Sporting USA: Touchdown and tune in
The USA’s sporting cathedrals are a rowdy joy, says Chris Leadbeater.
Chris Leadbeater is a full-time travel journalist who has written for The Independent since 2009. He specialises in the USA, South America and Europe, but has covered destinations as varied as Mozambique, New Zealand, Indonesia and Lebanon. Prior to becoming a travel journalist, he worked as a music writer and for men's magazines.
Friday 19 October 2012
This year sees Fenway Park – arguably the USA's most iconic baseball arena – reach its centenary, making 2012 the perfect time to head to Boston. But from pitcher's mounds in San Diego to end zones in Miami, America is alive with sites where visitors can sample the fervour of a land serious about sport.
A compact amphitheatre, vastly atmospheric, Fenway Park is the oldest Major League Baseball stadium still in use. The home of the Boston Red Sox hosted its first fixture on 20 April 1912, and famously witnessed the swinging genius of Babe Ruth from 1914 to 1919. Tours are available daily (001 617 226 6666; boston.redsox.mlb.com; $16/£10), while game tickets – the baseball season runs March to October – start at $20 (£12.50).
Folklore has it that the transfer of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees ushered in an era of decline for the Red Sox under the "curse of the Bambino". Still, the Yankees are the most successful team in World Series history (with 27 titles). Stadium tours (001 646 977 8687; newyork.yankees.mlb.com; Monday to Friday, selected weekends) cost $20 (£12.50), tickets for matches from $12 (£7.50).
The reigning champions are Missouri's St Louis Cardinals. Tours of their Busch Stadium, a gleaming 2006 creation (001 314 345 9565; stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com; daily), cost $10 (£6), games from $5 (£3). Wrigley Field has been the evocative base of the Chicago Cubs since 1916, perched on the edge of Lake Michigan. Tours are available daily (001 773 404 4734; chicago.cubs.mlb.com) for $25 (£16), with match tickets costing from $8 (£5). Fans can also tip their hats to the sport's greats at the Baseball Hall Of Fame (001 888 425 5633; baseballhall.org; daily 9am-5pm; $20/£12.50) in Cooperstown, New York state.
Keeping the US warm throughout the winter, the football season runs from September to February, culminating in the Super Bowl. This season, the neon showdown (Super Bowl XLVII) will take place on 3 February at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans. Gain an early glimpse of the setting by watching the local team, the New Orleans Saints (001 504 731 1700; neworleanssaints.com), run out at this futuristic steel structure, a venue worth seeing for its architecture alone.
National Football League (NFL) games are generally season-ticket-only affairs (the sport is immensely popular), but vacant seats can be bought through the NFL Ticket Exchange (nfl.com/ticketexchange). Prices depend on the match, but expect to pay from $30 (£19).
The New York Giants (001 201 935 8222; giants.com) are the current champions, donning helmets at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. A recent construction (2010), the arena is open for tours on Saturdays (10am, 1pm) for $20 (£12.50).
With 13 national titles, the Green Bay Packers (001 920 569 7500; packers.com) are the most successful team in the sport's annals, plying their trade at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. This venerable, noisy bear-pit dates back to 1957, and offers daily tours, from $11 (£7). By contrast, the Dallas Cowboys – ranked last month by Forbes as the second most valuable sports franchise on the planet (behind Manchester United) – shoulder arms at the sleek 2009 cauldron that is the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington (001 800 745 3000; dallascowboys.com). Daily tours of the home of the sport's richest team cost $18 (£11).
Elsewhere, in Canton, Ohio, the Pro Football Hall of Fame celebrates the game's seismic moments (001 330 456 8207; profootballhof.com; daily 9am-5pm). Admission $21 (£13).
All speed, co-ordination and lightning counter-attacks, basketball is another US winter favourite – with the National Basketball Association (NBA) season lasting from October to April. The current champions are Miami Heat, based at the American Airlines Arena in the Downtown district of Florida's biggest city (001 786 777 1000; nba.com/heat). This is the stomping ground of point-scoring superstar LeBron James. Tickets start at around $17 (£11).
However, to many casual observers, basketball is the plaything of the Chicago Bulls (001 312 455 4000; nba.com/bulls). Levels of brilliance may have dipped somewhat since the team won six championships in eight years during the Nineties, thanks in large part to the genius of Michael Jordan. But a statue of this court tyro stands outside the United Center in the Loop, recalling the glory days. Tickets to see the 2012 line-up cost from $44 (£27.50).
The glamour baton has maybe passed to the Los Angeles Lakers (001 310 426 6031; nba.com/lakers) with their Hollywood fans (like Leonardo DiCaprio), alumni such as Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal, and a side that has been led for over a decade by the brilliant Kobe Bryant. Join the celebrity set at the Staples Center, where seats start at $34 (£21).
Tucked away in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (001 413 781 6500; hoophall.com) is named after James Naismith, who invented the sport in 1891. It's open daily 10am-4pm (weekends to 5pm), admission $19 (£12).
With its raw aggression and relentless pace, ice hockey is undoubtedly the least subtle of the classic American sports. The National Hockey League (NHL) mixes the best teams in Canada and the USA – with 23 of those 30 clubs smashing pucks south of the border. The season runs from November to June – concluding with the face-off for the Stanley Cup. The current champions are the Los Angeles Kings (001 888 546 4752; kings.nhl.com), who share the Staples Center with the Lakers – tickets from $19 (£12). But the top dogs (at least in the USA; the Montreal Canadiens – with 24 victories – have the best overall Stanley Cup record), are the Detroit Red Wings, with11 titles. Matches take place at the Joe Louis Arena (001 313 396 7575; redwings.nhl.com). Tickets from $37 (£23).
Next month witnesses the return of Formula 1 racing to America, and the first United States Grand Prix in five years. Lewis Hamilton et al will take to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on 16-18 November. Buy tickets – day passes begin at £223 – via formula1.com.
The loud thrum of wheels in motion has long held America's attention – perhaps most notably in the form of the Indianapolis 500, the 500-mile epic staged at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana, every May. Tickets for 2013's extravaganza (on 26 May) start at a basic $30 (£19) (001 317 492 8500; indianapolis motorspeedway.com).
Contrary to perception, the Indy 500 is not part of the Nascar (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing; nascar.com) event calendar – but the competing tyre-screech of the Daytona 500 (also 500 miles), held at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, certainly is (001 800 748 7467; daytonainternationalspeedway.com). Next year's velocity bonanza is scheduled for 24 February, tickets from $32 (£20).
The pounding of hooves echoes in Louisville, where the Kentucky Derby has thundered around the Churchill Downs racecourse since 1875. Standing tickets for the 2013 edition (held on 4 May), billed as "the fastest two minutes in sports", start at $50 (£31) and are available via kentuckyderby.com. The attached Derby Museum (001 502 637 1111; derbymuseum.org) is open 8am-5pm (Sunday 11am-5pm), entry $14 (£9).
New York's Flushing Meadows, specifically the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, witnessed Andy Murray's first Grand Slam win last month. His triumph will guarantee increased British fascination with the 2013 version of the tennis season's final Grand Slam, slated to be held between 26 August and 8 September. Prices have not yet been announced, but tickets will be available via 001 949 333 4001 and usopen.org.
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