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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

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In Travel & Visitors Guide

"Miller Park has been a big attraction," Buckley said.

Nation's biggest baseball tour biz based in Wisconsin


Most baseball fans are concentrating on the playoffs and World Series in late October and early November.

But, anybody wanting to take Jay Buckley's Baseball Tours would be wise to start thinking about next season.

"They can contact us any time and we will send out information about the tours," says Jay Buckley, who -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- is owner of the company. "We don't start putting the actual tours together until the schedules come out, but it's never too early."

Jay Buckley's Baseball Tours is the nation's oldest and largest national baseball tour business. Buckley is finishing his 25th season. The business is based right here in Wisconsin, in La Crosse.

"This is the Silver Anniversary year for Jay Buckley Baseball Tours and I want to thank all of you for your fantastic support through the years," Buckley says in his Covering All The Bases section of jaybuckley.com.

"I don't know of any business anywhere that has the wonderful quality of customer that I enjoy. The fact that so many of you come back year after year gives me great pride and a sense of responsibility to ensure that each trip you take becomes a lifetime memory; 1,121 fans joined us in 2006, setting a new record. The permanent mailing list has now topped 10,000 addresses. Once again, thank you all for allowing me to make a living taking wonderful people to baseball games!"

Since writing the Web site copy, Buckley has had yet another record tour season in 2007. "We had a great year, with a lot of our people repeats from other years," said Buckley, who offered 29 trips this season.

Buckley started the business while he was still an educator in the La Crosse area. It grew each year, and once he left teaching Buckley took on the baseball biz full-time. "I'm a baseball nut, coached La Crosse Central for 29 years, started the Stars of Tomorrow tournament and generally love the game," he said.

"I started traveling to ballparks as a vacation in the summers. So it was a vacation in the '70s, a hobby in the '80s and a fulltime business in 1990."

The tours range in length, but usually include multiple ballparks in a region of the country over a week to 10-day trip. Other historic sites are included on some trips. The spring training trips also often include golf courses.

Fans travel via a first class bus, with air conditioning and all the amenities. They stay in Triple A motels. Their tour costs also include game tickets and other admission prices, such as entry to the Hall of Fame on the tour that includes Cooperstown.

The trip that takes in Cooperstown, Fenway and Yankee Stadium always is very popular," Buckley said. "With Yankee Stadium going into its last season, I expect it will be again."

The first trip to Miller Park came on May 19 this year, when tour fans saw the Twins play the Brewers. The next day, the tour went to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs take on the White Sox.

"Miller Park has been a big attraction," Buckley said. "Wrigley is still right with Fenway and Yankee Stadium in popularity."

Tours this season primarily concentrated on Midwest and Eastern baseball destinations, but Buckley has included the Western cities on tours in other years.

"La Crosse is centrally located so a lot of tours originate here," Buckley said. "It's been my home for a long time, so I like basing it here."

The fans speak glowingly of the experiences.

"The organization, information provided, insights, ball park seats, motels/hotels were all great. I'd wanted to get to the States to see live baseball for many years and was able to do so without any hassle or stress thanks to this tour. I also met really nice people some of whom I think/hope have become friends for life. Jay Buckley Tours paints the corners, runs the bases, hits the homers and always win the series ... thanks for the trip of a lifetime," wrote Steve Penny of Watford, UK.

"It was my 11th trip and I loved it. I ate breakfast on a bench that is on the site of center field in Forbes Field. I saw the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the "Star Spangled Banner, " said Wendell Uutala of Ladysmith, Wis.

"I said goodbye to a classmate at the Vietnam Memorial. I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I stood where Cy Young threw the first pitch of the very first World Series game. I spent an afternoon in Cooperstown. By the way, I saw 11 baseball games. I hope to be back for 11 more trips."

Buckley has gotten the tours down to a science and also has adapted them over the years to customers' feedback.

"This is a fast-paced tour," he said. "We do not spend a lot of time around the pool at motels. We are often in late and out early, but we will see more and do more in the span of a few days than (a participant) may have ever done in a short time before. Many previous tour participants have indicated they were pleasantly surprised at all the non-baseball features of the trip."

The last tour for this season wrapped up on Sept. 30. Buckley already is starting to plan the spring training tours. Fans are urged to book early by going to the business web site or calling (888) 666-3510.

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