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Hold on to your seats cowboys, Arlington, TX, located just outside Dallas, is being invaded by 2 of college basketball’s most storied, blue-blood programs in the nation. With a 9:10|8:10c tip off in the first-ever cats vs. dogs National Championship game, the Wildcats of the University of Kentucky will square off against the University of Connecticut Huskies for a chance to be crowned college basketball royalty — national champions.

Everyone knows the saying “everything’s bigger in Texas,” and no statement could ring more true for tonight on the eve of college basketball’s biggest game. After shattering the attendance record for a Final Four tournament this past Saturday with 79,444 fans, don’t expect that record to stay intact much longer — Dallas is about to see a lot more fans in blue. READ MORE

Arctic Man

Arctic Man

From Alaskan cuisine to winter sports events and hotel restorations, escape to Alaska with Andrew Zimmern, Adam Richman and Anthony Melchiorri this Sunday on Travel Channel from 2|1c to 7|6c READ MORE

Have you filled out your bracket yet? The field of 68 is officially down to 64 as the real March Madness tips off today. In just a little more than 2 weeks of basketball mayhem, 64 teams will vie to be crowned National Champion. With so much parity among the 4 regions of this year’s tournament, upsets are sure to abound, so let the games begin!

From Bryce Drew’s buzzer-beating game winner for Valparaiso in 1998 to number 1 seed Kansas falling to 9th-seeded Northern Iowa in 2010, anything can happen. Whether you’re from one of the best college basketball towns in the country, like Lexington, KY, or you’re a small-town guy with big-hoops dreams, head to one of college basketball’s greatest venues to be on hand for this year’s best games and biggest upsets. If there’s one thing you can always count on the NCAA men’s tournament for, it’s that it won’t disappoint the fans.

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Break out the peanuts and cracker jacks, Major League Baseball is back! And in an attempt to bring baseball’s international popularity to new heights, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers will kick off the 2014 MLB season with an opening series in Sydney. These games on March 22 and 23rd will mark the first time the MLB season has started abroad.

For the rest of the league, however, Opening Day (and night) will commence on March 30-31, where the other 28 teams will begin their grueling, 162-game schedule, all with the hopes of being crowned World Series champion in 7 months.

As you get ready to hit the road for your own Opening Day experience, don’t miss our choices for baseball’s greatest stadiums, from Baltimore’s beautiful Oriole Park at Camden Yards to the world-famous Fenway Park in Boston. And while the whole world gets ready for another unbelievable season, check out some of the tasty ballpark treats that will be stocking the shelves across America’s stadiums as you gear up for Opening Day 2014.

The Washington Post / Getty Images

For more than a century, baseball spring training was strictly a professional endeavor — a time for athletes to shake the cobwebs of winter and prepare for the 6-month season that starts every April.

But that was before towns and teams discovered they could add to their coffers by persuading snow-weary fans to buy tickets, food, souvenirs in intimate ballparks where autographs are as common as hot dogs.

The 30 big-league teams, evenly divided between Florida and Arizona, spend March playing meaningless exhibition games that count only in the minds of managers who need to reduce rosters to 25 players by Opening Day. Newspapers print won-lost records and “standings” from the Grapefruit League and Cactus League, respectively, but few fans notice.

They’re more concerned with the play of red-hot rookies or rehabbing veterans whose spring performances can influence the pending pennant races.

Spring training is simply a baseball hors d’oeuvre. Established players rarely play more than a few innings and often skip road games; virtually all games are played on natural grass in daylight; and schedules are determined by geographic proximity rather than league rivalry.

If history serves as an accurate barometer, spring training was a cool topic even before it became a hot travel destination. Here are a few of the reasons: READ MORE

Katz's Delicatessen

Photography By Fernando Mafra, Flickr

This weekend, MetLife Stadium, located a short distance from New York City, will host the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos in one of the largest sporting events of the year – Super Bowl XLVIII.

Football fanatics and tourists alike will flock to NYC, and even if you’re not one of the lucky fans going to the game, the city is a great place to get your fix of tailgating food favorites – from hot dogs and burgers to pizza and sandwiches, NYC is chock-full of places to eat the day of the big game. To help you choose, we’ve picked out a few of NYC’s best eateries, all of which will be featured in our Food Paradise episodes scheduled to air on Sunday: READ MORE

Championship weekend is finally here, and the NFL’s magnifying glass is situated squarely on 2 very different cities: Denver, CO, and Seattle, WA.

In the first epic showdown of the weekend, 2 legends at the quarterback position, Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, go head-to-head in the playoffs for the 4th time in their careers. And with Manning no longer a Colt, the rivalry remains, but the location has changed. For those attending Sunday’s game, there are a plethora of activities, hotels and restaurants to enjoy in the Mile High City. READ MORE

Heading into Pasadena, CA, for the big game? Before Florida State University and Auburn University step foot inside The Rose Bowl for tonight’s Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship, don’t miss out on all the great restaurants, bars, hotels and attractions in and around the City of Roses.

If you’re looking for an all-American dining experience in Pasadena, look no further then Pie n’ Burger, a classic burger joint that celebrates the American traditions of burgers and pie. Not in the mood for pie? No problem! Head to Pasadena’s favorite ice cream parlor, Fair Oaks Pharmacy, famous for its simple ice cream sundaes, lime rickeys and milkshakes. And after all that eating, burn off some calories with a walk down the road to stop by The Norton Simon Museum and check out the 5 must-see pieces at the museum named for a man and his money.

When I’m traveling to Pasadena, my favorite place to stay is just 20 minutes away, in the City of Angels: Los Angeles. For a classy place to stay, check out our picks for some of the city’s most romantic hotels. Also, when staying in LA, there are so many activities and restaurants that are sure to get your heart racing and your tummy growling. Don’t miss out on some of the simple, low-budget activities in the city, as well as some of LA’s most mouthwatering meals on wheels.

And for a little more family fun after the big game, a short, 45-minute drive down the I-5 from Pasadena will land you in Anaheim, home to Disneyland, beaches, hotels, restaurants and more.

There are no more “win and in” situations — the NFL Super Bowl is finally set! With just 2 teams left, it’s an all-out war, with each player hoping to make their childhood dream come true — hoisting the Lombardi trophy over their head, and becoming a Super Bowl champion.

With less than a week until Super Bowl XLVIII, and tens of thousands of fans planning to flock to MetLife Stadium for the big game, if you haven’t booked your travel arrangements yet, check out our list of the best discount travel sites, because now is the time to act … and fast! READ MORE

 

Baseball legend Ted Williams greets visitors at the Hitters Hall of Fame. (Photo by Darren Garnick)

First-time visitors to Tropicana Field might be surprised to see a Ted Williams Museum across from the concession stands. After all, why would a legendary Boston Red Sox star be celebrated in the home of the Tampa Bay Rays? Doesn’t this museum belong at Fenway Park?

It turns out that Williams, aka “The Splendid Splinter,” spent much of his retirement years in Citrus County, FL, and helped raise funds for a baseball diamond-shaped museum that opened there in 1994. Poor attendance — the rural county is far off the tourist radar — forced the museum to relocate in 2006. The Rays offered to house the 10,000-square-foot facility when it was clear that the Red Sox didn’t have the space.

The quality and rarity of the baseball memorabilia at the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame is on par with the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Williams’ childhood baseball bat and glove are here, as are his fishing tackle box (he’s also in the Fishing Hall of Fame) and artifacts from his service in World War II and the Korean War. Yet, there’s also plenty to see for the fans of the other 29 Major League Baseball teams.

The Hitters Hall of Fame honors the greatest offensive players in history, including both current and retired players. “Kids want to see the stars of today,” explains executive director Dave McCarthy. “Once they get pumped up about players they can relate to, there’s a window for them to get excited about the history.”

The 2013 Hitters Hall of Fame inductees were Darrell Evans, Lou Piniella, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Sandy Alomar Sr. (Photo by Darren Garnick)

When you first walk into the museum, which is only open during Rays home games, appearances can be deceiving. The first floor is a small group of display cases and a painting gallery by artist-in-residence Justyn Farano, whom on most days visitors can watch in action. But at the back of the room, a staircase leads to an exhibit area 10 times as large.

“A lot of visitors tell us that they enjoy us even more than Cooperstown,” says McCarthy. “I don’t think we have a more impressive collection, but I think people love seeing this stuff in a ballpark setting. For every wine and cheese guy out there, there are 100 beer and hot dog guys — we’re a museum that caters to the beer and hot dog guy.”

Another difference from Cooperstown: This Hall of Fame honors all-time hit leader Pete Rose, who was banned from the MLB for gambling on Cincinnati Reds games while he was the manager. McCarthy says he’s been flooded with compliments for including Rose.

“Most fans feel that he should be forgiven. The crime doesn’t fit the punishment. He didn’t throw games. He bet on his own team to win,” he says. “The steroids era is another story — we’re steering away from that whole mess for now.”

Tropicana Field’s “Touch-A-Ray” Tank looks like it is spilling over the centerfield wall, but that is an illusion. The rays’ swimming area is confined to the observation deck. (Photo by Darren Garnick)

Outside the gates of the Ted Williams Museum, there’s a bevy of family-friendly activities. Kids can pose for their own Topps baseball cards for $5 each and there’s a coloring wall where they are challenged to draw Raymond, the blue furry mascot of the Rays.

There’s also a giant fish tank in the centerfield stands, teeming with real rays of varying sizes. Staff from Tampa’s Florida Aquarium instruct fans how to safely touch and feed the animals without disturbing them. Lines are usually long, so be sure to show up early.

With the Tampa Bay Rays currently fighting for one of the Wild Card berths in the playoffs, the Hitters Hall of Fame could potentially be open for business deep into October. Regardless of how the Rays do, fans planning the ultimate baseball road trip should mark February 1 on their calendars. That’s when the new inductees are officially honored.

In addition to the ceremonies for the Class of 2014, which has yet to be announced, the Ted Williams Museum hosts a fundraising dinner on the Tropicana baseball diamond and invites fans to participate in photo and autograph sessions with up to 2 dozen retired and current stars. So far, confirmed guests include Cy Young Award winner David Price, Grant Balfour, Tony Oliva, Denny McClain, Ron LeFlore, Darrell Evans and Oscar Gamble.

“Players tell me that they’ve never had dinner on a Major League Baseball field before,” McCarthy smiles. “It’s a night when they become little kids again.”

For more information on the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, visit TedWilliamsMuseum.com.

By Darren Garnick

 

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