10 Reasons to Take an All-Star Road Trip


PHOENIX (TheStreet) -- Major League Baseball's All-Star Game is bringing the sport's best players to Phoenix next week and giving travelers a great reason to join them.

Maybe you're angry Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen was left out despite a strong first half of the season or can't fathom how the New York Yankees' Derek Jeter is starting at shortstop despite just coming off of the injured list. It doesn't matter. As much as Major League Baseball loves to crow about how the All-Star Game "counts" because it determines home-field advantage in the World Series, players are still in for only a few innings at a time, rosters can run out of players because of the league's insistence on carrying three relief pitchers per team and the best pitchers in the game are often left off of the roster because of their turn in the rotation.

This gives the folks at home little reason to watch, as was the case last year when the game's 7.5 Nielsen rating on Fox (Stock Quote: NWS) was the lowest in the game's history, compared with a 9.9 rating for LeBron James' The Decision special on ESPN (Stock Quote: DIS) a week earlier, but it gives fans a whole lot of motivation to come check out the Home Run Derby, the minor-league Futures Game or the All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game during this year's All-Star festivities at Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) Field in Phoenix. At last glance, a strip of tickets for all the events was still available at StubHub (Stock Quote: EBAY) for nearly $100, with tickets for the game alone going for more.

Sponsors including Budweiser (Stock Quote: BUD), Sirius XM (Stock Quote: SIRI), Taco Bell (Stock Quote: YUM), State Farm and Gatorade (Stock Quote: KO) are already heavily invested in the event, but economically conscious baseball travelers may need a little more convincing before spending on a last-minute All-Star excursion. TheStreet came up with 10 reasons for fans to leave the house and hit the road for the love of the game. Some of the stops are well shy of even the cheap seats in Phoenix, but each is an all-star in its own right:

Chase Field

Even if you can't get your hands on a game ticket, Chase Field is worth claiming a ticket for one of the less popular All-Star weekend events, if only to get out of the heat for a bit.

Opened in 1998 and known as Bank One Ballpark or "The BoB" until 2005, Chase Field shows mercy to the devoted, desert-dwelling fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks by closing the stadium's retractable roof on particularly hot days and cranking the air conditioner until the temperature drops 30 degrees from that outside. There's a pool just beyond right-center field, but it's not exactly open swim for the 49,000-plus in attendance. It's usually part of a reserved suite that holds 35 people and can go for $3,500 per game.

Even fans who get shut out usually have an easy time finding their way into Chase Field, which holds daily 75-minute tours and houses Fridays Front Row Sports Grill with a great view of the action on game day and a nice look at the field when the Diamondbacks are away. If fans are lucky enough to get seats and own a smartphone or tablet, they can download an app that allows them to place advance orders for concessions and pick them up at an express counter when they're ready.

Heard Museum

Just about any indoor attraction in Phoenix is going to be worth visiting in July just for the A/C, but the Heard Museum would be just as worthwhile a stop in February.

Known formally as the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art, the Heard has a collection of 40,000 items from native cultures spread over 130,000 square feet. This includes 260 pieces of contemporary jewelry and former Arizona senator and Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater's collection of 437 Hopi Kachina dolls.

If you're looking for something to balance out the escapist fun of grown men hitting a ball over a fence really hard, the Heard's exhibit We Are! Arizona's First People displays the artwork of all 21 of Arizona's federally recognized tribal communities and Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience tells the story of children forced to attend boarding schools hundreds of miles from their homes through the writing and possessions of school alumni.

The museum isn't all about history, and its collection of contemporary art and artifacts continues to expand. That mission even carries into the gift shop, where the majority of the offerings are made by artists still working today.

Papago Park

The good news is that this sprawling park between Phoenix and Tempe features a Desert Botanical Garden, the Phoenix Zoo, biking and hiking trails, covered picnic shelters and ponds and lakes. The bad news is that All-Star travelers will likely have to see it close to sunrise or not at all.

Papago Park has 1,200 acres of red rock formations, buttes, giant cactus and the Rolling Hills Golf Course right near phoenix. Arizona's first governor, George W.P. Hunt, is buried there in a pyramid atop a hill, but the park's natural features -- such as the hollowed-out shelter of its Hole-in-the-Rock formation -- are among its best.

The park is also home to ponds lined with palm trees and stocked with trout, bass, sunfish, catfish and tilapia for fishing, but gets just shy of a boil during the summer months. No one knew this better than the residents of one of the park's previous incarnations, a World War II prisoner-of-war camp that contained more than 3,000 prisoners. When 25 of them, including a German U-boat commander, escaped the camp in 1944 by tunneling into the Arizona desert, they were so put off by the terrain and climate that they all turned themselves in within weeks.

Desert Botanical Garden

Speaking of the Desert Botanical Garden, if you can't take the heat and can pick only one thing to visit in Papago Park, this should be it.

Spread across 140 acres, the garden features more than 21,000 plants and 139 rare or endangered species. Some of it can be as dull as watching grass grow, since that's exactly what you're doing if you head into the desert grassland section, but the stands of agave plants surrounding towering shade houses are especially impressive during a desert sunset.

The giant cacti and wildflowers are best appreciated during the day, but the easily wilted can come at night for flashlight tours that give visitors a feel for the desert and an up-close look at the frogs, birds and bugs that come out only after the sun goes down.

Musical Instrument Museum

For music fans, the coolest parts of this museum have nothing to do with the air conditioning.

Open for little more than a year, the museum is the largest of its kind in the world and holds more than 13,000 musical instruments from around the globe. Its collection includes pianos played by John Lennon, guitars used by Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana and whatever equipment the Black Eyed Peas use to make that Boom Boom Pow, but also allows visitors to strum Burmese harps, tap xylophones and bang gongs.

Gimmickry aside, the museum's biggest gift is its collection of global music items that take visitors from country to country to see Chinese opera orchestra sections, American big-band setups, Mexican mariachi instruments and garb and folk music artifacts from India. If fans have time to spare, the museum also has a 300-seat theater and hosts a summer concert series.

Alice Cooperstown

There is, of course, a more direct link between sports and music in Phoenix. Former shock rocker Alice Cooper's sports bar is it.

Filled with big-screen televisions, Alice Cooper memorabilia and sports fans hungry for simple fare, this Alice's restaurant could be just about any other sports bar in America if not for a few simple touches. The ballpark-style courtyard outside is a great start and usually hosts live music and other events, but has put those on hold to deal with the All-Star crowds.

The menu also seems innocuous enough, though plate names such as the Nightmare Nachos, Nightmare Chili and No More Mister Nice Guy Chipotle Chicken Pasta may make it difficult to keep down your Nickelback Rock Star Quesadilla. The place's most famous resident, however, isn't Cooper himself, but a full pound, 22-inch hot dog placed in a baguette and topped with onions, chili, cheese sauce, bacon, sauerkraut, jalapeno pepper, tomatoes, onions, sweet relish and shredded cheddar. Originally named The Big Unit after 6-foot-10 former Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson, the $19 dog was dressed up with toppings after appearing on the Travel Channel's Man vs. Food but still earns whoever eats it a picture on the wall alongside Johnson's.

Phoenix's Mexican Food

A hot dog the size of a small child and pub fare named after Frank Zappa likely isn't for everybody, but Phoenix's Mexican restaurants should be.

Phoenix regularly finds itself in arguments about the best Mexican food north of the border, and establishments within striking distance of the All-Star game are a big reason why. Sonora Mesquite Grill, for example, has the strip-mall look of a no-frills taco spot but boasts carne asada above and beyond what tourists will find anywhere in the area. Carolina's Mexican Food, meanwhile, works miracles with a tortilla and has machaca beef burritos matched only by their own chorizo breakfast offerings. It's tough to stop here when an institution such as Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles is so near, but it's worth the sacrifice.

Mariscos Playa Hermosa, meanwhile, not only holds the distinction of being one of the best seafood joints in the desert, but its crab enchiladas, shrimp aguachile and culichi and fish tacos are worthy of a heated California vs. Arizona debate. If all of this is too overwhelming for the average All-Star out-of-towner, the Tamale Store keeps it simple by sticking to one item -- and making its pork red chile tamales every bit as tasty as its veggie queso and poblano tamales.

National Baseball Hall of Fame

Cooperstown, N.Y., is a pretty long haul from Phoenix, but the Hall of Fame and its visitors are there in spirit during the All-Star break.

The All-Star Game is more than a week removed from Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Pat Gillick's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but it's the focus of the Hall's All-Star Gala. The event treat visitors to games, prizes, hot dogs and ballpark snacks during the All-Star games live broadcast in the Hall's Grandstand Theater.

The Hall of Fame is a weekend trip in itself for fans eager to sift through the plaques, memorabilia and accomplishments of the Hall's 295 inductees. If there's time to spare, however, it's worth heading over to Cooperstown's Brewery Ommegang to check out the the inner workings of the farmhouse-style facility where it brews its Belgian beers with the blessings of its Belgian owners, Duvel Moorgat.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Kansas City is just slightly closer to the All-Star game than Cooperstown, and its Negro Leagues museum is just as worthy of an All-Star weekend visit.

Located in a 50,000-square-foot facility at Kansas City's 18th & Vine, the museum is dedicated solely to the leagues that existed from the 1920s to the late 1960s -- or 15 years after Jackie Robinson left the Negro Leagues' Kansas City Monarchs to join the Brooklyn Dodgers and integrate Major League Baseball.

More importantly, it serves as an archive for the 2,500 players, coaches, managers and officials who came through the leagues. It's not a hall of fame and has made a point of treating every player with the historical importance of Buck O'Neil or Josh Gibson. While there is a section dedicated to the negro leaguers enshrined in Cooperstown, the museum's mission is more about recognizing the league's place in history and within a greater social context than about individual greatness within those leagues.

It's not as revered as the Hall of Fame, but the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is no less important to the sport's narrative.

The Field of Dreams

It's been 22 years since Universal Studios built it across two farms in Dyersville, Iowa, but fans are still coming to the field that Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta played on in Field of Dreams.

It's also among the best times to visit, as the ballfield that Shoeless Joe Jackson, Mel Ott, Moonlight Graham and the other ghost players called home came under the full control of Don and Becky Lansing in 2007 after being split with the neighbors for the 18 years prior. The farmhouse where Kevin Costner's Ray Kinsella and his wife Annie (Amy Madigan) lived in the film is still there; the field is in playable condition; and admission and tours are still free.

Visitors are encouraged to bring a bat and glove if they choose to play and to buy memorabilia if they'd like, but they're also encouraged to do it soon. The Lansings put the site up for sale last year.

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