Monday, May 31, 2010

Jefferson Memorial Forest

Jefferson Memorial Forest is a nice getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life, and it's only 15 miles from downtown Louisville.

With more than 6,000 acres of forest, there are great opportunities for camping, fishing, hiking and more.

We started our visit at the Welcome Center near the Tom Wallace Recreation Area on Mitchell Hill Road. The Welcome Center has maps and snacks. We also rented an "Eco-Adventure" kit for the kids for $5. The kit contains binoculars, a magnifying glass, specimen jar, thermometers, a workbook, guides to trees, birds and wildflowers, and more.

We used the workbook as we hiked around Tom Wallace Lake to identify some of the trees and flowers that we saw. We compared the temperature of the air, soil and water, and we used the specimen jar to briefly capture a small frog so we could examine him with our magnifying glass.

The trail ended at a playground, so the boys were able to use up more of their energy before we enjoyed a picnic lunch. We finished our half day at the park with a hike on the 1/4-mile Tulip Trail, which featured 10 trees that had been marked for identification. Our workbook gave us useful insights into each tree.

Sheraton Louisville Riverside

Sheraton has undergone a major facelift in the last couple of years, including more than $6 billion invested in 120 renovated hotels and 56 new hotels.

The Sheraton Louisville Riverside is actually located in Jeffersonville, Indiana, but it is on the riverside, and it is very convenient. It's located between the I-65 bridge to Louisville and the U.S. 31 bridge to Louisville. Either option takes you into the heart of downtown Louisville within minutes.

The Sheraton Louisville had an updated lobby with the chain's Link@Sheraton business center and the bar and grille. The hotel staff was very friendly, and as I returned from parking the car, the bellman welcomed me by name.

Our room was also updated. It featured the new white bedding and a flat screen TV. Free wireless internet was also available.

While the bedding was new, I'm not sure the bed was. Our mattress seemed to roll us into the middle. The bathroom was also a bit small, but the fixtures were nice and new.

We also took advantage of the pool during our stay. It's a great pool for families - somewhat small but depths ranging only from 3' to 4'.

If you choose not to eat at the hotel's bar and grille, there are three good options within a block - Kingfish, Buckhead Mountain Grill and Hooters.

Louisville Bats / Slugger Field

Our Friday evening was spent at Slugger Field watching the Triple-A Louisville Bats battle the Gwinnett Braves.

The Bats have been playing baseball in Louisville for a long time (many of those years as the Louisville Redbirds) and moved into the downtown ballpark in 2000. As a regular at Indianapolis' Victory Field, I have to give the nod to my hometown ballpark, but Slugger Field is still a great place to watch a ballgame.

Parking is fairly convenient. There are a couple of large lots within a couple blocks of the stadium and a lot of on-street parking. I've always had good luck finding an open parking meter (free after 6 p.m.) when going to games at Slugger Field.

Ticket prices are low, ranging from $7-$11 for adults. Kids get a $1 discount.

The food offerings are good. Louisville is Papa John's country, so my kids dragged me to the Papa John's stand for some personal pizzas. Glad I had some cash on hand - those stands don't take credit cards, although the "fixed" concession stands do.

Some of the more interesting food offerings - roasted corn on the cob and double-stacked bologna.

Like most minor league parks, it's a very intimate setting in Louisville. The lower seating bowl consists of 20 or so rows, and then there is a small upper deck.

Louisville is definitely family friendly. The right field corner features a playground and a carousel ($1).

After the third inning, ushers came through and passed out free kids activity books - a good way to keep the younger fans entertained.

Our game happened to be a quick one. Before the kids could finish their giant sno-cones, the game was in the eighth inning.

Actuallly, the game we saw will go down in the record books. Gwinnett's pitcher tossed a no-hitter - the first in stadium history.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Louisville Slugger Museum

As a life-long baseball fan, I can't believe it's taken me this long to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum. Especially since it's only a two-hour drive from Indianapolis.

The museum is part of a museum district in the historic downtown area of Louisville. Other museums nearby of note include the Science Center/IMAX, Muhammed Ali Center and Glassworks.

Located on Main Street, I found a two-hour parking meter one block away, however, there are also a couple of $5 lots and parking garages nearby.

Driving down Main St. and wondering when you'll see the museum? Just keep watch on your left for the giant baseball bat towering above the building.
Once inside the doors, the gift shop and exhibit room are off to the left, the ticket booth just past them and then another exhibit room, theater and a batting cage farther down the hall.
The cost of admission is well worth it. It's $10 for adults, $5 for kids 6-12, and kids 5 and under are free. (That was nice).
The price of admission includes a 30-minute tour through the middle of the factory floor. While making numerous stops with your small guided group, you'll get to see the transformation of a billet (the cylindrical piece of ash or maple) into a baseball bat. First stop - an old-fashioned lathe where it used to take more than two hours for a craftsman to shape a baseball bat.
The next stop shows the new, automated lathe that shaves it down within 30 seconds.
During our 30-minute tour, the factory churns out enough bats to give every player on your favorite team's starting lineup three bats. Overall, the factory makes more than 1.8 million bats for major and minor leaguers, and amateurs.
Throughout the tour, we had the chance to handle sample bats at nearly every stop, including the bats of great players such as Alex Rodriquez and Derek Jeter.
The tour shows them branding the Louisville Slugger logo and the player's signature into the wood, and finally, the bats getting dipped into colored finish.
It's a very interesting journey.
The exhibit hall is filled with numerous bats and artifacts from various eras. One of Joe DiMaggio's bats from his record-setting hitting streak is on display, as is the bat Hank Aaron used to hit his 500th home run. George Brett's famous "pine tar" bat is also included.
Step over to the far wall of the room and 60 feet 6 inches is marked off behind glass. A video projector of a major league pitcher plays as a 90 mph fastball shoots out into the glove of an inflatable catcher. Stand beside this exhibit and it doesn't take long to realize how hard it is to be a major league hitter. (The ball gets to the plate in less than 1/3 of a second!)
Life-size figurines of Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ted Williams also fill the exhibit room.
A separate exhibit room paid tribute to the Negro Leagues with contemporary artwork as well as artifacts. An original glove of Satchel Paige and Willie Mays were on display, as well as Roy Campanella's 1955 NL MVP award.
The movie playing during our visit was a 12-minute flick about hitting, narrated by James Earl Jones. Can't go wrong with that.
Before hitting the gift shop, our final stop was the batting cage. Anyone age 6 and older is welcome to take 10 swings for $1. I'm happy to say I connected solidly with quite a few of the 10 40 mph pitches I saw, and my son was outstanding facing some 20 mph pitches.
Allow about 2 hours to take the tour and see the exhibits.