A ticket to a major league baseball game remains a staple of many summer vacations. An afternoon at the old (or new) ballpark has a certain undeniable appeal. The pace, tradition, and color of the game all work together beautifully. Still, opportunities to enjoy sports while vacationing roam far beyond baseball's outfield walls.
A sampling of some of the big events awaiting the spectating public over the next few months are:
* The America's Cup yacht trials off the coast of mansion-dotted Newport, R. I. (now to mid-September).
* The men's Professional Golf Association championship in Rochester, N. Y. (Aug. 7-10), and the women's US (golf) Open in Nashville (July 10-13).
* The Firecracker 400 stock car race at Daytona, Fla. (July 4), and the Ontario, Calif., 500 Indy-style race (Aug. 1).
* The US Olympic track and field trials in Eugene, Ore. (through June 29), and swimming trials in Irvine, Calif. (July 29-Aug. 2).
* The US Open Tennis Championships in New York (Aug. 26-Sept. 7).
If your journeys don't permit you to witness any of these events, fret not. There are plenty of golf and tennis tournaments, with a fair number of big names at each stop.
Between now and the end of August the men and women pros in these sports are scheduled to pull into more than a dozen cities, from Baltimore and Cincinnati to Denver and San Diego.
A word to the wise: Ticket prices and crowd size generally increase on Saturdays and Sundays at most tournaments. In golf, especially, weekday galleries tend to be considerably thinner, since play must occur during the daylight hours when most people are at work.
In tennis, the drawback to attending a weekday tournament session is that the big names have their matches sprinkled throughout the early rounds and are often given night matches to attract larger crowds.
To find out what's on the sports calendar in most major cities, call the community's tourist information office. Once in town, keep your eye on the sports pages, particularly the scoreboard sections, where the day's most important events are likely to appear.
The newest game in most cities is soccer. The North American Soccer League now has 24 franchises across the United States and Canada, including some slightly off the beaten path, such as those in San Jose, Calif., and Memphis. The season, which began on March 21, continues throughout the entire summer, culminating in the championship game Sept. 21 at Washington.
Most pro soccer clubs are hungry for spectators and make every effort to win new fans through a wide spectrum of promotions. The game is billed as family fare, not only because of soccer's clean, nonviolent image and generally well-mannered crowds, but also because of the reasonably priced tickets.
Attending a pro soccer game can make for a refreshing experience. The look of the field, the names of the players, the feel of the action, and even some of the fans (first-generation Americans) give the sport an interesting foreign flavor. Even the tailgate picnic takes on a new slant, with kicked soccer balls replacing the traditional forward pass.
For those who like to relive history, any number of sports shrines stand ready to transport visitors back to bygone days. The best known are the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., which has just opened a new wing that doubles the exhibit space, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Also in Ohio, 20 miles north of Cincinnati at Kings Island, is the College Football Hall of Fame, a modern total-involvement museum that swung its doors open two years ago.
Other sports halls include those for basketball (Springfield, Mass.), golf (Pinehurst, N.C.), and tennis (Newport, R.I.). This latter shrine, perhaps more than any other, captures the aura of an earlier time, since it's housed in the Newport Casino, a grass-court club dating back to 1880. The courts can be reserved by the public.
The National Tennis Center in New York, home of the US Open, also permits the public to play on the premises for a fee, but not during the tournament period. Then admittance to the 16-acre complex, situated across from Shea Stadium on the old World's Fair site, costs between $7 and $18.
The chance to drop in on pro football and basketball training camps is an opportunity most summer vacationers seldom consider. For while it is common knowledge that major league baseball teams take spring training in Florida and Arizona, the locations of the scattered preseason football and basketball camps remain pretty much a mystery to most people.
Some of these camps are closed. The majority, however, are both open and accommodating to interested observers. The New York Jets, for example, have special stands erected for their workouts on Hempstead, Long Island, and the New England Patriots designate one day "Family Day." Pro basketball teams also offer ample occasions to size up the rookies and veterans.
Contacting the individual clubs by letter or phone call is the best way to get camp dates, locations, and "visiting hours." Most tend to be within reasonable driving distance of a team's executive office, often at a small college.
Because wrenching drills are the order of the day at these camps, the casual fan may consider them dull. On the other hand, some will find the routine fascinating and the chance to see the athletes up close a vacation highlight.
A sports-watcher's options are indeed varied at this time of year. The racing world alone provides a medley of sights and sounds, ranging from a hydroplane's rooster-tailing wake to the whirring of a pack of cornering bikes. Even the winter sport of ski jumping makes an appearance in an annual Fourth of July competition held at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Baseball, however, is summer's centerpiece. Attendance at major league games continues to rise, reaching a record 43 million last year. Despite this, the sport is capable of catering to many more fans. Few games sell out, since the playing dates are so numerous and the stadiums generally so roomy. Still, it's wise to look ahead, writing or calling for tickets a month or more in advance, especially if the game pits pennant-contending teams.
The best seats are usually between first and third base, with those behind the home-plate backstop generally less desirable. The bleachers are bargain-basement territory, but the fan behavior tends to be more raucous in this section of most parks.
Though some stadiums sit apart, isolated from the mainstream, others are ideally situated near city sights. Seattle's Kingdome, for example, abuts the restored Pioneer Square district and is only blocks from the waterfront. The Museum of Fine Arts is a short distance from Boston's Fenway Park. Montreal's stadium is part of the Olympic complex, and Busch Stadium in St. Louis huddles at the base of the famed arch.
In cities like these, baseball and sightseeing can be combined in what might best be described as a vacationer's double-header.