Earlier this spring, I received a copy of the second edition of Chris Epting's "Roadside Baseball: The Locations of America's Baseball Landmarks."
As the title suggests, the paperback is a coast-to-coast travelogue designed to point out the main baseball attractions in all 50 states. All of the usual suspects — Cooperstown, the Louisville Slugger factory, the Field of Dreams — are contained within and there's a writeup on each point of interest.
The best part of the book, though, are the unusual and obscure sites that you might not have thought about visiting, even if you were aware of their existence. Here are a few of my favorites:
Lefty Grove's 1931 MVP Trophy
George's Creek Public Library, Lonaconing, Md.
The Hall of Fame pitcher apparently had little use for this bauble after going 31-4 for the Philadelphia A's, so he donated it to his hometown high school. It now resides in the town's library, where citizens can view it during trips to pick up the latest John Grisham or R.L. Stine thriller.
The "Black Sox" Hotel
Hotel Buckminster, Boston
In town to see the Red Sox play at Fenway? Then try and book a room where baseball's other hosers once conspired to throw the World Series. This is supposedly where first baseman Chick Gandil told bookie "Sport" Sullivan that the White Sox could "put it in the bag" against Cincinnati.
Babe's Longest Homer?
Pepin-Rood Stadium, Tampa
The University of Tampa soccer teams now play nearby, but there's a historical marker saying that the Bambino once hit a 587-foot home run off George Smith of the Giants during spring training at the former Plant Field in 1919.
Ty Cobb Museum
461 Cook Street, Royston, Ga.
A $100,000 donation by the Georgia Peach allowed his hometown to build a hospital in 1950 and the Ty Cobb Healthcare System still exists to this day. A museum was built in 1998 and features exhibits that are so personal that even Cobb's shotgun is on display.
"Catfish" Hunter Statue
Perquimans County Courthouse, Hertford, North Carolina
Everyone comes from somewhere and the people of this rural town (pop. 2,185) would like you to remember that the late Hunter hailed from Hertford. Catfish also loved the town and he's buried in nearby Cedarwood Cemetery.
National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, Chicago
A giant monument to a New York Yankee in Chicago seems just plain weird. But it also speaks to Joe DiMaggio's stature in the Italian-American community that the only nine-foot statue of him rests not in New York nor his hometown of San Francisco, but in the heart of the Windy City's Little Italy.
Nolan Ryan Center
Alvin Community College, Alvin, Texas
Ever wanted to know what it feels like to catch a Nolan Ryan fastball? This $1.2 million museum in Ryan's hometown has an interactive display that will let you find out.
Abe Lincoln Played Baseball Here
Postville Park, Postville, Ill.
Honest Abe used to try cases at nearby Logan County Courthouse during the 1840s and a marker in the town's park says he often used to unwind by pitching horseshoes, throwing a hammer and playing "town ball" with area children.
The farm where Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown mangled two of his fingers
I'm not sure why you would go see this and God help you if you actually travel out to this historical marker where Brown lost parts of two of his right fingers while running a feed-cutter machine at age 5. But I must say that the inclusion of this point of curiosity is a testament to the breadth of this book.
Ernie Harwell Sports Collection
Detroit Public Library, Detroit
The broadcasting legend may be gone, but he left behind a treasure trove of information in his adopted home city. Harwell started this collection of books, scorecards and photos in 1966 and added to it throughout the years. If you can't make it to Michigan, you can view some of the collection online.
Joe DiMaggio's Boat
Martinez Marina Park, Martinez, Calif.
The Yankee Clipper received a boat — "The Joltin' Joe" — from the Yankees on the final day of the 1949 season and you used to be able to see it in the California town where he was born. It is, however, currently being restored, so you'll just have to settle for seeing DiMaggio's birth certificate at the Martinez museum.
Mickey Mantle video store shrine
Hollywood at Home, Grove, Okla.
If you were to ask me where the likeliest place in Oklahoma to host a museum for The Mick, I probably would have said "gas station" or "highway rest area." But video store might have been close behind and this collection amassed by his friends looks like it's worth the stop.
Jackie Robinson's childhood home
121 Pepper Street, Pasadena, Calif.
Visit this site and you'll only see a vacant lot with a marker saying that Robinson lived there from 1922 to 1946. But there are plenty of other Robinson-related sites around Pasadena, including a ballpark and a memorial at City Hall that features Robinson and his brother.
The Babe Ruth Banyan Tree
Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, Hilo, Hawaii
If you hit every place in the continental U.S. that's listed in the book, you can still set off for Hawaii to see the tree that Babe Ruth planted during a stopover on an All-Star trip to Japan. It resides in a famous grove that features banyan trees planted by celebrities like FDR, Amelia Earhart and Cecil B. DeMille.
A big BLS H/N to "Roadside Baseball" for the info. You can buy the book on Amazon.com.