AQ in Cinti stadium Bart Kramer smThis summer, two beloved American pastimes and traditions come together when the 436-passenger American Queen hosts some of Major League Baseball’s legends. MLB prankster Jay Johnstone, lefty pitcher Fritz Peterson, New York Yankee Ron Blomberg and 1969 World Champion Art Shamsky will bring their stories to the only authentic overnight paddlewheel steamboat in the country.

“We’re Americans and we love baseball,” said Dan Schlossberg, who is hosting a baseball-themed departure this summer for the American Queen Steamboat Company. A former Associated Press newsman, Schlossberg has written 35 books about the sport, including Nothing to Hide: My Journey from the Big Leagues to the Big House, written with veteran umpire, Al Clark. Clark officiated 3,392 major league games, including three American League Division Series, five American League Championship Series, two All-Star Games and two World Series..

“Baby Boomers and seniors remember these guys from their youth,” said Schlossberg. “They remember going to the ballpark and they love to meet these guys – these are their heroes.”

Baseball legends

AQ Shamsky swingsJay Johnstone played for seven teams, including the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers – twice – from 1971 to 1985. His two-run homer for the Dodgers in Game Four of the 1981 World Series helped lead his team to an 8-7 victory after being down 3-6.

Fritz Peterson, lefty pitcher for the New York Yankees (1966-1974), Cleveland Indians (1974-1976) and Texas Rangers (1976), set Yankee Stadium’s all-time lowest earned run average of 2.52. The record will never be surpassed as the stadium was demolished in 2008.

Ron Blomberg, Major League Baseball’s first designated hitter, was known as the “great Jewish hope” of the New York Yankees. Blomberg passed up collegiate sports to be the Yankees’ first pick overall in the 1967 amateur draft and played for the team in 1969 and 1971 to 1976.

Art Shamsky played for the Mets from 1968 to 1972. In fact, he was part of the “Miracle Mets” that won the 1969 World Championship, defeating the Baltimore Orioles. Even before that, Shamsky set a record by hitting four consecutive home runs in four at-bats over two games. This was in 1966 while he was with the Cincinnati Reds; the bat is on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

“Going on the American Queen is a beautiful trip,” said Bruce Campbell, a renowned baseball expert and collector of baseball memorabilia, who is also hosting a baseball-themed cruise. “If you’re a baseball fan, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit and talk to players and hear stories never put in books.”

Actually, there are two opportunities to meet the ball players, as well as Clark, Schlossberg and Campbell. American Queen’s Baseball Legends excursions are scheduled for July 19 to 27, a nine-day voyage from St. Louis to Cincinnati, and July 26 to Aug. 1, a seven-day journey from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh. Schlossberg will host the first cruise, Campbell the second. The cruises will overlap in Cincinnati, where Shamsky began his baseball career in 1960.

Riverboat legend

AQ FrontPorchCafeFor both cruises, major league baseball fans will be treated to baseball movies, trivia contests and a photo and autograph party featuring a collectible souvenir poster. Onboard lectures will cover Louisville Slugger Bat history and “Who’s On 1st?,” the signature skit of comedy legends Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956.

“You get to find out what it was like to be a professional baseball player, have your picture taken with the players and get autographs,” said Campbell.

Not only that, passengers will travel in more style that ever before. The 18-year-old American Queen, built in the “wedding cake” style of steamboats immortalized in Mark Twain’s 1883 memoir, Life on the Mississippi, completed a half-million-dollar-plus nip and tuck earlier this year. (Speaking of, “Twain” himself will put in an appearance on the July 19 voyage.)

Refurbishments include new woodwork, custom-milled carpets and period fabrics in rich jewel tones. Furniture in public areas and guestrooms has been reupholstered or replaced. New mahogany plantation shutters have replaced the lace curtains that formerly hung in staterooms and suites. And river scenes by American marine artist Michael Blaser, known for his paintings of historic and contemporary steamboats, are now embellishing hallways throughout the boat.

The overall ambience is one of gracious elegance and nostalgia, a fitting backdrop for MLB celebrities and their fans.

Culinary legend

AQ Wine Wall smThe American Queen also now has more dining choices – and in venues that have undergone a serious spiffing-up of their own. The Front Porch of America – a beloved breakfast/snack/relax perch for passengers since the AQ took to the river in 1995 – has been renamed the Front Porch Café. Its sitting area is now decked out with new furniture and culinary offerings have expanded to offer a light menu of classic American favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner – ice cream and cookies, too.

The always stunning J.M. White Dining Saloon is even more breathtaking with the addition of a marble and granite entryway and a mahogany wine wall showcasing a collection of popular and boutique wineries. New wallpaper and carpeting add to the room’s opulence and a new double-sided sideboard stands ready to accommodate more dishes at breakfast and lunch. Sit-down dinners showcase the upscale riverboat cuisine with a formal edge that is a hallmark of the culinary stylings of chef de cuisine Rebecca Charboneau, a well-known chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and culinary columnist.

AQ-Cast-iron-vegetbles-with-MOther dining venues aboard the American Queen are the River Grill & Bar, serving casual eats with sweeping river views on the side; the Main Deck Lounge, known for its elegant, pastry-rich Southern tea; and the Engine Room Bar, now dishing up a Moonlight Supper.

Ever-present are those little extra special culinary touches Charboneau is so well-known for, like a weekly Jazz Brunch that features her mouthwatering butter biscuits. For the baseball-themed cruises, expect to find ball park food transformed with Charboneau’s spin on a hot dog cookout that incorporates lots of fun and colorful relishes. It’ll have fans singing, “Take me out to the ballgame” – the perfect accompaniment to a riverboat cruise with MLB legends.

If You Go

The American Queen Steamboat Co.’s Baseball Legends departures are July 19-27 and July 26-Aug. 1. In addition to all MLB-related fun, fare includes these complimentary amenities: overnight stay in a select luxury hotel before your voyage (with breakfast, taxes, porterage and transfers to the American Queen); shore excursions in every port – with transportation via the AQ’s own fleet of Steamcoaches; wine and beer with dinner; cappuccino, espresso, specialty coffees, bottled water and soft drinks; daily lectures by the Riverlorian; and showboat-style entertainment and dancing nightly.

A variety of cruises and cruise themes are offered, with voyages ranging from five to 14 days. Fares begin at $1,495 per person based on double occupancy.

For additional information and reservations: American Queen Steamboat Company, www.AQSC.com, 888-749-5280.