Follow baseball online, then hit the road

Spring begins many things, including my first love -- baseball.

There really isn't much that beats a spring or summer day, sitting in a favorite ballpark, watching baseball, eating nachos and just relaxing with a friend or two or 36,910. I would someday like to travel to every major league ballpark, but I'm going pretty slowly right now. I've visited just seven. Plus, I can't seem to stop going to my favorite place -- Wrigley Field in Chicago -- so maybe at least I'll see all the teams play there.

Now, through the Internet, you can find team and player information, buy tickets and merchandise and figure out how to get to a particular ballpark. Last year, I purchased tickets to a Cubs game for me and a friend. Even though our seats were pretty high, we managed to move closer to the field; so close that by the end of the game, my friend was sitting in the on-deck circle. Luckily, she was wearing a helmet.

All this information can be obtained at MLB.com. The front page shows headlines, an updated scoreboard, auction and shopping areas, broadcasting information and fantasy news. The site also has a comprehensive statistics area, where you can sort stats by league, team, time frame -- just about anything you choose. I was disappointed, though, because I wanted to sort by weight of third baseman, so maybe they will add that feature in the future.

There are also ways to interact with other fans, via message boards and polls. There are a good number of posts, plus you can establish your own account, which includes an e-mail address with your favorite team as a possible domain. For instance, I could sign up for an e-mail address through cubsmvp.com, which is just a mirror site of MLB.com's Cubs page.

Although MLB.com exhausts many possibilities, the design of each team site is pretty much the same. Even last year, most teams had their own Web sites, done by either the team itself, a local media outlet or an outside developer. There are many things missing, mostly cosmetic, that made each team's site as unique as the ivy-covered walls at Wrigley or the Green Monster at Boston's Fenway Park. The Web site is organized, but is displayed in a somewhat cluttered fashion. Take a look at the site and you'll understand.

If you are a baseball history buff, you want more than just the current rosters and statistics. Unfortunately, the best site of these sorts, Baseball-reference.com, appeared to be down at the time this article was being written. I was on the site about a month ago and reveled in the vast amount of data. You could search for any player who had ever played in the majors and find out anything you wanted about them. You could also do searches by team to find pertinent information. I used to always have trouble remembering the third baseman for the 1988 World Series champion Dodgers -- it was Jeff Hamilton. I'm not positive about his weight, but I'm guessing he would be listed below Ron Cey.

For now, you can still search data at the Online Baseball Encyclopedia. It says most stats are sortable, but many things are still not available, and I hope the other site is up soon.

So if you're ready to take a vacation and visit a few ballparks this summer, get your tickets and map and get ready to go! Bring me back some nachos if you go. You have my e-mail address.