Advice #1: use one catalog -- don't even think about multiple catalogs; multiple catalogs will not help, this will only hinder you in your work. Inside of Lightroom, you can easily organize different years, different teams, different players, different sports, and anything else you want to organize.
With regards to travel, you can export portions of your catalog to whatever HD you want to take with you.
Also, the photos not residing on your laptop will just show up as missing when the large external drive is not connected; even then you can view the last known info for the file and sometimes the preview.
So I am guessing that you will back up the recent photos on the laptop to the portable 160g drive? What about backup for the large external drive?