Bats and a ballpark

by Herb Sparrow 24. May 2011 19:58

In the mid-1990s, Charley Trudeau was remodeling houses and playing vintage baseball on the side. One day, since he had all the woodworking tools, someone asked him to make them a vintage bat. The bat was so popular other orders followed. Soon Charlie was out of the remodeling business and into the bat-making business full time.

Today, the Phoenix Bat Co. in the Columbus suburb of Plain City turns out a wide range of wooden bats, from softball to baseball, from high schools to the pros. It is one of some two dozen companies that are approved by Major League baseball to make bats for major leaguers.

Seth Cramer, the general manager and majority owner of the company, gave us an abbreviated version of the hour-long tour he gives groups. "I enjoy doing bus tours," he said. "They are seeing something here they will not see anywhere else."

Seth showed us the computer where the minute details of a bat are calculated. The information is fed into a large state-of-the-art lathe in the back, which spits out maple or ash bats at the rate of one every two minutes. It can work on a dozen kinds of bats at once. Seth also showed us the stacks of squared billets that will be turned into round bats, and how the finished bats are carefully dipped in stain and hung to dry.

Then is was off to the new Huntington Park in downtown Columbus, where some of the bats are used. The park, now in its third season, is the home of the Columbus Clippers, the Triple-A farm team of the Cleveland Indians. Joe Santry, the team's public relations man and resident baseball historian, gave us a tour of the park, which not only has many fan-friendly designs — including openings in the outfield wall where fans on the street outside can view the game for free — but is a veritable baseball museum.

The concourses are lined with glass cases with a wealth of baseball memorabilia, such as a glove that belonged to Lou Gehrig. The walls of a second-story bar behind the left field wall are covered with bats, uniforms, gloves and other equipment of former Clipper players. An exhibit case has the uniform jersey Derek Jeter wore while playing in Columbus when it was a Yankees farm team. Numerous baseball cards, programs, photos, ticket stubs and other printed material are displayed under glass on the 110-foot-long bar's counter. An open-air rooftop on the third level has bleachers that are reminiscent of Chicago's Wrigley Field.

Bats at the Phoenix Bat Co. hang to dry after being dipped in a distinctive stain. Seth Cramer shows one of the bats made by the Phoenix Bat Co. Huntington Park is the charming home of the AAA Columbus Clippers.



Drawing with George

by Herb Sparrow 24. May 2011 00:55

Columbus native George Bellows always had a talent for drawing, even at a young age. And he also had a talent for baseball. When a choice between the two arose, Bellows chose art. He played baseball at Ohio State University in the early 20th century and was offered a pro contract by the Cincinnati Reds. However, he left school early and headed to New York City to study art under Robert Henri.

"George wanted to be an artist," his Aunt Fanny told us at the Columbus Museum of Art."He could draw from an early age." Aunt Fanny, actually a docent who did an amazing job staying in character, took us back to 1915 when Bellows was at the peak of his career and one of the best known artists in the United States. The real Aunt Fanny lived with the Bellows family when George was young.

"I was there to tuck him in at night. I taught him to whistle. I liked the idea of George drawing," she said. Aunt Fanny is part of the museum's innovative Artist for a Day program for groups. After meeting with Aunt Fanny, we were taken to the archives for a rare look at some of Bellows' etchings and drawings, including some early sketches. "it's an opportunity the average visitors doesn't get to do," said Ann, another volunteer. Then it was upstairs to try our hand at duplicating Bellows. However, Ann explained that the brief and basic drawing lesson was really intended to get us to slow down and look more thoroughly and thoughtfully at art.

"We ask you to use drawing as a way to see art," she said as we were handed a small easel, pad of paper and plastic bag with pencils and an art gum eraser. "We are not teaching you how to draw, but a new way to experience art." Sitting on small portable stools, we practiced drawing the motion in a contemporary sculpture of dozens of oblong glass pieces. Then we focused on lines. Finally, moving to a gallery filled with Bellows work — the Columbus museum has the largest repository of his work in the world — we took at stab at copying one of his paintings.

I found myself really focusing on the details in the painting, a wintery 19th-century scene of a tugboat on the East River in New York with workers removing snow in horse-drawn sleds from the river banks in the foreground. Nobody is going to confuse me with Bellows or Picasso, but I did come away from the experience with a heightened appreciation of the intracacies of art.

Aunt Fanny tells about her nephew George Bellows.



Scrapbooks and art

by Herb Sparrow 23. May 2011 22:23

It's like Main Street comes to the mall. Easton, about 10 minutes from downtown Columbus, was one of the forerunners in lifestyle centers, mixed use developments that combine shopping, dining, entertainment, hotels, office space and residential units in an area designed more like a small town than a suburban shopping mall. The 90-acre Easton Town Center features nationally known chains and specialty stores along tree-lined streets with pocket parks, fountains and benches. Tenants include Nordstrom, Macy's, Crate and Barrel, Apple, Tiffany & Co., Burberry and Henri Bendel.

"A lot of thought was put into every corner," said Bethany Braden, marketing manager for the center.

Our day sampling hands-on experiences for groups began with breakfast at Nordstrom's Bistro Cafe before the high-end store opened. "Personal stylists" Kevin Bailey and Maria Kontomerkos gave us a look at the latest styles in men's and women's fashions, including apparel, accessories and shoes. Flowery-pattern swim trunks are in for men. We then had the run of the store before it opened.

Our next stop was Archiver's, a scrapbooker's paradise filled with anything you could possibly want to save your memories in a scrapbook. Although we didn't have time for a full-blown demonstration, the staff explained how groups can take classes in making greeting cards, calendars or scrapbooks. "It is a very social experience," said staff member Courtney. "You can learn something you can apply to your own crafts or learn what is going on in the world of card making."

Groups can also have a cooking demonstration at Sur La Table with chef Brad Kovak.





Letter press and candles

by Herb Sparrow 20. May 2011 20:53

When Allison Chapman was young, she would help her grandfather demonstrate old-fashioned printing on a letterpress at living-history festivals and events. When he died, he left 14-year-old Allison his 1892 press. Chapman moved to Worthington, a Columbus suburb, two years ago from Minnesota and set up Igloo Letterpress in the historic downtown, turning out post cards, invitations, posters, books and all sorts of other printed material with the hand-made quality her grandfather taught her. And she is glad to share her profession with others.

She has several class options for groups, and she let us try a hand. I pulled a slot-machine-like handle to raise an impression on a business card and cranked the handle on a press that rolled red ink on a card to spell thank you — the sentiments I felt for Allison taking me back in time. We then walked over to the Candle Lab, where we got to make a natural soy candle. After sampling more than 110 fragrances from almond to yuzu, we picked out three we wanted to combine to make a candle. The choices also included everything from bubble bath and campfire to morning dew and summer lawn.

I chose dark chocolate, whipped cream and burnt sugar for a desert-style candle. Seated at a fragrance bar, owner Steve Weaver helped us mix fragrance oils in varying doses into a 170-degree base oil until we got an aroma we were satisfied with. It takes about an hour for the candles to set up, so we put the time to good use by walking next door to the House Wine to sample some of its large collection of more than 250 labels from an unusual wine-dispensing machine and then across the street for a delicious gourmet dinner at the historic Worthington Inn.







Hanna and the cheetah

by Herb Sparrow 17. May 2011 19:21

I almost expected to see David Letterman walk in next. There I was, petting a seven-month-old cheetah when in walked Jack Hanna.

“There are only a couple of zoos where you can get this close to a cheetah,” said Hanna, who has gained a worldwide following with his advocacy for wild animals on his own television shows and by regular late-night appearances on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and other national television shows with a fascinating retinue of animals in tow. I was at the Columbus Zoo, where Hanna is the director emeritus, on the first stop of a four-day press trip to the Ohio city to sample some of the many creative experiential opportunities the local CVB has developed for groups. The CVB is so dedicated to making group trips hands-on it has changed its name to Experience Columbus.

The trip got off with a bang at the zoo, where we got to pet Moyo, a runt of the litter who had been abandoned by his mother at the Wilds, the wild animal sanctuary in southeastern Ohio that the Columbus Zoo helps operate. Moyo will probably spend his life at the zoo as an educational cheetah, although this was one of the last chances people will have to touch him. We met Moyo and Hanna at the Polar Frontier area, the zoo’s newest addition, which opened last spring.Hanna exhibited his famous infectious energy as he told about his more than 30 years at the zoo helping build it into a world-respected facility, his efforts to preserve animals in the wild and his philosophy for the zoo’s operation.

“It’s just as much for people as for the animals,” he said. “People have fun here and go away loving the animal world.” Hanna helped rescue the zoo, which was on the verge of being closed when he arrived in 1978, jumping in to help paint and clean the buildings. He gradually built public support, and today the zoo, the third largest in North America, is considered one of the best in the world. “The zoo is my life,” he said. “I come in here at night and walk around. It is beyond a dream. It was a dream I got to live.”






Boston, without the leaves

by Bob Hoelscher 9. May 2011 21:17

On an East Coast trip in April, I enjoyed a three-night stay in Boston, Massachusetts, surely one of our most historic and interesting cities, as well as a prime destination for group tours.

It can also be one of the most confusing places to get around, since many of the streets reportedly originated as cow paths during Colonial times, and eventually were paved over as transportation technology advanced. Happily, however, I have not forgotten my way around town, learned by trial and error when I lived here for the better part of a year back in the early 1980s. 

One of the fascinating things I’ve learned about Boston in over 40 years as a tour operator is that very few domestic groups outside of those domiciled in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic States ever get here except during fall foliage season. I suppose that the rationale is something along the line of “as long as we’re going to go to New England, we might as well go when we can see the beautiful fall colors.” 

Far be it from me to discourage the annual “leaf peeping” migration, but I would like to suggest that Boston really is a destination in itself. In fact, like New York and San Francisco, it’s a great place for a four or five-day trip, and not just a big city to be seen as quickly as possible en route to Vermont and New Hampshire for autumn mountain splendor, maple sugar candy and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Bob Hoelscher, CTC, CTP, MCC, CTIE, is a longtime travel industry executive who has sold his tour company, bought a motorhome and is traveling the highways and byways of America.  He is a former chairman of NTA, and was a founding member of Travel Alliance Partners (TAP).

Well-known in the industry as both a baseball and symphony aficionado, Bob is also one of the country’s biggest fans of our national parks, both large and small.  He has already visited more than 325 NPS sites and has several dozen yet to see.  He is currently traveling the country to visit as many of those parks as possible.  His blog, “Travels with Bob,” appears periodically on The Group Travel Leader’s blogsite, “Are We There Yet”. 

Bob is available for contractual work in the industry and may be reached at or by calling (435) 590-1553.

Boston Public Library, Prudential Tower, Lenox Hotel and Boylston Street

Newbury Street bistros, Boston

Downtown Boston from Prudential Tower Skywalk Observatory


Springtime in Boston

Fenway fever

by Bob Hoelscher 6. May 2011 18:52

Instead of a typical September or October tour, I’m going to suggest that group travel planners think a little “outside of the box” and consider a trip to Boston during the spring! Why so early in the year? Let me count the ways! 

As soon as Mother Nature waves her magic wand and replaces winter’s icy blasts with gentle spring rains, magnificent flowers, budding trees and lush green pastures are sure to soon follow. April marks the arrival of two storied Boston traditions, which almost reach the level of religious fervor for some. 

First is the arrival of the Red Sox from their Fort Myers Grapefruit League home early in the month. Please note that they are known only as the “Sox” locally, as the “pale hose” of Chicago are not recognized in these parts. Few cities take their baseball as seriously as does Boston, so early in the season is the best time to score tickets for a contest at historic Fenway Park. 

Secondly, the storied Boston Marathon, held on Patriots Day in mid-April, is a really big deal, with thousands of active participants and countless more race enthusiasts who come to watch from along the route.    

Few visiting groups would want to miss the opportunity to attend a live performance by the world-renowned Boston Pops, whose brief annual season in town runs only from early May until late June. Staffed by most of the members of the world-class Boston Symphony Orchestra, who don white jackets rather than their black formal attire, the Pops perform in Symphony Hall, the acoustically magnificent concert venue built in 1900.

However, traditional concert seating is replaced by cabaret-style tables for five, food and beverages are served by a uniformed wait staff, and featured guest performers run the gamut of different popular music styles. Furthermore, hotel space in the city is much easier to come by at this time of year rather than during the “peak” fall season, room rates are substantially lower, sightseeing attractions are all open for business, and attractive “shoulder season” air fares are available between Easter and family summer vacation time.

Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox

Statue of Ted Williams outside of Fenway Park, Boston

Symphony Hall, Boston


Springtime in Boston

Exploring Boston by duck

by Bob Hoelscher 5. May 2011 23:18

Most group travel planners are already familiar with, and are sure to include visits to the many historic attractions Boston has to offer: the Freedom Trail, Massachusetts State House, Faneuil Hall, Old North Church, Bunker Hill, the U.S.S. Constitution, etc. I’m going to suggest, however, that you plan ample time for your group to experience the “Back Bay” area surrounding the Prudential Center.

You can begin your sightseeing with splendid panoramic views of the entire city from the Skywalk Observatory atop the Prudential Tower. Downstairs you’ll find an outstanding shopping mall complete with “food court” and popular stand-alone restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory.

Right outside you can board one of 27 brightly colored “Boston Ducks” (amphibious vehicles) for a great, one-hour-and-twenty-minute orientation tour combining a trip through the streets of the city’s central core, plus a refreshing cruise on the Charles River, separating Boston from Cambridge. Boston Duck Tours is also happy to customize tours for groups with such specific interests as history, architecture, or parks and gardens. 

After you’ve familiarized yourself with the basic layout, you’ll discover that Boston is truly a great walking city. Also in the “Back Bay” neighborhood are the trendy upscale shops and cafés lining Newbury Street, the aforementioned Symphony Hall, plus an attractive variety of hotels. 

Faith-based groups and others with an interest in religion or architecture won’t want to miss a visit to the “Mother Church” of Christian Science, as well the adjacent Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity, housing the unusual “Mapparium” three-story, walk-in globe.

Fenway Park is a short drive away, or even within walking distance for more mobile groups, as are the individual community garden plots along the “Fens.” Excellent, free concerts are presented regularly by students of the New England Conservatory (classical) and the Berklee College of Music (popular, folk and jazz). Considering that you will be visiting a city that is always ready for a celebration, you may even stumble upon a parade marching down Boylston Street, as I did last month, which recognized the area’s citizens of Greek heritage.

Aboard a "Boston Duck"

Greek Heritage Parade down Boylston Street, Boston

First Church of Christ, Scientist ("The Mother Church"), Boston


Springtime in Boston

Feasting on Federal Hill

by Brian Jewell 4. May 2011 21:35

I had one of the most delicious experiences of my life today. With a well known culinary school and a thriving foodie scene, Providence has become one of the new cuisine hotspots on the east coast. Federal Hill, a local neighborhood traditionally occupied by immigrants, is home to 62 great restaurants, many of them Italian.

I took a culinary tour of Federal Hill with chef Cindy Salvato, who operates a company called Savoring Rhode Island. We started at Schialo Brothers Bakery, a traditional Italian bakery where one family has created bread, cakes and cookies in a brick oven for nearly 100 years. Next, we visited Roma, an grocery store with beiautiful meats, fresh pastas and imported olive oils, and then Tony's Colonial Food, where the proprietor offerd us a taste of mouth-melting prosciutto. From there, we visited Constantino's Venda Ravioli, a large Italian market and restaurant, where we sampled delicious cheeses and pickled peppers stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto balls.

As if that weren't enough, Cindy took me to lunch at Zooma, a neighborhood Italian restaurant where we ordered pan-fried fresh calamari, brick-oven pizza, and a trio of pastas. The rich bolognese, pillowy gnocchih and intricate sacchettini (stuffed with cheese and mushrooms) were an overwhelming feast of flavor that may be the next best thing to Italy itself.

Fresh bread at Scialo Brothers Bakery.

Bolognese and horseradish at Zooma.

A lesson in olive oils with chef Cindy.


Prosciutto and mozzarella stuffed peppers at Venda Ravioli.


Venda Ravioli's homemade pizza.



Newport's colonial history

by Brian Jewell 3. May 2011 22:21

Everyone knows about the mansions in Newport, RI -- perched high on a hill overlooking the Atlantic ocean, these 19th-century estates were the summer homes of rich robber barrons (Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and the like). Less known, perhaps, are the equally impressive Colonial sites throughout this historic city. I spent today touring numerous historic areas, from the Whithorne House to the Redwood Library and Touro Synagogue, which help to illuminate the distinctive architecture, artistic history and religious heritage of this state.


Whitehorne House: This 1811 structure is part historic home, part furniture museum. Visitors learn about the house and its typical New England architecture during a tour. But the highlight of the visit is not the home itself, but its contents -- today, the structure houses a great collection of Newport furniture, a style that sprang from the simplicity of the area's Puritan roots and evolved to be a beautiful example of Colonial Rhode Island craftsmanship.



Newport Art Museum: Paintings, drawings and other works of art on display at this museum range from Colonial times to the modern area. The exhibits highlight Rhode Island artists, as well as other creative minds from New England. One of the chief attractions is the museum's distinctive main building, an 1862 mansion.


Redwood Library: This institution holds the distinction of being the oldest lending library in the country, and visitors can still see some of the books first purchased by the library members in 1747. A visit to this library is a study in art and architecture as well -- the building is one-of-a-kind, and the art collection includes a Gilbert Stewart painting of George Washington, in addition to other significant pieces.


Touro Synagogue: Another Newport first, Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the United States. The building was dedicated in 1763, and remains a symbol of Rhode Island's heritage as a haven of religious freedom and tolerance. An active congregation still worships here every week, so group tours must be planned around their service times.

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