- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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There are 365 days in a year (366 this year), and of all those dates there is pretty much only one that does not feature a major sporting event in this country and that's the day after the All-Star Game (better known at the World Wide Leader as "Black Wednesday").
If you could choose from all those thousands of pro and college baseball, football, basketball, hockey, tennis, horse racing, squash and lawn dart games played on the remaining days, which events would you choose?
That's not an easy question by any stretch of the imagination, but here are the dozen American sporting events Road Warrior would choose, one for each month:
Jan. 20: NFC Championship in Green Bay
The Super Bowl is attended by CEOs who couldn't care less about who wins or loses, but the conference championships are much, much different and far, far more entertaining. And there is no better spot to capture the ultimate NFL experience than at Lambeau Field especially if the snow flies from the Wisconsin skies (though the Seahawks may disagree).
Note: See our recent Pilgrimage Lambeau or Bust.
Feb. 28: Braves vs. Dodgers at Vero Beach
This is the last season the Dodgers will train at Florida's Vero Beach their spring home ever since Jackie Robinson wore blue and they may leave in mid-March due to a possible series in Beijing. So while you have the chance, make time to visit Dodgertown. As you wander Vin Scully Way and Duke Snider Street, think about all the greats who have played on these fields and what the game used to be like when players shared rooms in on-site dorms rather than holing up in private luxury condos on the golf course (the spoiled babies).
March 21 and 23: NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in Raleigh
The Final Four is great and all, but for sheer excitement, last-second baskets and cuticle-devouring upsets, you can't beat the wall-to-wall, daylong drama at a sub-regional. Experience this one at the home court of North Carolina State.
April 11-14: The Masters at Augusta
If you can somehow get your fingers on a ticket for this, you should get down on your knees at Amen Corner and shout Alleluia so often and so loud that Tiger Woods will complain about the noise from the first tee.
May: NHL playoffs, host cities TBD
Throw out your razor and stuff an octopus down your pants for hockey so exciting even Americans would consider tuning in to watch.
June (ends in July): U.S. Track and Field Trials in Eugene
If you can't make the Olympics in Beijing, check out the next best thing. And there is no better environment for the trials than at the University of Oregon, a k a Track Town USA. You'll feel like putting on a pair of old Nike Cortez trainers and running a couple of laps around Hayward Field yourself.
July 15: All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium
No stadium has seen such history the Louis-Schmeling bouts, the Army-Notre Dame games, the 1958 NFL Championship Game and a World Series or two by the Yankees but it all comes to a close at the end of this season when New York tears down the ballpark. If you've never been there, you NEED to get to Yankee Stadium sometime this summer to say farewell and there is no better game than the Midsummer Classic. Sure, the tickets will be more expensive, but look at it this way: There won't be as many Yankees as at a regular-season game.
August: Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs
Horses began racing here during the Civil War (which is about the last time I cashed a winning ticket) and a visit to the New York track is like a trip to another era, one of gilded-age tycoons, Victorian belles and semi-alcoholic gamblers.
September (starts in August): U.S. Open Tennis in New York
The Open has all the excitement of Wimbledon with none of the snobbish elitism and phony politeness. A night match on a side court when the Flushing Meadows competition may last past midnight can be so raucous you would swear John McEnroe is in the stands.
October: World Series, host cities TBA (but we'll safely assume it won't be in Tampa)
OK, the Cubs probably aren't going to win it this year. But if they somehow DO win the World Series for the first time in 100 years, you'll want to be there, even if it means going with Bartman.
Nov. 22: Ohio State vs. Michigan at Columbus
As Road Warrior wrote in an earlier column, it's hard to beat the USC-UCLA rivalry as a tourist destination. But for sheer competitiveness and importance in the national stakes, watching the Wolverines and Buckeyes play is the top pick for a college game this year.
December: Pipeline Masters surfing in Hawaii
The North Shore of Oahu is surfing's mecca; its Yankee Stadium and Augusta, only with bikinis and fantastic sunsets. Waves nearly the size of strip malls pound this coastline each winter, attracting pros from all over the world. And if the action isn't always compelling, no worries; you're on a beach in Hawaii. Is there anywhere else you would want to be in December?
A month-by-month calendar of must-see events for the sports tourist.