Endless Summer

If you prefer small ball—meaning affordable tickets and young players with a hunger for the game—SI has plotted a 71-day, 15,997-mile journey through the minor leagues. It'll be worth the price of gas (promise)
June 08, 2008

JUNE

21
Fairbanks
Midnight Sun Game, 10:30 p.m.,Growden Memorial Park

29
Spokane
Spokane Indians vs. Tri-City Dust Devils, 6:30 p.m., Avista Stadium

Kick off the Lower 48 leg of the odyssey in a town that has had minor league baseball since 1890 and a uniquely progressive approach to the nickname Indians. Don't be fooled—this Rangers Class A affiliate is a model for sports teams' relations with Native Americans. Two years ago the Washington-based Spokane tribe helped redesign the club's logo, featuring an eagle feather, and added a second logo in Salish, the tribal language.

JULY

1
Billings, Mont.
Billings Mustangs vs. Great Falls Voyagers, 7:05 p.m., Dehler Park

It won't take much to entice you to root for the Mustangs, who will be playing not only their home opener but also their first game in spanking new Dehler Park. The Reds' Rookie League affiliate features a promotion called the Beer Batter: Every time a designated Billings player gets a hit, fans get the opportunity to buy four beers for all of $10. You never heard such applause.

3
Beloit, Wis.
Beloit Snappers vs. Clinton LumberKings, 7 p.m., Pohlman Field

Baseball is a game of sharp contrasts: bunt and homer, fastball and changeup, Chris Cates and Loek Van Mil (above). Only Pohlman Field, home of the Twins' low Class A team, features all of them on a regular basis. Cates is the Snappers' 5'2 1/2" shortstop, from outside of Tampa; Van Mil is Beloit's 7'1" righthanded starter, from Oss, the Netherlands. If there's a greater height differential in baseball, we'd like to see it.

4
Davenport, Iowa
Quad Cities River Bandits vs. Cedar Rapids Kernels, 6 p.m., Modern Woodmen Park

What could be more American than watching a baseball game on Independence Day? How about a postgame fireworks show ... on the banks of the Mississippi... while sitting in a Jacuzzi? All of the explosions at Woodmen Park, home of a Cardinals' Class A affiliate, are visible from the outfield's new Hot Tub Party Deck. God bless America, indeed.

5
Lowell, Mass.
Lowell Spinners vs. Jamestown Jammers, 5:05 p.m., LeLacheur Park

After the Quad Cities fireworks you'll need to pull an all-night drive to help fill LeLacheur Park for consecutive sellout number 318. It'll be worth it, however. Besides attracting your standard-issue Red Sox fanaticism, the Class A Spinners are known for highbrow bobbleheads (author Jack Kerouac, artist James Whistler) and lowbrow promos (Birth Night, on which the first pregnant ticket holder to give birth wins a year's supply of diapers).

6
Portland, Maine
Portland Sea Dogs vs. Reading Phillies, 1:00 p.m., Hadlock Field

If you can't get to Fenway Park, then Hadlock Field is the next best thing. The home of the Sea Dogs, the Red Sox' Double A team, features the Maine Monster, a 37-foot-high wall in leftfield. And beyond it there are even facsimiles of the Coke bottle and Citgo sign that loom over Fenway.

9
Aberdeen, Md.
Aberdeen IronBirds vs. Auburn Doubledays, 7:05 p.m., Ripken Stadium

How popular is team owner and native son Cal Ripken Jr.? The IronBirds have sold out every date—about 6,000 fans per game—since he moved the Orioles Class A affiliate from Utica, N.Y., to his new ballpark complex in 2002.

11
Cape Cod, Mass.
Cape Cod League games and sites to be announced

Cape Cod is the most prestigious summer league for college players in the U.S., and in the 2007 amateur draft alone, 222 former players were selected—including the ones taken at Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7. By the way, admission to all the games is free.

13
Durham, N.C.
Durham Bulls vs. Rochester Red Wings, 5:05 p.m., Durham Bulls Athletic Park

America's most famous minor league team—thanks to the 1988 hit Bull Durham—is housed in D-BAP. There's no Crash Davis or Nuke LaLoosh, but one feature of the Rays' Triple A affiliate is true to the flick: the famous wooden bull located atop the 32-foot-high leftfield wall.

14
Charleston, S.C.
Charleston RiverDogs vs. West Virginia Power, 7:05 p.m., Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park

A team under the creative control of Mike Veeck guarantees fun. The Yankees' Class A club has had Nobody Night (no fans were allowed into the park until the game became official) and Silent Night (just what it sounds like).

16
Louisville
Triple A All-Star Game, 7:05 p.m.,Louisville Slugger Field

Over the last 20 years more than 60 players from this game have gone on to play in the major league All-Star Game.

20
Daytona Beach
Daytona Cubs vs. Sarasota Reds, 5:35 p.m., Jackie Robinson Ballpark

When Jackie Robinson visited Daytona during spring training in 1946, as a member of the Dodgers' Triple A team, the city allowed him to play—unlike nearby Jacksonville and Sanford. That makes the stadium, now the home of the Cubs' Class A affiliate, the first ballpark in baseball's modern era to host a racially integrated game.

22
Birmingham
Birmingham Barons vs. Mississippi Braves, 7:05 p.m., Regions Park

Michael Jordan played for the Barons, the White Sox' Double A team, after he retired from the NBA—the first time—in 1994. In his only season he hit .202 but led the team with 30 steals.

25
Chattanooga
Chattanooga Lookouts vs. West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, 7:15 p.m., AT&T Field

Catch up with the godfather of sports mascots at the home of the Reds' Double A team: the San Diego Chicken, now 34 years old, as he makes his annual circuit through minor league parks.

26
Madison, Wis.
Madison Mallards vs. Waterloo Bucks, 6:05 p.m., Warner Park

The Duck Blind, a cordoned-off fan area, may be unrivaled in the minors, with its open beer bar plus all-you-can-eat grill food for $35. Let's just say the atmosphere in this summer collegiate league is festive.

AUGUST

2
Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City T-Bones vs. Gary Southshore Railcats, 7:05 p.m., CommunityAmerica Ballpark

Not only is there an Irish Dexter steer on the premises and mouth-watering angus, but there's also a giant sign of a bull beyond leftfield with a hole in its right eye. If a player hits a home run through the bull's eye (get it?), a designated fan wins $1 million.

8
Everett, Wash.
Everett Aquasox vs. Tri-City Dust Devils, 7:05 p.m., Everett Memorial Stadium

Nearly six weeks after your stop in Spokane you're back in Washington, which means it's undoubtedly time for a haircut. Conveniently, the Aquasox, the Mariners' short-season Class A team, is holding Buhner Buzz Night. The (still) clean-headed Jay Buhner will be on hand before the game to give you an authentic Buhner Buzz Cut.

10
Stockton, Calif.
Stockton Ports vs. Visalia Oaks, 6:05 p.m., Banner Island Ballpark

A cradle of baseball in the 1860s, the home of this A's Class A affiliate is reputed to have been the inspiration for Ernest Thayer's Casey at the Bat. Modern-day Banner Island Ballpark seems a far cry from Mudville, though. Hard by a lake, the park is set against the backdrop of Jet Skis whipping along the water. Added bonus: On this night pro wrestling icon Sgt. Slaughter will be signing autographs at the yard.

17
Lake Elsinore, Calif.
Lake Elsinore Storm vs. Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, 6:08 p.m., Lake Elsinore Diamond

The Padres' Class A affiliate has the top-selling logo (two eyes staring out of a baseball cap) and perhaps the most idyllic surroundings in the minors. The Diamond is a true gem located on the eastern edge of the lake in the midst of the Elsinore Mountains.

20
Albuquerque
Albuquerque Isotopes vs. New Orleans Zephyrs, 6:35 p.m., Isotopes Park

You have to like any club that's named after a team from The Simpsons, and there's plenty more to admire about the Marlins' Triple A site: like the view of the beautiful, 12,000-foot Sandia Peak beyond the outfield, as well as the altitude of the ballpark itself. At more than 5,300 feet above sea level-higher than the Rockies' Coors Field—the ball flies.

26
Round Rock, Texas
Round Rock Express vs. Oklahoma Redhawks, 7:05 p.m., the Dell Diamond

Deemed the nation's best minor league park by the Minor League News in 2006, the Dell Diamond's ownership group includes a pair of fireballin' locals named Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens and boasts such accoutrements as a swimming pool and a rock climbing wall. The Astros' Triple A team will pay tribute to Ryan at four home games this season, giving away collector statues of the Hall of Fame righty.

SEPTEMBER

1
New Orleans
New Orleans Zephyrs vs. Nashville Sounds, 2 p.m., Zephyr Field

At long last, journey's end. There isn't a better place to spend it either, as the French Quarter offers you prime relaxation and a dose of reality. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, wind-damaged Zephyr Field served as a staging area for FEMA and the National Guard. On April 6, 2006, the ballpark reopened for baseball, making the Zephyrs, the Mets' Triple A club, the first pro sports team to permanently return to New Orleans.

ILLUSTRATIONILLUSTRATION BY JEFF WONG PHOTOV.J. LOVERO (BUHNER) PHOTOERIK VANDYCK (CATES AND VAN MIL) PHOTOPORTLAND SEA DOGS (MINI FENWAY)
PHOTOROGERS PHOTO ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES (ROBINSON) PHOTOJIM GUND/ICON SMI (JORDAN) PHOTOL. ROGER TURNER/WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL/AP (CHICKEN) PHOTOTORY GERMANN/THE LOWELL SUN/AP (BOBBLEHEAD) PHOTOORION PICTURES/PHOTOFEST (BULL DURHAM) PHOTOTAYLOR JOHNSON/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN/AP (DELL DIAMOND) MAP

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)