In the USA, baseball has been the national pastime since the rules of the game were written around 1845. With its rich and colorful history, the sport has endured world wars, depression, and flower power.

Tracking down the pulse of this American institution requires an American-built vehicle, even if the brand name doesn't necessarily scream America. The Mercedes-Benz ML320 and 500 are assembled in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and their safety and convenience features helped smooth our journey into the wilds of the Midwest. From the moment I set foot in St. Louis, Missouri, holding the keys to a new ML500, I could tell this trip was going to be different: My host and escort is a baseball junkie and a source of endless baseball minutiae. I sensed the theme of the coming days as we pulled up to Glovesmith, Inc., in Imperial, Missouri, south of St. Louis.

Glovesmith makes baseball gloves. Damn good ones. Owner Mike Seawel gave us a tour of the plant, from the raw hides to the finished product. Did you know that making a baseball glove requires six square feet of leather? Two hours of hand labor? Glovesmith offers a variety of gloves, with a range of options that rival some automotive manufacturers.

Wheeling the M-Class past the Gateway Arch under leaden skies, we crossed the Mississippi into Illinois. As we noticed the horizon was alive with a thunderstorm, the crackle-filled radio announced a pair of tornadoes sighted in Lincoln. We cranked the 5.0-liter/288-horsepower V-8 throttle, and in no time, we were safe from the storm in Peoria, our resting place for the night.

As the sun rose over the soybean fields, we aimed the three-pointed star toward Dyersville, Iowa, off Highway 20. Dyersville might not ring any bells, but it's where the baseball field was built for the movie "Field of Dreams." The set is now the residence of the Lansing family, who maintain the field and welcome visitors. There's no charge to visit the famous place, which is open from April through November, or to hit a few balls into the outfield. During our visit, the corn was only about a foot tall, but the place still held the same mystique as it did in the movie. The ball field, built in four days, is actually owned by two families: the Lansings, who own the house, infield, and right field, and Al Ameskamp's family, who own left field and part of center. This was the perfect spot to break in my new glove, as my partner tossed pointers and hardballs my way. A couple of souvenirs later, we were on the road heading west through gently rolling farmland.