Buice column: East Coast Baseball bus tour: It’s the way to go

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2023

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“Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leavin’ today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York”
You know that old classic by Frank Sinatra, right?

I was humming those words in the car on the short (for us) two-mile drive to the Village Inn for the start of a late July guided summer baseball bus trip that would also include stops in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington.

My wife and I would be picked up in the heart of Clemmons by the Burke Christian Tours motorcoach for the carefree ride of our lives on the 2023 East Coast Baseball Bonanza bus tour — seeing five games and watching 10 teams play in five different major league stadiums.

It was all of that and more while leaving the driving heading north on the busy interstates and in the big cities to Reliable Ray and the trip details to Stan The Man. No muss, no fuss.

I quickly learned this is indeed the way to go, especially on a trip like this when trying to navigate all the traffic, parking and the hassle of driving to and from the ballpark or battling the mobs using public transportation.

Here, the bus heads up to the stadium, drops you off with the group close to one of the entrances and then picks you up after the game in the same spot. Ray and Stan take care of handling the luggage and handing out the room keys with four different hotels in five nights (we stayed two nights in New Jersey, just across the river from New York).

Just ride, eat, meet new friends and enjoy baseball — and all the other sights and sounds on a trip that exceeded all expectations.

Where do I begin?

The first and last of the days were mainly for travel, but we did make it to Baltimore, and one of my favorite ballparks, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, on that first night to see the Los Angeles Dodgers pound the Orioles.

Along the way, the 45 of us on board coming from seven different states — most of us with gray, silver or no hair and about a third being females — got a pep talk from Stan on the rules of the road, a closer look at the itinerary, and a daily devotional and sing-along while sitting in our cushy seats — and eventually a lunch stop at Cracker Barrel.

Hey, did I mention this is the way to go?

The ballpark, one that I had visited several times before, was one of the first of a new wave of stadiums from the ’90s that set the tone for the future with an appealing retro look.

The next day it was on to Philadelphia, a short trip from Baltimore, where we approached the city, passing not only the Phillies’ ballpark, Citizens Bank Park, but also the stadium of the NFL’s Eagles and the arena that houses both the NBA’s 76ers and the NHL’s Flyers. That is some sports complex.

Running ahead of schedule, Ray and Stan squeezed in an unexpected quick stop at the “Rocky Steps” leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which he ran up while training for his big fight. I did the same and held my arms up over my head, proving I was a tourist.

A lunch downtown at the unique Reading Terminal Market (it had to be a footlong cheesesteak at Spataro’s, where the meat was cooked on the grill in front of us as we waited in line) was terrific, and then we headed over to check out the Liberty Bell and other attractions.

That night was the Milwaukee Brewers and the Phillies in a ballpark that was new to me. The old Veterans Stadium, the classic old cookie-cutter facility where I saw some games in the past, is long gone. The Brewers prevailed in a close game, much to the chagrin of Philly fans — who have been known to boo Santa Claus.

Day three featured another short drive, this time to New York, for our only afternoon game between the Mets and Chicago White Sox. I saw one Mets game previously in old Shea Stadium, and Citi Field seemed to be a snappy upgrade.

The White Sox turned back the Mets, and then it was off from Queens to Teaneck, N.J., a 24-mile trip that took us, uh, Ray, two hours to get there through the snarled traffic for a special Italian dinner at Vitale’s, which stuffed us with a six-course meal.

We then went back to New York in the morning for a full day in the city, first being dropped off at The Edge in Hudson Yards, where we ate an early lunch at Shake Shack. I was unaware before arriving there that the Edge has the highest outdoor Skydeck in the Western Hemisphere. We took the elevator to the top, having a feeling of floating in the sky at 100 stories with 360-degree views. It was stunning.

The afternoon, another highlight of the six days, featured a step-on guide on the bus who gave us a four-hour talk/tour of the city, including everything you would expect and then some, including showing and telling us about all the iconic and popular buildings, revealing where the celebrities live along and near Central Park (including pointing out the restaurant made popular on Seinfeld), and even mentioning for us to look for white flowers that are placed each year on the birthdays of the nearly 3,000 names at the sobering 9/11 Memorial. This guy knew it all.

We also visited the Statue of Liberty. One piece of trivia: Did you know Lady Liberty is actually located in New Jersey instead of New York?

This unforgettable tour was followed by perhaps the most anticipated part of the trip for me — my first visit ever to Yankee Stadium.

I know it’s not the original “House That Ruth Built,” but it was still mighty special to enter this baseball cathedral (it has a lot of the same look with the modern conveniences) and first going to Monument Park just beyond the center-field wall where all the many great Yankees are honored with monuments and/or plaques. It gave a baseball nerd like me chills.

The game that night between the Yankees and the Kansas City Royals may have been the best of our five-game slate, with the home team winning for the first time on our trip — triggering Sinatra’s New York, New York ballad, which was repeated over and over from the last out until we walked all the way out of ballpark back to the bus.

We definitely felt a part of it — New York, New York.
The last day with baseball came with the bus now heading back south toward Washington while we watched the baseball movie — “The Sandlot” — and sang the classic song “Talkin’ Baseball” by Terry Cashman.

We enjoyed a nice lunch at a riverfront restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware. We got to the nation’s capital not early enough for any sightseeing this day but in plenty of time for batting practice before the game in Nationals Park with the home team beating the San Francisco Giants.

Then it was time to go home the next morning, with a stop at the National Museum of the Marine Corps located outside the gates of Quantico and then on down I-95 on the other side of Richmond for lunch at Arby’s in Colonial Heights, Virginia.

Big deal, huh? Well, this is the biggest Arby’s in the world at 7,125 square feet — nearly three times the size of the average Arby’s.

That’s just the way it was on this trip.

When we got back to the Village Inn later in the day for the short drive home, we stepped off the bus and started talking about trying to secure seats on next year’s Midwest Baseball Tour.

Wrigley Field and all the other stadiums and attractions, Field of Dreams, Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, Mall of America, etc., etc.

Hey, sign me up for another trip of a lifetime with Reliable Ray and Stan The Man.