published Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Faith Focus: On the baseball road again

Seven days, 1,700 miles, a dozen Imagine Dragons songs, five baseball games, four specialty hot dogs, three pizza joints, two bobbleheads, a couple of Tums and one baseball-loving father and son.

Stir for good time.

Patrick, my 19-year-old, and I put Chattanooga in the rear-view mirror on a Friday late in June for our second major league baseball trip in as many years.

St. Louis, Chicago (both Cubs and White Sox), Milwaukee and Detroit were on the itinerary. That followed Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. last year.

Truth is, we're running out of driveable teams. But we'll think about that next year.

I had been to St. Louis four other times but had never seen the Cardinals, my second-favorite team behind the Atlanta Braves when I was growing up. I spent hours as a teen listening to Cards games on KMOX-AM, their clear-channel flagship radio station.

The first order of business for Patrick at Busch Stadium in St. Louis was to buy a cap, an exercise that would repeat itself at every other ballpark. Teenagers look great in caps, middle-age dads, not so much. On older guys, they seem to call attention to, er, expanding necks.

Back in the day, a cap was a cap. Now there are perhaps 30 different styles, colors and designs. One L-XL doesn't fit like another L-XL, which doesn't exactly fit like a 7 5/8, which doesn't fit like a one-size-fits-all.

Patrick didn't want one that didn't fit right, so we spent the first 30 minutes in each park looking for the right cap.

It helped me remember how important caps are to teenagers. When I was that age, I constantly wore a Braves cap, Astros cap or Mets cap -- so much so that my father would bellow at our Sunday family dinners: "No hats at the table!"

Food was the next order after caps, and I decided I wanted the most unusual or dressed-out hot dog in each park.

We found the best of the five on our first day. A bacon-wrapped dog seemed enough of a draw, but this one started with a bun slathered with baked beans before the polish sausage was laid in. On top were sliced pickles, pico de gallo, onions and peppers, sauerkraut and some sort of sauce.

There was no chance of eating this one with your hands. A fork was a necessity.

No other dog on the trip touched it, though Wrigley Field added its specialty Chicago Sauce and Detroit's Comerica Park also offered a bacon-wrapped dog.

We didn't test the dogs at the White Sox' U.S. Cellular Field because our midday deep-dish, barbecue chicken pizza at Giordano's Famous Chicago Pizza downtown was gigantic, delicious and filling.

Giordano's says its deep-dish pizza is "verified to be 40 percent bigger than competitors' deep-dish pizzas," and I'll take their word on it. The massive amount of cheese, at least, is likely to have clogged my arteries 40 percent more than most pizzas I've eaten.

So, at U.S. Cellular, we ate peanuts. There's something about peanuts tasting better in ballparks, though these didn't. But the ones we had the next night in Comerica Park did.

Of the five parks, I liked Wrigley best because I've been watching games there on TV for more than 40 years. Seeing the ivy on the brick outfield wall was something akin to seeing a celebrity in person that you've only seen before in the movies or on TV.

The little neighborhood surrounding the park seemed like a place you'd always want to go back over and over -- to meet your friends, to share good times.

Patrick liked Comerica best, I think, because he has adopted the Tigers as his favorite American League team. Though they're in a new ballpark, too, they somehow seem old-school as well.

None of the games themselves will go on a highlight reel for any of the 10 teams we saw. We did get to see the Braves win in Milwaukee, to understand why the Cubs and Astros are near the bottom of their divisions and why the Cardinals and Rangers played in the 2011 World Series.

But that's not really important.

What was more important were the experiences of a rainy walk to the Lincoln Park Zoo, the wonder of seeing a 19-year-old who wants to live in a big city talk about how he could get used to riding trains, of a father and son eating at the Father and Son Italian Kitchen in Skokie, Ill., and of a mutual acknowledgment of a great trip.

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6497.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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