There was golfing on our “mancation,” our vacation designed specifically to do guy things. There was also batting practice in random fields we found along the way. Sure, there was a little gambling and an impossibly large basket of bacon that we left half-finished on the table. But the whole stated reason for our trip was to visit Minor League baseball fields around the state and in Ohio.

Cousin Chris, brother Scott and I had been talking about it for a while, so when Chris found a spate of games that all lined up — with the teams at home — we took off. Our itinerary included the Great Lakes Loons in my old Midland stomping grounds. Next up was a noon game played by the Lansing Lugnuts, followed by an evening contest played by the West Michigan Whitecaps in Grand Rapids. We’d end our saga the following night watching the Toledo Mud Hens play.

I don’t think we ever paid more than 11 bucks for a ticket and we basically could’ve sat anywhere. My daring cousin and brother tested that theory by sitting as close to the field as they could without actually putting on a uniform. In Lansing it seemed like we were sitting right in the on deck circle. It was so close that scaredy cat here had to move a row back, using Scott as a human shield while I worked on my enGROSSing hotdog topped with mac & cheese and french fries on a pretzel bun.

Did I mention that eating was important on this trip? We each came up with places to dine ahead of time. In the final tally — Toledo’s Tony Packo’s Cafe, made famous by Corporal Klinger on M*A*S*H — edged out Grand Rapid’s Anna’s House and their #1 Breakfast in Michigan as our favorite. There’s a complicated voting process that Chris does on all his trips. It’s based on NCAA brackets and we’ve determined everything from the best experience we’ve had on vacation to whom in the extended family was going to marry next. The brackets don’t lie!

Minor League ballparks like to keep everything family-friendly, so there are always mascots roaming the stands or strange activities between innings. Mark your calendars; coming up on August 15th, the Loons and the Whitecaps are going to feature — I kid you not — a cowboy monkey rodeo. I was about to tell you about a “rat screen Friday” in Lansing but I misread the minutiae. Turns out it’s flat screen Friday, but with these stadiums, anything’s possible.

The one promotion they should have, though, is “Pay Your Players Better” day. Baseball players on Minor League teams are paid below poverty-level wages. They make lousy paychecks until when/if they get to the Big Leagues. I’m sure all the fans wouldn’t mind paying an extra buck per ticket if they knew the players were getting the money. Lord knows we simply couldn’t ask the owners to pay a little better and maybe not give away as many rat screens.

Regardless, if you like baseball, you really should spend some time in a Minor League park. There are four, alone, here in Michigan; we missed catching a Traverse City Beach Bums contest. Next trip, next time.

It was fantastic bonding with my brother and cousin. Next time we hope our other siblings will come along too. And this was an absolutely zany thought, coming from my cousin, “you know, I’ll bet our wives would like this as well.”

Hmmm … when did I say the cowboy monkey rodeo was scheduled?

A Minor Achievement - West Michigan Whitecaps small
Franky The Swimming Pig poses with Scott and Chris at Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps.
A Minor Achievement - Lansing Lugnuts small
Testing the theory that “you can practically sit anywhere,” Chris Turner and Scott Curtis sit — if not on deck — then definitely in the hole at Cooley Law School Stadium, home of the Lansing Lugnuts.
A Minor Achievement - Toledo Mud Hens small
A crescent moon rises over the Toledo Mud Hens’ Fifth Third Field.