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special events: a baseball tour in the heart of the midwest

by Elaine Labalme

While it's easy for travelers across the U.S. to exhibit a coastal bias thanks to cities such as New York and L.A., Boston and San Francisco, it's the Midwest that counts some of our most memorable destinations. We use a week-long baseball tour of Midwest ballparks as our ticket to iconic landmarks, world-class museums and amazing food.

Milwaukee Brewers, Miller Park, Milwaukee, Wisc.

The Brewers' new stadium is a massive structure lorded over by a retractable roof. High among the rafters sits Bernie Brewer, the team mascot who flies down a curvy slide at every home run (and, sometimes, just for fun). More fam-friendly amusements come in the way of the Famous Racing Sausage Kids on the concourse level, wherein kids get to “bicycle” their favorite sausage to the finish line. Hey, you're in Milwaukee! Settle in to watch the game after a visit to the Backstop Diner near Section 125 for a plate of moist beef brisket. Locals belt out “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the middle of the seventh inning and follow it up with the “Beer Barrel Polka.”

Where to stay: The Milwaukee Marriott Downtown is a modern counterpoint to the city center's Midwestern traditionalism. A sleek lobby is bookended by a library and restaurant and, in your room, soft white cotton duvets plump up queen beds enhanced by pinpoint lighting and surrounded by plentiful outlets for smartphones and laptops. The flat-screen TV is neat but if you request a room with a view, you could be gazing upon Lake Michigan.

One great place to eat: At Mader's Restaurant on Old World Third Street in the city's compact German district, the interior is old-world bier hall, carvings of soldiers on horseback juxtaposed against blue porcelain plates and massive chandeliers. The Reuben soup is creamy goodness and a Bavarian platter features bratwurst, knockwurst and a baseball-sized potato dumpling.

What else? Fashion a self-guided tour of city-center gems by starting at the Milwaukee Public Market at the edge of the Historic Third Ward, where vendors including C. Adams Bakery and The Green Kitchen are purveyors of fresh, organic food. The Third Ward has been dubbed the Brooklyn of the Midwest thanks to its many shops, restaurants and brew pubs and kids will enjoy roaming around Catalano Square at the foot of Market Street, where the public art is fanciful amusement. Continue along a pristine lake front to the Milwaukee Art Museum, where the exterior is the main attraction: architect Santiago Calatrava has fashioned massive “wings” over the structure that flap at noon. Catch the avian show then make your way to a restored Riverwalk, where outdoor cafes are teeming with patrons sipping the beers that made Milwaukee great.

Minnesota Twins, Target Field, Minneapolis, Minn.

A large (bronze) gold glove big enough to seat a small family greets fans at Target Field, a downtown stadium that boasts four decks yet still feels cozy. That feel-good vibe extends to the outfield, where pals Minnie and Paul, representing twin cities Minneapolis and St. Paul, shake hands after every home run. The sausage wars are in high gear thanks to concessioner Kramarczuk's and its (friendly) rival, Halsey's Sausage Haus. Wash your brat down with a cool drink from the Margarita Man, who plies the stands with a portable margarita dispenser on his back. If teens get bored, send them over to the Best Buy Game Zone for geek-tastic fun.

Where to stay: The Grand Hotel is part of the Kimpton Hotels group, which means you can partake of a nightly wine hour (non-alcoholic beverages for kids) in a spacious lobby outfitted with seating arrangements including a long white leather couch, a copper-colored love seat comfortably seating three, and purple velour wing chairs paired with red velvet ottomans. The sensory feast continues in a luxury suite with a master bedroom featuring soft lighting and animal print accents while the suite's living-dining space has a table for four and conversation area with sofabed. A pool and workout area sparkle. Yep, it's grand, indeed.

One great place to eat: No need to worry that The Six15 Room, tucked at the far end of The Grand Hotel's lobby, is an adults-only space. Low tables, soft couches and pops of color may scream cocktail lounge but it's all ages here for good eats including fish tacos plumped with fresh local walleye and artisanal small pizzas topped with farm-to-table ingredients.

What else? The Walker Art Center, ranked among the country's top five modern art museums, has made another splash with Artist-Designed Mini Golf. Located across the street from the museum and adjacent to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, everyone will have a blast over fifteen madcap holes designed by local artists. Grab a hot dog from the Dog House perched at the edge of the Sculpture Garden and enjoy it in the shadow of Claes Oldenburg's “Spoonbridge and Cherry.”

Kansas City Royals, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

Known to locals as “The K,” Kauffman Stadium has undergone a mega-million-dollar renovation and is now one of the crown jewels of Major League Baseball. As befits a Royal audience, the stories-high scoreboard is in the shape of a crown with tippy-top lights that blink after every home run. Alongside are graceful fountains in a nod to this “City of Fountains” and parked behind the scoreboard is a terrific kid zone complete with mini-golf, water play and carousel. Steps away is Sheridan's Custard, where all ages pause for refreshment. The team store is awash in royal blue as are the fans, who are among the friendliest in the majors.

Where to stay: The Westin Crown Center is in the center of town and kids will frolic in a Garden Suite, its master bedroom attached to a parlor replete with Murphy bed and living-dining space. Window walls allow you to gaze upon an expansive skyline and while the silver-blue color scheme is a throwback to another era, no one will complain thanks to an indoor-outdoor pool and multi-level shopping mall at the heart of Hallmark's Crown Center. A modern lobby boasts updates including plentiful outlets and free (and fast) wifi.

One great place to eat: At the corner of 18th and Summit in the rapidly-gentrifying Crossroads neighborhood sits Los Alamos, a tiny Mexican market and restaurant serving authentic breakfast and lunch fare. Huevos rancheros accompanied by runny refried beans are the real deal.

What else? The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is prized for its collection of Asian art, though the museum regularly hosts traveling exhibits of note. Play let's-make-a-deal with younger kids and have one parent run around with them on a great lawn that's home to whimsical, sculptural Shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen while the other parent enjoys the riches indoors. Older kids will appreciate all of it.

St. Louis Cardinals, Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Mo.

Is this baseball, Toto? Busch Stadium feels more like a revival thanks to the religious fervor shown by Cardinals fans. The crowd pays attention, knows its baseball and is LOUD. No matter, they're still gracious to visitors, though newbies would be well advised to root root root for the home team. Concourse areas could easily pass for racetrack straightaways thanks to their over size, and the largesse extends to Four Hands Nachos, a platter full of chicken or pork atop house-made chips larded with sour cream, scallions and jalapenos. Those with seats at the Redbird Club level will be rewarded with air-conditioned comfort and multiple large screens on which to watch the game, though the outdoor experience is unparalleled.

Where to stay: The Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch is steps away from the Gateway Arch, which is, arguably, the real reason you've come to St. Louis. Request a room with a view to the Arch and you'll surely sleep with the curtains thrown open. Modern comforts and clean lines are the order of the day and the hotel is located within walking distance of Busch Stadium and fine blues clubs.

One great place to eat: Bogart's Smokehouse in the Soulard neighborhood could soon rank as one of the best barbecue joints in America. A long line, which often extends out the door and down the street, moves quickly and you'll be rewarded with tender, juicy pulled pork and smoky ribs that are almost otherworldly. The deviled egg potato salad is another can't-miss.

What else? The Gateway Arch is a monument to Thomas Jefferson and all people involved in western expansion. At 630 feet, it's also the tallest man-made monument in America. Designed by architect Eero Saarinen, this catenary curve is a beautiful sight, with the play of light different by day and by night. You can also take an interior tram to the top for a miles-wide view (purchasing tram tickets in advance is advisable). Expect the majesty of the Arch to linger long after you've left.

Cincinnati Reds, Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, Ohio

Perched on the shores of the Ohio River, Great American Ball Park pays tribute to this city's river heritage with two large riverboat “smoke stacks” out in center field that pop off after every homer. It's pitcher Homer Bailey, he of the two no-hitters, who mows down opposing batters on our visit. Everyone wears red and the team's mascot, Mr. Red Legs, can be seen at the team store where almost everything for sale is, yes, red. On your way out, stop at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, which hosts rotating exhibits amid an expansive collection of team memorabilia. Continue behind the stadium to Smale Park so kids can get their ya-ya's out, then cross the ped-friendly Purple People Bridge over to Newport, Kentucky on the other side of the river.

Where to stay: The 21c Museum Hotel is the local outpost of a regional boutique hotelier and, true to its name, two floors of the hotel are devoted to rotating art exhibits that are thought-provoking as well as eye-catching. Rooms are modern and white-on-white, and the bathroom's subway tiles prompt giggles with their cheeky accents. Water bottles and wifi connection are free in your room and how's that for customer service?

One great place to eat: At Taste of Belgium in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, exposed brick and large canvases give way to the beauty on your plate, namely Liege waffles made with dough instead of batter and drizzled with caramelized sugar. The chicken and waffles dazzles, as does a fruit and cream waffle that passes as food art. Crepes are also served, and the banana-nutella confection is perfection.

What else? The Newport Aquarium anchors a large shopping-dining-entertainment complex located on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River and within eyesight of downtown Cincinnati. The shark tank is huge and plenty safe behind thick glass, and your kids will be as tickled by it as they are by a touch pool where they can reach out to assorted sea creatures. The aquarium's shark ray breeding program is a model for facilities of its kind and there are plentiful members of the species to ogle.

Cleveland Indians, Progressive Field, Cleveland, Ohio

The heroes of this storied franchise are recognized in Heritage Park,  a circle of angels in the outfield including Satchel Paige, Bob Feller, Early Wynn and Cy Young. Close by is Market Pavilion, whose bi-level outdoor seating is the place to enjoy everything from ball park hot dogs to the Food Network's fanciful weiners. The real fun, however, is between the lines in a stadium whose sight lines are excellent and where every seat feels like a good one. The landmark Terminal Tower hovers in the distance, its upper levels putting on a light show for fans in the stands and throughout the city center.

Where to stay: The Hyatt Regency at the Arcade is a full-service hotel tucked into a shopping arcade of a bygone era. Request an arcade-level room for spacious accommodations in coppery tones and a better view of the lacy railings and analog timepiece that make this edifice one of the best in Cleveland.

One great place to eat: Nano Brew takes the concept of the micro-brewery and shrinks it even further, to one-barrel beer. Adults can savor one of over two-dozen beers on tap while everyone shares a perky bowl of chili and a plate of pork schnitzel. Twenty-somethings playing life-sized Jenga in a rear corridor leading to an outdoor deck would surely welcome pint-sized help!

What else? The Cedar Point amusement park is located an hour west of Cleveland and belongs on everyone's list of summer activities. Arguably the roller coaster capital of the U.S., it's home to the GateKeeper, a winged roller coaster, and the Top Thrill Dragster, which goes from zero to 120 m.p.h. in four seconds. Thankfully, the Blue Streak, a wooden roller coaster built in 1964 and still fun, remains. There's no shortage of coasters, water rides, games and live entertainment to keep kids busy, and no one leaves without a hot dog from Pink's and a milkshake from Toft's Ice Cream Parlor.

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 eleven-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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