Sure, there's always plenty going on around Boston to satisfy the appetite of even the most die-hard of sports fans. But there's something special about hitting the road with the home teams to cheer them on as they invade enemy turf. A sports-themed vacation also offers the perfect excuse to leave New England behind and travel around the country - and the world. Here are the top 10 road trips that Boston fans can take in 2009 to root, root, root for the home teams:
1. PLAYOFF PREVIEW? Jan. 9 and April 12:
The Celtics will visit Cleveland twice this regular season, and there's a good chance the NBA's defending champs will return in the playoffs to take on LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Cleveland may be the biggest obstacle in Boston's quest for an 18th championship banner, and these regular-season tilts could match the league's two best teams. After showing off your Celtic Pride, take a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum. Or if you're more interested in gridiron greats than guitar heroes, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, is only an hour's drive south. Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett is among its newest members and his freshly minted bronze bust graces a gallery of legends.
2. O CANADA! Feb. 1-5:
The Bruins are off to their best start in years, raising hopes that the black and gold will bring the Stanley Cup back to the Hub for the first time since 1972. Hit the road for an old-school matchup against fierce rival Montreal on Feb. 1. Just like the Bruins, the Canadiens abandoned a great old hockey barn, the Forum, for the comforts of a sterile rink, the Bell Centre. The new arena still thunders, however, when the Habs take the ice, and Canadiens fans are in full throat cheering on their beloved bleu, blanc, et rouge. Bruins fans can stay in the Great White North for Boston's Feb. 5 clash against the Ottawa Senators, another division foe. And for a true hockey-themed vacation, head to Toronto and the Hockey Hall of Fame, where you can get your picture taken with a long-lost friend, Lord Stanley's Mug.
3. HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL Feb. 14-March 31:
Every February, a moving truck loaded with bats, gloves, and baseballs departs Fenway Park and heads south for spring training. It's a welcome sign that another long winter is entering its final throes and the boys of summer are gearing up for another season. Legions of Red Sox fans also make the trek to Fort Myers, Fla., to watch the team work out at its minor league complex and play Grapefruit League opponents at City of Palms Park. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to work out for the first time on Feb. 14 with the first full-squad workout on Feb. 18. Exhibition games run Feb. 25-March 31. A handful of Sox stars, such as MVP Dustin Pedroia, are scheduled to compete in the World Baseball Classic, March 5-23, and may be absent from camp during that time.
4. GEORGIA PEACH BASKETS March 12-15:
The Atlantic Coast Conference, anchored by perennial powers North Carolina and Duke, may be the best men's college basketball conference in the country, and the ACC Tournament is a hoops feast, with 11 games in four days. Cheer on Boston College, predicted to finish in the middle of the pack this year, as they battle their conference foes in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Baseball fans who remember when the Braves called Boston home should pay a visit to the Ivan Allen Jr. Braves Museum & Hall of Fame at Turner Field while they're in Atlanta. Much of the museum focuses on the team's exploits in Atlanta, but there's a section devoted to the team's 82 seasons in Boston.
5. CAPITAL CHAMPIONSHIP April 9-11:
While the top women teams in college hockey will descend upon Boston for their Frozen Four, the men will head to Washington, D.C., for the semifinals and finals of the NCAA Ice Hockey Championship. There's no guarantee that a Boston team will be among the final four skating, but Boston University, Boston College, and Northeastern are all off to hot starts, and the Eagles are defending champions. In addition to the requisite monument gawking, visit the newly refurbished National Museum of American History, which includes artifacts such as the boxing gloves of Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis.
6. THE EMPIRE'S NEW DIGS May 4-5, Aug. 6-9, Sept. 25-27:
Just when the Red Sox finally conquered all the ghosts that demonized them in The House That Ruth Built, the Yankees are moving into a plush new edifice across the street from their vacated cathedral. The Sox will visit the new Yankee Stadium - The House That George Steinbrenner (and New York City Taxpayers) Built - three times this season. While the venue will be different, the intensity of the rivalry will no doubt remain the same. On your way home, stop by Babe Ruth's grave at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., 30 miles north of the stadium, and offer your condolences at the loss of his old stomping ground.
7. THE HALL BECKONS July 24-27:
On Jan. 12, the new class of inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced, and this may finally be the year that Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, in his last year of eligibility, gets the nod to join the pantheon of deities enshrined in the Hall's hardball heaven. If Rice does get the call to the Hall, thousands of Sox disciples will make the 240-mile pilgrimage to the sleepy hamlet of Cooperstown, N.Y., for the induction ceremony on July 26. Hall of Famers will attend events and autograph signings all weekend as they welcome their newest brethren. Even if Rice doesn't make it, Sox fans should still make a journey to see the Hall's wealth of artifacts, such as the promissory note selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees, Ted Williams's locker, and Curt Schilling's famed bloody sock from the 2004 championship season.
8. UNDER THE GOLDEN DOME Oct. 24:
Boston College and Notre Dame are the only two Roman Catholic schools playing big-time college football. One has been a pigskin power in bowl games over the last decade and has won six straight games against its rival. The other is Notre Dame. This will be BC's last trip to South Bend, Ind., for the near future as football's "Holy War" is scheduled to end in 2010. Despite their recent mediocre seasons, a trip to tradition-rich Notre Dame is always high on a sports fan's wish list, and campus landmarks such as Touchdown Jesus and the Golden Dome will be instantly recognizable to those who have watched the Irish on television for years. BC fans will want to visit the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown South Bend and see the exhibits related to their patron saint, Doug Flutie.
9. TALLY HO! Oct. 25:
When the Patriots hit the road to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next season, Pats fans can leave their swimsuits and sunscreen at home and grab their passports and umbrellas instead. The NFL shifted the game from sunny Florida to London for the road game of all road games. Hopefully the wounds from that little Revolution business a few centuries ago have healed in the motherland as a band of Patriots from New England forays into old England. While in London, fans should check out English "football." A number of soccer teams in the English Premier League, including powerhouses Chelsea and Arsenal, call London home, and the passion of the fans at the matches will be instantly familiar to Bostonians.
10. BATTLE ON THE BAYOU
Patriots fans certainly have fond memories of New Orleans, site of the team's first Super Bowl triumph in 2002. (Just don't mention those two Super Bowl losses against the Bears and Packers, which also happened in the Big Easy.) Pats fans will have another chance to party on Bourbon Street in 2009 as New England takes on the New Orleans Saints. (The NFL will announce the date of the tilt when it releases its schedule in early spring.)
(Some of these events may already be sold out, but tickets can always be found from brokers and other fans in online ticket exchanges.)
Christopher Klein, author of "The Die-Hard Sports Fan's Guide to Boston" (Union Park, spring 2009), can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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