Road trips! (The baseball way)

Summer unofficially started a couple of months ago when umpires across the country shouted "Play Ball!" to start the 2014 season. Summer officially starts with Saturday's solstice, and you will never want it to end ... except maybe when you're bleary-eyed and driving late some night as your kids shout: "Are we there yet?!?!?!"

Of course, before you can get there, you first must decide where you're going. And if you haven't planned your summer vacation yet, here are some suggestions all baseball fans will enjoy.

Land of 10,000 All-Stars

Minnesota hosts this summer's All-Star Game, which is reason enough for a trip to the state. But you'll cheat yourself if you limit a baseball vacation to just that event. Minnesota might be known for hockey, cold winters and ice fishing on Lake Wobegon, but as I'll write in an upcoming story, baseball is where The Land of 10,000 Lakes is at its best.

First, you MUST catch some town ball (officially, the Minnesota Baseball Association), where players ranging in age from teens and 20s to the occasional 60-year-old play for the simple love of the game. Town ball is such a rich Minnesota tradition that occasionally ex-big leaguers will go back to play after their major league careers end, as Terry Steinbach did. Iowa's "Field of Dreams" site is famous for its surrounding cornfield, but it's got nothing on the approximately 300 Minnesota town ball diamonds, many of which are surrounded by crops.

Among the teams to consider seeing are current Twin reliever Caleb Thielbar's former squad, the Randolph Railcats. Or Steinbach's old team, New Ulm Kaiserhoff. Or the Stark township Longhorns, whose team once consisted entirely of one family, the Helget boys.

Next, let loose at a St. Paul Saints game in their final year at Midway Stadium. Started by Mike Veeck and Bill Murray two decades ago, the independent league Saints have some of the most entertaining promotions you'll come across, including "St. Patrick's Day in July" (July 10) and "Night of Unbelievable Fun" sponsored by the Minnesota Atheists and Freedom From Religion Foundation (July 11) and the follow-up "Faith and Family Day" (July 13).

After the game, stop by for a drink at nearby O'Gara's on the corner of Snelling and Selby. This old brick building is where Peanuts cartoonist and passionate baseball fan Charles Schulz grew up in a second-floor apartment and where his father cut hair in his barbershop.

Before the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, park out at the Mall of America, built on the former site of Metropolitan Stadium. Go inside to take a selfie where home plate was located at the Old Met. Then grab a seat on the light-rail that will take you all the way to the gates of Target Field. Just be sure to salute the Metrodome when you pass its remains on the edge of downtown.

And if you can't afford those expensive tickets, hop in your car, tune in to the game on the radio and drive south for our next trip.

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