BBQ
There are just two things you need to know: Smoked hot wings and self-serve sauce.
Next park 385 miles via I-40 and I-65 N
Stop No. 3: Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, KY — Home Of The Bats
Hillerich & Bradsby, the makers of the only bat that ever really mattered, smartly bought the naming rights to this Kentucky Bluegrass-laid stadium before it opened in April 2000. In fact, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is just a few blocks away, so bring a paid-off credit card. Louisville native and Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese worked for Hillerich & Bradsby after his career with the Dodgers, and that time is immortalized with a statue at the main entrance. If your kid doesn’t already have nickname, he does now.
Eat: Against The Grain Brewery And Smokehouse
This might be the only place you’ll find a salad on the menu during this trip. Don’t worry, the Iceberg Wedge comes with bacon lardons. Streak unbroken!
Next park 114 miles via I-65 N
Stop No. 4: Victory Field, Indianapolis, IN — Home Of The Indians
Home to the Indians since 1996, the stadium is a bit older than most on this list. Sure, that was after the team had its storied heyday in the 80s when it served as a proving ground for Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson. If your kid is too young to remember one of the most intimidating southpaws in baseball history, tell ‘em about the time he exploded a pigeon mid-flight. With a baseball.
Eat: Bar-B-Q Heaven
No website, just pork.
Next park 126 miles via I-69 N
Stop No. 5: Parkview Field, Fort Wayne, IN — Home Of The Tincaps
Named for old John Chapman — aka Johnny Appleseed — who is buried in nearby Johnny Appleseed Memorial Park, you can teach your kids Chapman’s lesson of conservation in the Appleseed Picnic Pavilion. That would be the terraced seating area wrapping around Parkview’s right field where, presumably, everyone throws their trash away.
Eat: Shigs In Pit BBQ
Shiglets, It’s the new favorite word for you and your kids.
Next Park 102 miles via US-24 E
Stop No. 6: Fifth Third Field, Toledo, OH — Home Of The Mud Hens
Why the Mud Hens? They do have one of International League’s top Sluggers in Steven Moya, with 7 home runs and 20 RBI’s in just 23 games this season (and counting). The park’s design incorporates 6 historic buildings from the city’s surrounding Warehouse District into the right field concourse. And, “The Roost” has arguably the best seats in minors, which overhang the playing field. Oh, and of course everyone loves Muddy The Mud Hen.
Eat: Shorty’s True American Roadhouse
Shorty’s is a roadtrippers’ tradition and the kind of place where you can start your own. Go whole-hog on an 18-hour low and slow cooked rack of ribs.
Next park 250 miles via I-90 Wa
Stop No. 7: Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL — Home Of The Chicago Cubs
Close out the trip like a journeyman called up to the big leagues and enter the ivy-covered walls of The Friendly Confines. The Cubs are off to the hottest start in the majors, and if you and the kid take in a game during the season they break their century-old championship drought, that’s going to rank as a memory-maker. Then again, after 7 days of baseball, barbecue, and beer (mostly just for you), the memory making should already be well-accounted for.