You would think that after spending much of our time in Chicago, a trip to the significantly smaller South Bend, Ind., wouldn't be much to be excited about. Admittedly, when our trip first began, our little jaunt over to the fourth-largest city in Indiana to see the Single-A South Bend Silver Hawks was a minor event, just another team and stadium to cross off the list.
Then we arrived, and South Bend instantly became the most memorable stop on the trip thus far.
After a brief stop at Roma's for a tasty Italian beef sandwich, we began our 90-minute drive to South Bend. The original plan was to arrive into town with enough time to take some photos of Notre Dame's famous "The Word of Life" mural (affectionately nicknamed Touchdown Jesus) before heading over to the Silver Hawks game.
On our way into the city, however, we discovered that the College Football Hall of Fame is located in South Bend. We determined that Touchdown Jesus could wait for an hour or so while we checked out this hidden treasure. The museum ended up being a fount of knowledge, featuring tons of information on college football's past and present.
The hall of fame also featured a few interactive elements, including opportunities for my dad and I to embarrass ourselves with some throwing and kicking activities. My dad proved to be an impressive quarterback and place kicker. The less said about my attempts, the better (I could've sworn Roger Staubach's bust shed a tear after seeing one of my lame duck passes).
After spending an hour literally kicking around the College Football Hall of Fame, we emerged to find one of South Bend's main drags shut down and filled with retro cars and people taking photos. As it turns out, South Bend was the former home of Studebaker autos, and my dad and I had just happened to walk into a small Studebaker convention. Owners from across the country traveled to show off their beautifully preserved classic cars.
I'm not much of a gearhead, but even I could respect the cars from America's automotive golden age, when a car wasn't just a mode of transportation but a statement.
Eventually, we made our way over to Notre Dame's campus to snap some photos of Touchdown Jesus, but after the random history and excitement we'd walked into, it was almost a side note to the day. Plus, as a future Marquette University grad, I despise Notre Dame. Frankly, we made the stop almost more out of historical obligation than real interest.
Finally, after all of those expected adventures and discoveries, we got to the main event: the South Bend Silver Hawks game. Coveleski Stadium is very nice ballpark, featuring nice concourses and a vibrant color scoreboard. The most unique aspect was the team store, which was located inside a renovated synagogue on the premises. A Star of David was still prominently placed on the roof, and behind the shop's register was a mural of Noah's Ark (featuring the clever note, "Rain Delay").
Lo and behold, however, there were more surprises afoot. In addition to being Irish Night at the ballpark (and dollar beer night!), the stadium was playing host to NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr., who brought his No. 56 car, signed autographs and threw out the first pitch. Again, I'm not a NASCAR fan, but a famous athlete is still a famous athlete.
The game did eventually start, and matching suit with the rest of the day, it was unpredictably crazy. The Silver Hawks clobbered the Fort Wayne TinCaps (managed by former Milwaukee Brewer Jose Valentin), 16-0. It was such a massacre that the TinCaps used not one, but two of their infielders as relief pitchers. Tyler Stubblefield, the third baseman/makeshift reliever, even ended up recording a better box score line than the starter.
We ended up driving home with far more memories of South Bend than we ever could have imagined. You can plan a vacation as intricately as you want, but it'll always be something unexpected that makes a trip the stuff of family lore.
Trip notes: See above.
Total hot dogs eaten: Four. Still, I did have an Italian sausage at the game, so maybe that counts?
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