In 2014 I started my first year of teaching 6th graders and like most teachers hit a wall around February when the kids start getting crazy and summer break is still nowhere in sight. Naturally I did what most people do when the work days start to seem like work weeks and the days are creeping by at a terrifyingly slow pace; I decided it was time to book a vacation for that summer. I mean, everyone works better when they have something to look forward to right?
Not only was 2014 going to conclude my first year of teaching, but it was also a huge year for baseball. At least a huge year in baseball for a kid who grew up outside the South Side of Chicago and paid attention to every move Frank Thomas made in his career. You see, that summer The Big Hurt would be enshrined in Cooperstown. I knew this was happening, but the idea of being there for it never once crossed my mind.
I began Googling different MLB schedules and trying to work out a trip to make it into a couple different ballparks. Now, as a kid I won a trip with a company that took us to games at Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, old Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards. Only problem was I could not remember the companies name for the life of me. So, with the world at my fingertips I simply typed into Google, “baseball tour companies” thinking the name would instantly pop up and I could see what types of deals they had for the upcoming summer.
What popped up as the top result was better than I ever could have expected it to be. Jay Buckley’s Baseball Tours. Hmm, not the company I remembered but hey I had time on my hands so why not check out their website too I figured.
I could not believe it. There it was. A trip that would put me in Cooperstown for the induction of Frank Thomas, my childhood hero. I immediately began looking at the trip’s agenda. Games at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Citizens Bank Park AND two days at Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. I was sold.
I pitched the idea to my dad and before I knew it both of my parents were as sold as I was. We would take our first ever Jay Buckley Baseball Tour and little did I know, I would be taking a trip that would change the way I see ballparks forever.
The trip lasted 7 days and it was possibly the best week we have ever spent together as a family. I grew up taking trips every summer with my parents and as I got older, those trips would somehow include baseball. It was usually my scheduling that would bring me and a buddy to a new ballpark and over the years we have put together quite the impressive list of ballparks we have seen together as a family. Not to brag, but we have seen almost 2/3 of the MLB ballparks together so far and created memories that I know none of us will ever forget.
However, the Buckley trip was different. This trip was baseball heaven and the perfect amount of touristy city tours mixed in to keep my mom from going into baseball overload. We took tours of the city in New York, Boston and Philadelphia and then also had time to explore the cities on our own. We were taken in coach bus from city to city, stayed in clean hotels and became friends with a bus load of people who were all there for the same reason – we all loved baseball.
As if this trip was not lucky enough to fall upon, I was also fortunate enough to make a really good friend on the trip. Since there were 3 of us in my family and only 2 seats per row on the coach bus I drew the short straw and was going to sit next to someone random. Well, I ended up sitting next to a guy by the name of Alfonso who I quickly hit it off with. We both wanted to see all 30 stadiums and somehow both collected the same things at each stadium, a shot glass and a pin. We spent the next 7 days talking baseball and ballparks and that has not changed since.
Each year since our Buckley Trip we have met up at a stadium somewhere. In 2015 we met in his hometown of Miami, FL at a Marlins game, 2016 brought us both to Wrigley Field in my hometown and then this year we met halfway at the brand new SunTrust Park for their inaugural regular season game. Over the years we keep in touch through social media or texting and are always sending each other photos of the ballparks we are at or the cool giveaways we might have gotten at a game we are attending. These are just the type of people you will encounter on a Jay Buckley Baseball Trip.
Fast forward three years from 2014 and I am currently sitting on my 6:05am flight from Newark, NJ back home to Midway in Chicago, IL. Why Newark you might ask? Well, yesterday was the end of my second Jay Buckley Baseball Tours trip. In the three years since my first trip in 2014, I have spent the past 2 years dating my best friend Jenna and we have been on a quest to see all 30 MLB stadiums together. Luckily for me, Jenna grew up in a home where a love of baseball was instilled in her at a young age. She grew up on stories of Lou Gehrig and you will see how that love of Gehrig who was her now passed father’s favorite player came into play on this particular trip.
This past February, much like in 2014, I was hitting a wall. I was months from summer and just 3 months from graduating with my Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. Jenna and I had both spent the past 2 years working hard juggling 2 jobs each and grad school. It was time we treated ourselves. She had heard me talk time and time again about my Buckley trip in 2014 and finally I said well, why don’t we look into one for this summer that fits around our schedules.
Low and behold, we found one. Now, for those who are not familiar with this company, they offer close to 30 different trips that cover every MLB ballpark in some capacity so it is really up to you when you want to go. If you cannot find one that fits into your schedule then you just have one CRAZY schedule.
The trip for us was Trip #4 which spanned from Sunday, June 18 to Saturday, June 24th. We would see games at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium in New York, Fenway Park in Boston, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Orioles Park at Camden Yards, a day in Cooperstown and also a Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders AAA game at PNC Field in Scranton, PA. Woah, that week alone would add a total of 4 new MLB ballparks to our ever-growing list and would also get us to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum which we had both been dying to go see.
I had previously been to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown but if you have ever been there for an induction weekend then you know that you don’t REALLY see Cooperstown that weekend. What I mean by this is the average summer day the museum might have a couple thousand people come through their doors. During Induction Weekend 2014 when I was there the town of Cooperstown was host to 48,000 people. So yes, I was in Cooperstown but when it came to really experiencing the museum and seeing all it had to offer I still did not feel like I had been there. We decided this trip had to happen.
The cost: $1,945. Now, before you gasp and say that it is too expensive take a minute to think about everything you are getting. That price includes: tickets to every game and I am talking nice seats not the “let’s just get some cheap seats to say we were at the stadium” type of tickets, a coach bus to and from everything you do, tours of the given ballparks on each trip, breakfast each morning and the incredible convenience of not dealing with any hassle of driving or loading and unloading your car each night.
As you know if you have read my previous articles I have no problem with road tripping, in fact I love doing it. I would be lying if I said I did not price out the trip on my own to see if the Buckley Trip was a good purchase but believe me when I say you cannot find hotels on the East Coast and the tickets you will get on this tour and beat their price. I am not sure how or where they make a profit but the costs are beyond reasonable. Hell, parking alone would cost you a couple hundred dollars if you wanted to spend time in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore like they provide you in the weekly agenda. Not to mention the personal tour guide of New York City which as you know if you have been to the Big Apple does not come cheaply.
Don’t believe me that they load you up with as many possible things as they can? Well, take a look at our trip’s agenda then. Seriously, check this sucker out:
Sadly, our trip has come and gone after our months of anticipation but I am still in awe at how perfect it all went. Check out how it went with the day-by-day breakdown below:
That morning Jenna and I flew into Newark and took the train into New York City on our own as the group had not met up yet which cost a whole $26 to spend the day in NYC. We walked through Times Square, ate New York style pizza in Central Park, saw some of the big NYC shopping sights in Macy’s, got some ice cream from a food truck, took in the Rockefeller Center and spent a few minutes in the Strawberry Fields at Central Park remembering the life of John Lennon. An absolutely perfect start to our trip.
We began our first official day of the trip getting breakfast and meeting our group. An irregularly small group of only 14 people were on our bus which at first disappointed me but then I quickly realized how much more personal this trip would be for us. We departed the hotel and headed to Citi Field where we took in the Washington Nationals vs New York Mets game. The Mets won and we saw Jacob DeGrom throw a gem while eating a whole helmet full of boneless BBQ wings and french fries. This trip was already a success in our minds.
After the game we loaded back onto our coach bus, driven by a guy named Darryl who did a rock star job all week long, and were met by the guide who would be taking us on a tour of New York City. We spent the next 2 1/2 hours hearing the history and stories behind almost every location in the Big Apple. We were able to get off the bus and spend a few minutes at the 9/11 Memorial Site and remember those who lost their lives those 16 years ago. A moment that I know none of us will ever forget being able to experience. After the tour, we were dropped off in Times Square to grab some dinner and check out the scene. Since Jenna and I stuffed our faces at the Mets game we settled for a piece of cheesecake from a local spot suggested to us by our guide for the trip, Jay Buckley himself.
After Times Square we all loaded back into the bus and headed back to our Newark hotel to get some rest before we were back at it again the next morning.
We left Newark with luggage in hand as we got on the road to Baltimore, MD. When we arrived in Baltimore Jay gave us some suggestions of things to do and places to see that he has found to be among the best over the years. But first, a tour of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The tour took us through the ins and outs of Camden Yards which is my personal favorite ballpark in baseball. An absolutely breathtaking stadium that you truly have to see in order to appreciate. We ended our tour by getting the opportunity to go on the field and take a few photos in the Orioles dugout.
After the tour, we were offered a ride to the Inner Harbor for lunch or were told the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum was just a short walk in the opposite direction. Jenna and I opted to get our steps in and maybe burn off some of that food from the previous day and took a short stroll down to the museum. A great little place to visit if you love baseball where you will go into the actual home of George Herman Ruth as a child and hear all about how he became quite possibly the most recognizable face in American pop culture history.
We spent around 45 minutes in the museum as it is really not all very big, but still filled with a lot of neat stuff, and decided to walk down to the Inner Harbor and check out Phillips for some authentic Maryland seafood. Well, I had seafood. Jenna is one of those unfortunate souls with a shellfish intolerance so she had a chicken sandwich.
After lunch, we went to Marshalls to and found a nice Orioles frisbee for our dog Ozzie. It might have only been the second day of the trip but we already missed him. Needless to say he loved the frisbee as you can see!
After our shopping sidetrack the rain hit and it hit hard for a good hour and half. We loaded onto the bus and and went to park by Camden Yards where we waited for it to pass. To pass the time we watched a film on Cal Ripken and with perfect timing the rain commenced as soon as the movie did and we slowly started to trickle into the stadium.
The game was delayed 30 minutes but I was just happy it was a delay and not a cancellation. Our seats here were incredible. Probably the best seats of the trip but unfortunately the Orioles forgot we were there that night and took a loss at the hands of the Cleveland Indians and Corey Kluber who threw a dominant 3 hit shutout. Nonetheless, we had checked off Camden Yards on our list of MLB stadiums and had a great day while doing it. Now onto the hotel to get ready for Philadelphia tomorrow.
Up early and at it again! This time we loaded the bus and took off for the City of Brotherly Love. None other than Philadelphia, PA. After the 2 hour drive from the hotel we got into Philly and were given the normal sights and food suggestions before being set out on our own for 4 hours worth of tourist time.
Jenna and I had been to Philadelphia last summer so we had our schedule already set of what we wanted to see and then we succeeded in adding even more to it. We had time to see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Benjamin Franklin museum and his print shop, Elfreth’s Alley, Betsy Ross’ home and also the cemetery where Franklin is buried.
In addition to the sightseeing, we also stuffed our faces full of local favorites suggested to us by Jay. First, we went to Campo’s for some cheesesteaks. Dear lord, if you are in Philadelphia then go to Campo’s. I have been to Philadelphia 4 times, I have eaten at Campo’s 6 times. My personal suggestion is the Flyers Ice Steak. It is that good. After Campo’s we went to City Tavern where we had a beer flight that brewed the beer with the actual recipes used by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson did when they were alive. It was awesome. City Tavern is just a cool place to go see even if you are not there to eat or drink. The restaurant has the same floor plan and decor as the actual tavern where our Founding Father’s would go to discuss many of the ideas which were later put into the Declaration of Independence.
Lastly, as if we hadn’t already had enough, we went to Franklin Fountain which Jay claimed to be the best ice cream in Philadelphia. Definitely some of the best I have ever had, and I have had a lot of ice cream in my day.
We went back to the bus and loaded in for the short drive over to Citizens Bank Park where we would see another home town loss as the Philadelphia Phillies dropped a pretty lopsided sloppy game to the St. Louis Cardinals. Before the game we got to meet Phillies Wall of Fame member Greg Luzinski at his BBQ restaurant, Bull’s BBQ, inside the ballpark and then do our traditional photos down by the field that Jenna and I take at each park. Citizens Bank Park brought even more good food as we had an ice cream helmet sundae and the ever popular Chickie’s & Pete’s Famous Crab Fries.
After the game it was a short drive to our hotel as we would be back in Philadelphia the next morning again.
A later start this morning and a much more talkative group as we all got to catch up on some precious ZZZ’s. We loaded the bus and Darryl took us back over to Citizens Bank Park for our 10:30am ballpark tour.
The tour guide, much like in Baltimore, took us through the clubs, suites, behind the scenes and into the press box while telling us all the stories about the team’s history. We heard about the Philadelphia Athletics who dominated baseball with the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Chief Bender and Connie Mack managing them all the way down to the sheer dominance that was Steve Carlton. We got to go on the field for some photos and then were taken to see one of the coolest paintings I have ever seen inside a ballpark which was done by an Australian artist who fell in love with the Phillies after seeing one of their games.
After the tour we went over to Reading Terminal Market for lunch. Now, I love food and this market was absolute overload even for me. Jay described it as “the best lunch spot in the country” and after eating there I would have to agree. I had been there once before but it was a quick in and out while attending a conference across the street. This time, I walked every aisle in that place and meticulously chose where and what I would eat. I started with a favorite of my dad and something I grew up on, scrapple. If you ask 10 people what scrapple is 8 will say they have no idea, one will tell you its repulsive and the other person is probably my dad or myself. Somehow I convinced Jenna to try it and she actually did not spit it back out, I picked a winner! We then proceeded to have Lobster Mac n’ Cheese (me), a reuben (Jenna), shared some ice cream from Bassett’s which is the oldest creamery shop in the country and topped it all off with an apple fritter. We left stuffed.
We slept off the food some on the bus while on our way to Scranon, PA for that night’s RailRiders game which pitted the Yankees AAA RailRiders vs the Nationals AAA Chiefs. We had a pregame picnic in left field which was included in our ticket and got us all of our non-alcoholic drinks and food for free. We ate light, still hating ourselves for the damage we had done at Terminal Market a few short hours earlier. PNC Field was surprisingly nice. I had never been to a minor league game and did not know what to expect but it was a blast. We saw a couple top prospects in the RailRiders’ Tyler Austin and Clint Frazier but still our bad luck continued and the visiting Chiefs beat the hometown RailRiders.
Win or loss the day was a success and we had to go get some rest for a big day in Cooperstown on Thursday.
We got another semi late start since Cooperstown wasn’t a terribly long drive away and arrived there shortly after noon on Thursday. We watched a baseball documentary on the way and were given more facts than I knew how to handle while on our way. Jay does an incredible job of giving you facts covering everything from baseball to history to pop culture while you drive through every little town on the way to your destination.
After arriving into Cooperstown around 12:30 we were told we would have until 7pm to do whatever we wanted. Now this seems like a lot of time but if you have ever been to Cooperstown you know it is easy to get lost on a single floor of the museum for 3 hours alone. We went into the museum and immediately into the hall where the plaques are, snapping photos of some of our All-Time favorites like Frank Thomas, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle before heading to the second level to look around.
Midway through the second level the hunger pains struck cause, well, you know we haven’t been eating much this week. We went to roam the streets of Cooperstown looking at all the stores and baseball memorabilia available for purchase. Cooperstown is full of baseball card and memorabilia shops. I will drop a little bit of advice here as I have worked in the memorabilia industry for the better part of the past 2 years as a part time job. Do NOT make impulse buys here. Majority of it is very overpriced and you will save yourself literally hundreds of dollars by going on eBay and buying it there. I did find one store that was owned by a guy who knew the company I work for in Indiana and I was able to buy a pretty cool 1933 Goudey Bill Terry rookie off of him. Terry is the last NL hitter to bat .400 in a season and this was my one big purchase in Cooperstown. Be careful out there, seriously, do not buy the autographed memorabilia unless there is authentication just to protect yourself from any counterfeit items.
After browsing the stores and making our big purchases, we sat down for lunch at the Doubleday Cafe which had great food and even carried a beer brewed locally in Cooperstown. The lunch was a great break from walking around before heading back to the museum for the duration of our time there.
We went back to the museum after our meal and spent the next couple hours walking around and viewing all the various exhibits it had to offer. One of Jenna’s favorites was the “Diamond Dreams” exhibit all about the AAGPBL and the women who played professionally during WW2. A really neat exhibit to see. We were able to spend time in each exhibit as the crowd was small inside the museum. Actually so small that when we were leaving this was the crowd in the plaque hall.
We made one quick stop at an ice cream shop suggested by Jay and then headed back to the bus for our longest drive of the trip which would take us to Worcester, MA for the Boston Red Sox game on Friday.
An early morning on Friday would get us on the road from our hotel and into the city of Boston in time to make a 10:30am tour of Fenway Park. This particular day was the David Ortiz #34 Jersey Retirement Ceremony so the ballpark atmosphere was electric even when we arrived at 10am and stayed that way till the last pitch of the night.
Our tour was amazing and if you ever get the chance to take a tour of Fenway Park I would highly recommend it. The history is rich and there is not enough time in the day to fit it all into one tour but they sure do their best. We got to sit in the oldest seats in baseball, view the field from the press box, check out the red seat in right field where Ted Williams hit the longest home run in Fenway Park history and lastly but far from least, my personal favorite, go on top of the Green Monster.
After the tour concluded we loaded into the bus and headed to Quincy Market for some lunch and sight seeing. Upon arrival Jay walked a group of us over to the Boston Sail Loft restaurant which is home to the best bowl of clam chowder you will ever have. The food was absolutely incredible and made fresh to order. There were 9 of us and we all ate together, cause when you are on a Buckley trip you quickly go from complete strangers to family in a short amount of time.
After lunch we went our separate ways and Jenna and I headed over to Old North Church to see the site where Paul Revere hoisted his lanterns to warn of the British coming. We took a walk along the Freedom Trail and saw some other sights like Faneuil Hall and the Old State House where the Boston Massacre occurred. I wish we had more time to spend in Boston as there is endless amounts of history to take in and view. Sadly, the coach bus was back to usher us to Fenway Park so we could witness some current history in the David Ortiz jersey retirement ceremony.
We arrived at Fenway Park and walked up to Yawkey Way to enter the stadium. If you have never been to Fenway then you cannot fully grasp the atmosphere which is Yawkey Way. It is truly like nothing else in baseball. Made even more electric that night by fans waiting to cheer one final time for their hero, Big Papi.
After taking some photos, looking at the gift shops and wandering the park we made our way into the seats for the ceremony. Headlined by Red Sox, and baseball, legends such as Pedro Martinez, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Wade Boggs the night was surely one to remember. David Ortiz was not able to fight back the tears as the Fenway faithful chanted Big Papi in a deafening volume.
The game went just as well as the ceremony as we saw our first home team win since the Mets took down the Nationals the past Saturday. We took part in the Sweet Caroline tradition and celebrated a Red Sox victory like we had been fans our whole lives. We all walked to the bus with smiles after the great day we had just spent, all while knowing this amazing week would sadly come to an end less than 24 hours from now.
Saturday morning had us depart the hotel at 8am for our close to 3 hour trip back into New York to cap off our incredible week with an afternoon matchup between the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
The traffic was the worst we had encountered, yes I know its New York, but we sadly missed the time which Monument Park was open. However, I had much bigger plans in place for that day. Upon our arrival we walked to the stadium and snapped a couple photos of the coliseum-esque Yankee Stadium before entering.
We briskly walked around the ballpark to make up for time lost in traffic snapping our traditional photos as we went and then heading down by the field for a couple more. After this we headed into the Yankee Museum located on the second level where I had a big surprise waiting for Jenna.
The big surprise? I was going to propose to her. The initial plan was in Monument Park at the Lou Gehrig memorial. Gehrig was Jenna’s fathers favorite player before he passed away a few years ago and Jenna has carried on the love of Gehrig that he instilled in her. I went into the museum hoping for some type of Gehrig artifacts which I could propose by and found a jersey. I approached the museum manager and asked him to take our photo and told him my plan in the hopes he would keep taking photos so I could have it all documented for us to look back on. His response blew me away, “No, you don’t want to do that. Wait in here for 10 minutes and I will bring out a Lou Gehrig bat for you guys to see and her to hold while you propose.” WOW! Jenna would now be holding her and her father’s favorite players bat while I was going to be asking the most important question of my life. Within minutes the manager took us into a private area and asked us where were from and caught Jenna completely off guard saying he “never does this for anyone but he just likes us.” The bat came out and we both took some photos with it before I handed my phone over for him to take a photo of us both. He secretly turned the phone to video and caught the whole proposal on film. A dream come true for the both of us and far better than I ever could have dreamed of it being. Not many couples can say their first photo of them engaged is with Lou Gehrig’s bat in their hands.
The day was made and the game was just beginning. We had great seats for an otherwise not so great game on the Yankees part as they took a loss at the hands of the visiting Rangers. We did get to see Aaron Judge continue his home run tear while he accounted for the only Yankees run of the day.
The game ended and we stayed around Yankee Stadium for dinner at a deli suggested by Jay before all heading back to the coach for the last time. Before heading back to the bus we had some time to roam around outside Yankee Stadium and take in the atmosphere. There is a lot of neat street art in this area and I was particularly impressed with the artwork on a set of garage doors located just a block from the stadium.
We headed back to the bus and were met with tons of congratulations and hugs. The people who we didn’t know a week ago were now all celebrating the huge moment in our lives that just occurred. It is weird to say but I am not sure I could think of a better group to share this moment with. You do get to be that close with your tour group partners.
Darryl drove us to the Newark Airport Hilton where this amazing week all began and we said our goodbyes to everyone while talking about the memories we all just made. E-mail addresses were exchanged for some in order to keep in touch and thank you’s for the awesome week were given to everyone.
Our week was better than we ever could have expected. That has happened both times I have been on a Jay Buckley Baseball Tours trip and I know it would be the same for anyone else who went on a baseball adventure with this awesome company.
The tour guides really do go above and beyond to make sure you get the most out of your experiences. Whether it is the historical facts on various areas the tour bus is driving through or the great food suggestions they go out of their way to be sure each and every one of their guests have a great time.
If you ever get the chance to take a week off to yourself during the MLB season then give it a shot and type in Jay Buckley Baseball Tours into google or just click the link to their website right here and plan your baseball getaway. I know that we plan on going on many more in the future and hopefully get a chance to hit all 30 MLB ballparks with their great tours.
If you liked hearing about our baseball getaway then make sure to check back and read all of The Tenth Inning ballpark reviews coming up. We have a few to catch up on so you will be able to hear all about Milwaukee’s Miller Park, Boston’s Fenway Park, Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and also New York’s Citi Field and Yankee Stadium. Also be on the lookout for a special review of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY.
As always don’t forget to like, share and comment what you thought or tell me about a Buckley Trip you might have been on in the past or one you are planning for in the future.