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Special Events: a baseball tour of the mid-atlantic and midwest

by Elaine Labalme

There’s no denying the boys of summer make a kid out of all of us. A multi-city baseball tour is a great way for families to experience a variety of destinations so we take a six-game, six-day, six-city baseball tour of the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest and hone in on the essence of each venue.

Washington Nationals, Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

The Nats’ ballpark is new, large and full with fans rockin’ the red, the team’s primary color. Large doll-like mascots playing Washington, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt greet fans as they arrive and kids will make a beeline for a jungle gym/play space to the left of the entrance. Food stalls with clever names like Senators Sausages and Steak of the Nation appeal but are one-upped by Ben’s Chili Bowl, a personal favorite of President Obama. Order Ben’s “Half Smoke All The Way” and you’ll get a plump sausage topped with chili, cheese and onions that goes down easy. The Nats are thankful to have pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg as their ace and the youngster has managed to unite an oft-partisan city around one thing: baseball. http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=was

Where to stay: The Fairmont Washington, D.C. Georgetown is an oasis of calm is a city that prides itself on being all business. Our Magnolia Suite is a two-room fantasy where the parents’ king is topped by a Murphy bed in the parlor suite that calls to kids. An ample indoor pool is packed with aquatic workout gear for adults and pool toys for kids while an outdoor courtyard is a Zen space for all. The hotel’s Smithsonian package includes accommodations, a food and beverage credit and tickets to the Smithsonian IMAX Theatre/Einstein Planetarium at the Natural History Museum. http://www.fairmont.com/washington/

One great place to eat: News flash! Ted’s Bulletin is a casually chic eatery on the district’s southeast side that screens old movies (“Casablanca” on our visit) while you dig into specialty burgers and thick-as-a-brick shakes. Sides like creamed corn and baked beans put everyone in a good mood. http://tedsbulletin.com/

What else? The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, across the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Memorial, sees one great man acknowledging the other. In Dr. King’s case, a stone likeness appears to emerge from a mountain to gaze into the middle distance. Inscribed on one side is a quote from Dr. King’s famous 1963 speech: “Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” http://www.mlkmemorial.org/

Baltimore Orioles, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, Md.

Celebrating its 20-year anniversary in 2012, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was one of the early retro-style ballparks. Consider club-level seating, since the clean, cool corridors are lined with hardware including two World Series trophies, countless pitching and hitting awards and jerseys of Oriole legends Brooks and Frank Robinson. Food options on this level also sparkle and include buffets, carving stations and numerous bars. At Boog’s Barbeque, presided over by Oriole great Boog Powell, top your platter of beef with homemade jalapeño barbeque sauce. The stadium’s sight lines are terrific and the O’s logo, a happy bird with a big orange beak, is one of the best in baseball (yep, you should buy a tee). http://baltimore.orioles.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=bal

Where to stay: The Baltimore Hilton is a block away from the stadium and, fittingly, its lobby is done in shades of Oriole orange and Inner Harbor blue. Choose an upper-floor room with a ballpark view and kids will swoon (ours asked if we could watch the game from the room!). The hotel is also within walking distance of the Inner Harbor and the historic Federal Hill and Mt. Vernon neighborhoods. http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/maryland/hilton-baltimore-BWICCHH/index.htm

One great place to eat: Nick’s Seafood at the Cross Street Market on Federal Hill is the place for Maryland blue crabs dusted with Old Bay. Attentive counter staff happily offer a quick tutorial and you’ll spend an hour or two cracking shells and snapping claws in search of meaty goodness. http://www.nicksoysterbar.com

What else? The Baltimore Water Taxi plies the harbor along numerous routes from morning till night. Hop on board and head to Fell’s Point, a cobblestoned district filled with shops and cafes including Maggie Moo’s, an ice cream shop with eye-popping toppings including Kit Kats and Reese’s Pieces. http://baltimorewatertaxi.com/

Philadelphia Phillies, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, Pa

Bigger is better at the Phillies’ expansive stadium and our seats above home plate on the fourth, and uppermost, level afford an unparalleled view. A massive neon Liberty Bell high atop the outfield “rings” for every home run and the team, a substantial purchaser of green energy, is energy efficient from top to bottom. Ashburn Alley on the concourse level is the place for food and the roast pork sandwich from Tony Luke’s, topped with provolone and broccoli rabe, is the big winner, with the chocolate ice cream cone from Turkey Hill a close second. Phillies tees are big sellers, seeing as how the team’s 2008 World Series victory is still fresh in fans’ minds. http://philadelphia.phillies.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=phi

Where to stay: The Omni Hotel at Independence Park reeks of the old-world gentility you’ll find right outside its door. Independence Hall is two blocks away and a passel of historic landmarks are within walking distance. A softly-lit pool, whirlpool and sauna are a welcome break and kids will be tucked in with milk and cookies delivered to your door. http://www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/PhiladelphiaIndependencePark.aspx/

One great place to eat: SquareBurger anchors Franklin Square, a re-imagined greensward cum playground in Old City. While the burgers and fries are worthy, it’s the shakes that rate, including a Shake of the Month ranging from Creamsicle to Peaches and Cream. The local’s favorite, a Cake Shake, is made with Tastykake butterscotch krimpets, vanilla ice cream and a swirl of caramel and is sweet as can be. http://www.historicphiladelphia.org/franklin-square/what-to-see/

What else? Think small and visit the Betsy Ross House, where the upholsterer-businesswoman was ahead of her time and crafted early American flags at the behest of George Washington and members of the Continental Congress. http://historicphiladelphia.org/betsy-ross-house/what-to-see/ Get an even better feel for the era at Liberty 360 in the Historic Philadelphia Center. This movie-in-the-round has Benjamin Franklin reminiscing about what liberty means to him and weaves an engaging tale around the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Star Spangled Banner and more totems of our freedom. http://www.historicphiladelphia.org/lights-of-liberty/what-to-see/

Pittsburgh Pirates, PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Pa.

PNC Park is considered by many to be the most appealing ballpark in America and it’s easy to see why: the cozy confines afford excellent sight lines and the view of the Pittsburgh skyline across the river is all glass spires and neat angles. After 19 losing seasons, the Buccos are waking from their slumber and fans are jumping out of their seats to flash the “Zoltan Z,” a meme grabbed from a silly Ashton Kutcher movie. Yet another great logo, a snarling buccaneer, calls for a visit to the Majestic Clubhouse store, a storehouse of skinny black tees (here’s looking at you, mom). Grab a Primanti sandwich, a pile of cheese and meat stuffed with fries and slaw, and dig in while watching the Dancing Lemonade Man, a vendor known to break out his best moves for the fans behind home plate. http://pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=pit

Where to stay: The Fairmont Pittsburgh, a sleek blue cube whose grand staircase defies gravity, is steps from the Clemente Bridge and an easy walk to PNC Park. Rooms done in tan and green call in the natural world and speak to the hotel’s eco experience and LEED Gold certification. The Grand Slam Baseball Package includes a room with ballpark view, game tickets, in-room Wii baseball, kids’ baseball gloves for the game and house-made, light-as-air Cracker Jacks. http://www.fairmont.com/pittsburgh/

One great place to eat: At Winghart’s on Market Square, burgers take center stage and tattooed wait staff happily bring your feast to an outdoor table. The Market Square Burger is plump with bacon, mushrooms and Gruyere and napped in a honey-mustard dressing; hand-cut fries are sublime. http://winghartburgers.com/

What else? The Heinz History Center is a font of information on western Pennsylvania and mounts rotating exhibits including a recent showcase on Negro League baseball and “Gridiron Glory,” a collection of more than 200 artifacts, rare photos and one-of-a-kind documents from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/

Detroit Tigers, Comerica Park, Detroit, Mich.

Stone tigers snarl at the entrance to Comerica Park while a gaggle of stone-faced cats stand ready to pounce from the stadium’s facade. Inside, a carousel whose every seat is a tiger whirls in the breeze, a Ferris wheel sports seats like giant baseballs and a throwing cage asks, “How Fast Is Your Fastball?” These amusements will dazzle children while a merchandise store reminds you that the Tigers’ “D” is “one of the most celebrated and recognized logos in all of professional sports.” Grab a jersey and repair to your seat, but not before picking up a Coney dog, a Detroit classic topped with soupy chili and sweet onions. Expect the Opera Man to belt out an aria or two for those sitting by home plate and pack out your trash, since the stadium has recycled over 600 tons of garbage since 2008. If you’re wondering why there’s no number next to Ty Cobb’s name in the outfield, it’s because the “Georgia Peach” played before numbers came into usage. http://detroit.tigers.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=de

Where to stay: The Westin Book Cadillac is a storied hotel restored to its original grandeur thanks to a $200 million renovation. Rich leather furnishings are stylish yet functional and an upper level corner king affords city views. Add in lobby-level Roast, celebrity chef Michael Symon’s Detroit outpost, and is clear The D is making a comeback. http://www.bookcadillacwestin.com/

One great place to eat: At Good Girls Go To Paris, chef-owner Torya Blanchard mans a spinning disc that serves as platform for her delectable crepes. Every savory and sweet creation bears a good girl name and my “Annette” is a melange of Nova lox, brie, tomatoes, spinach and Herbes de Provence. Dessert crepes including a banana-Nutella confection have global appeal. http://www.goodgirlsgotopariscrepes.com/

What else? The Henry Ford is the place for fans of cars and America thanks to a stellar permanent collection but the museum also hosts world-class traveling exhibits such as “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.” The ship, which sank in 1912 and claimed over 1,500 lives, was a wonder of modern engineering sent asunder by an over-confident crew. Pitch-perfect shipboard re-creations are one-upped by heart-wrenching artifacts salvaged during recovery efforts. http://www.hfmgv.org/

Cleveland Indians, Progressive Field, Cleveland, Ohio

A band is part of the pre-game warm-up outside Progressive Field and sets the stage for a fan-friendly experience. Staff members welcome you to the ballpark and direct you to your seat while servers at food stalls offer up tastes for the uninitiated. And then there’s the nod to female fans at “Tribe Pride For Her,” where I find the perfect logo tee. You’ll be grinning by the first inning and should reserve the middle innings for a visit to the Food Network Hot Dog Bar, where you can create your own ballpark dog with toppings including baked beans, cole slaw, pulled pork, corn chips and bacon. It’s easy being green in a ballpark with no drink lids and straws, and every Friday night boasts post-game fireworks. http://cleveland.indians.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=cle

Where to stay: The Residence Inn is two blocks from the ballpark, even closer to the East Fourth Street bar/restaurant corridor and an easy 20-minute walk to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Couple this ease with roomy two-bedroom suites with full kitchen and spacious living room with flat-screen TV and you may never want to leave. http://www.residenceinncleveland.com/

One great place to eat: Leave it to one-time rocker Matt Fish to open a casual eatery called Melt on the west side of Cleveland serving gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and more than a hundred beers. Clearly, he’s onto something, since location number four is about to open in the east end. Pick a place and dig into singular creations like the Lake Erie Monster, crunchy fried haddock topped with cheddar and a jalapeno tartar sauce. http://meltbarandgrilled.com/

What else? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame boasts an unrivaled permanent collection and special exhibits honoring music greats including Bruce Springsteen, the Doors and the Grateful Dead. http://rockhall.com/ If your kids are too young to appreciate the music of another (better?) era, have mom or dad take the tykes to the Great Lakes Science Center across a great lawn. http://www.glsc.org/

Elaine Labalme is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and ten-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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