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Inside an excursion to Louisville, Kentucky

A surprisingly rich history in The Derby City made for an exciting visit. All pics are my own.

I appreciated the responses to my recap of my recent trip to Columbus, Ohio a couple of weeks ago, so figured I'd try this out again!

PLL travels brought me out to Louisville, Kentucky last weekend. I really didn't put it together, but it's actually a huge city in the grand scheme of things; only about 25,000 people less than Boston and Las Vegas, 5,000 more than Detroit, and far bigger than Atlanta (the city proper), Kansas City, and Baltimore.

My first impression? There's a rich sports history in Louisville. And after all, it makes sense. Of course, it's not only home to the Kentucky Derby (we'll get there shortly), but other sports historical figures and events have called Louisville home. Muhammad Ali was born on the west side, Rick Pitino brought a national championship to Louisville, and the Louisville Bats have called the beautiful Louisville Slugger Field home since it opened in 2002.

Of course, I had to explore during the downtime. First up came Churchill Downs, a few miles off the main strip.

The land was gifted to Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., who was the grandson of William Clark (yes, from Lewis & Clark) by his uncles, John & Henry Churchill. Colonel Clark, who was the president of the Louisville Jockey Club and Driving Park Association, fell in love with horse racing after learning from his father-in-law, who was a notable horse trainer and breeder. Well, it took about 20 years before he was running low on money, and he sold the track to William Applegate, who gained his wealth via his family's whiskey business. Applegate was widely believed to be the inspiration behind many traditions that remain today; the 1.25-mile-long track that the signature race uses, the garland of roses presented to the Derby winner, and the twin spires in the grandstand from which you can spot Churchill Downs from a long distance away.

Immediately at the main entrance, you're greeted by a life-size statue of Barbaro, a three-year-old horse that will remain part of the Derby's history forever. That was one of the first memories I have in the horse racing world; seeing Barbaro win the Kentucky Derby in 2007 is something that's engrained with me forever. Barbaro won the Derby, but just a few weeks later he broke his leg running the Preakness, and suffered from complications for months before the decision was made to euthanize him. It's a horribly sad story for such a young horse - he was only three years old - but his legacy is etched forever outside the venue.

Walking into the concourse, I think the first thing that hit me was just the sheer size of the venue. It wasn't a small, rinky-dink racetrack; this venue was absolutely colossal. You could see it from blocks away, yet it felt so intimate and secluded from the main buzz. Inside the venue, though, just felt like it went on-and-on...and on...and on...with no end on the horizon.

I couldn't help but think how many Triple Crowns have started here. I just missed out on seeing American Pharoah accomplish the feat in 2015, as our first Belmont Stakes was in 2016. But we saw jockey Mike Smith, legendary trainer Bob Baffert, and the China Horse Club lead Justify to a Triple Crown in 2018. To think it started right here in this Winner's Circle was baffling.

A quick stop was destined for Jim Patterson Stadium, which has been the home for University of Louisville baseball since 2005. We didn't get to go inside, but I thought about how many guys made it to the show after suiting up here. Adam Duvall, Chad Green, Will Smith, Adam Engel, and Reid Detmers all spent some time on this field before they cracked the bigs not-too-long ago.

Another quick drive-by; this time, of Louisville Slugger Field, which confusingly enough, is NOT home to the Cardinals, but home to the Cincinnati Reds' AAA affiliate, the Louisville Bats. They have a super unique history - they were the Louisville RedBirds, then the RedBats, and then just the Bats. I think the Bats is the best of the three, just because it rings more.

Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Adam Dunn, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Johnny Cueto, Billy Hamilton, Edwin Encarnación, and Zack Cozart laced up here. What a world.

Louisville is separated from Indiana by the Ohio River, which spans from Western Pennsylvania to the southern end of Illinois. We decided to hop over the Lewis and Clark Bridge, which was fitting for the Lewis & Clark Statue in Clarksville, Indiana. The jury is out on where exactly Lewis & Clark started their expedition west, but Clarksville claims they "shook hands" at this point and started from there. Many other cities claim the same thing.

On the way back into Kentucky, we ran into this sculpture and frame of "Rosie the Riveter," who was a cultural icon during the WWII era. Rosie the Riveter doesn't directly represent a real person, but essentially her persona was created to represent the women that were supporting the war through production of ammunition and weaponry. The idea of the icon was that without the hard-working women supporting the war, there's no way we could have won.

This particular statue was based on Rose Will Monroe, who built B-24 bomber aircrafts in Michigan for the US Army. Although the phenomenon had already been gaining steam in America, Monroe was approached to portray a real-life version of 'Rosie' in a promotional video of the war effort stateside. Monroe passed away in Clarksville in 1977, and this statue is a nod to her impact on the country's war efforts.

Louisville was a surprisingly great place to learn about our country - both sports and in the overall American history scene.


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