Last season, I went on the trip of a lifetime. I took my Toyota Corolla and drove across the country watching a game in every Major League Baseball stadium. My story was shared with the greater Reno area in a news story last August, but now I’ve been asked to share my tale with the Cafe community as well. I’ll be delivering a series of articles, each one following my experiences for a series of two or three stadiums at a time. So, without any further ado, here we go.
The first time that I started thinking about the possibility of a road trip that involved seeing a game in all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums, I was in the seventh grade. I didn’t take the idea too seriously at first but the more I thought about it, the more it grew on me. Before I knew it, I was grabbing the master MLB schedule and plotting out courses to take me to all of the stadiums over the duration of a single summer. Even though I was four years away from owning a car and six years away from having the means to do it, the foundation of my trip was laid. Every season for the next several years, I would grab the master schedule that came out in my local newspaper the day before the season started and practice making schedules. I would get about three or four schedules each year that looked good on paper and I thought were actually possible. By the time that I was a sophomore in high school I had decided that this was going to be my senior trip. I started talking to a couple of my friends who said that they might be interested, and we planned it out over the next couple of years.
Skip ahead to my senior year of high school. For Christmas last year, I receive a book written by Kevin O’Connell and Josh Pahigian about their own baseball road trip called The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip Book. I have plenty of time both in class and out to read it and pore over the details. It gives places to park, the authors’ opinion of the views from each section in every ballpark, and how to haggle with the scalpers in each town as well. I take pages of notes and have all the details for where to park, where to sit, and what to eat in each park. My friend Andy Fiannaca who will be going with me has figured out an estimated gas cost for the entire thing. The day that the team schedules are announced, I print them all out and start figuring out a schedule for the summer. As I’m doing this though, some complications arise. Andy tells me that he won’t be able to start until July 7th because he’s going on vacation to Europe for a month. This put a serious time constraint on the trip. Andy’s not a diehard baseball fan like I am, and he wants to spend the summer learning about the game. In the interest of being able to get both of us to as many parks as possible, I have to make some major alterations to the schedule. I had been planning on spending an average of three days in each city along the way. With the new schedule, however, there are some cities that we will only be in for about five or six hours. Just enough time to park and watch a ballgame. To help relieve some of the pressure on the summer schedule, I plan on going to some games on the west coast while we are still in school.
The first weekend of the season came around and Andy had a family wedding to go to. I didn’t want to have to change plans again and figured that since two stadiums (San Francisco’s SBC Park and Anaheim’s Angel Stadium) that I’m planning on going to are both within driving distance, he can make them up sometime later in the season if he wants. I grab another one of my friends, Daniel Edwards, and we hit the road at about 1:00 in the afternoon on Friday, April 8th. I actually ditched my afternoon class to be able to make it to San Francisco in time for the 7:05 start. We should have made it to the stadium by 6:00 at the latest. Unfortunately, it was still winter in the Sierra Nevadas and a storm was battering the pass as we were heading over. We almost crashed going over the top and wound up losing a lot of time. By the time we get through Sacramento, we went from being about an hour early to running 10 minutes late. Traffic wasn’t helping so we decided to park in the first city we came to with a BART station and take it into the city. For those who don’t know, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is basically a subway that runs underneath the San Francisco Bay and connects all of the outlying areas to the city. As soon as we got to the Richmond station, the train that we needed to take was leaving so we had to wait another 20 minutes to catch the next one. Timing apparently isn’t one of our strong points. We ended up making it to the stadium and into our seats in the bottom of the second inning. Just before we got there, a fan had reached over the fence and pulled in what should have been a long fly out and turned it into a Jason Ellison home run to help put the Giants ahead.
It was opening weekend at SBC Park and the fans were really into their team. The fans that were around us in the center field bleachers were also very into rooting against the Rockies’ centerfielder, Preston Wilson. We chanted right along and said some things that aren’t fit to print. Our seats were awesome as we were only three rows back of the center field wall. By the fourth inning, the Giants were dominating and it was starting to rain. The fans that had started out rowdy were dropping like flies all around us. Many of them left the park because they thought the Giants had the game well in hand, and they didn’t want to deal with the rain. Jeff Francis, the Rockies’ starter, only lasted four innings but gave up six runs. Meanwhile, Giants pitcher Noah Lowry was having no problem shutting down the Rockies bats. He was pulled in the seventh inning after allowing the first two hitters he faced to reach base, and the game was turned over to the bullpen. With the Giants seemingly in control at this point, the Rockies decided to fight back. The Rockies batted around in the seventh and scored eight runs to take the lead. We later found out that this was a club record for runs scored in an inning while on the road. The momentum that the Giants had enjoyed just minutes before was completely destroyed. The lead was lost and a majority of the fans had left the park. Those that remained were not very happy and some of the ones around us even started sleeping. The Giants were shut down pretty quickly in the bottom of the seventh and everyone was expecting another Rockies rally in the top of the eighth. Surprisingly, the bullpen managed to keep them off the scoreboard, and it was San Francisco’s turn to hit again. The Giants managed to manufacture one run in the bottom of the eighth, but they were still down by one. The Rockies went down silently again in the top of the ninth, and it was desperation time for the Giants. Nobody wants to lose at home the first weekend of the season, and especially not if you happen to be hosting the lowly Colorado Rockies. The Rockies put their closer, Brian Fuentes, on the mound to start the ninth inning hoping to secure the come-from-behind win. He pitched to two batters and managed to allow them both to get on base without recording an out. Another call to the bullpen brought out Scott Dohmann, and he too was unable to stop the bleeding. In fact, he made it much worse. With two men already on and nobody out, Dohmann served up a pitch to Marquis Grissom that ended up in the left field bleachers for a walk off home run. Before going over, the ball nicked the top of the wall and somehow avoided Cory Sullivan’s glove. It wasn’t pretty, but it was still a win and the stadium was going nuts. The fans that had stuck around were soaking it all in and enjoying the moment.
We started wandering around outside the stadium again and decided that we would just walk the five or so blocks back to the BART station. Unfortunately for both of us, we seem to have a knack for only speaking to the people who can actually get us more lost than we already are. (This same theme recurred several times over the course of my trip.) After walking around in the rain for 45 minutes and getting completely soaked, we found the station and made it back to my car. We headed off towards Santa Rosa, about an hour north of San Francisco, to stay with my grandmother. Everything was going smooth and we were on target to make it to her house by 11:00 when I saw a red light behind me. Sure enough, I was getting pulled over by a California Highway Patrolman. I knew I wasn’t speeding, so I thought that I must have a taillight out or he thought I didn’t signal or something similar. When he got to the car he asked us what we were doing in the area with our Nevada plates. I explained to him that we had just been in San Francisco for the ball game and were heading to Santa Rosa to spend the night. He ran my info and after determining that I wasn’t a wanted felon he got down to the business of why he pulled me over. My uncle had just bought himself a GPS unit and he was letting me borrow it for my road trip. It’s one of those that you mount up in your window so that you can see it while you’re driving. He asked me what it was and after explaining it to him he told me I’d have to turn it off. When I asked why, I got a mumbled response that sounded something like, “In California you can’t have no DVD visors.” I did as I was told and got off the highway at the next ramp to turn it right back on again. It was the lamest excuse that I have ever heard to be pulled over. When I asked my Dad and uncle about it (they’re both police officers), they said it sounded like he realized he messed up when he found out it was a GPS system and tried to save face. We wound up getting to my grandma’s house about 45 minutes late and talked to her about the Giants game for a little bit. She’s the biggest Giants fan that I know, and she had watched the game on TV. After going over the Giants’ chances for the coming season we headed off to bed.
I woke up at about 7:30 the next morning and got set to hit the road. I woke up Daniel, and after a quick breakfast and a double-checking of the route, we were on our way to Anaheim. According to the GPS we would make it there at about 4:30 that afternoon. This was a very boring, extremely hot and humid drive. The only excitement came when we were passed by a big Ford pickup truck with a dirt bike in the bed. He rolled down his window and slowed down. I thought that he was trying to tell me something so I had Daniel roll down his window and tried to catch up to see what he had to say. Just as I started giving it some gas to try to catch up to him, he stuck his arm out and extended his middle finger. I think the problem may have been that my license plates at the time were “RDSOXSK” and I had several Yankee logos on the back of my car. He was very careful to stay ahead of us, and because we didn’t know what was going on, we decided not to “return fire,” if you know what I mean. After about two or three minutes he apparently got tired of taunting us and sped off.
We got into LA at about 3:00 but didn’t make it to Angel Stadium of Anaheim until about 5:00 due to traffic. The game started at 7:00, and we hadn’t bought tickets in advance so we headed to the ticket window. We wanted to buy the cheapest seats available and then seat hop to a better section of the park. (At this point, we were seat hopping out of necessity; later on in my trip I would be doing it for sport.) We couldn’t get the right field bleacher seats that we wanted, so we paid even more money to get seats in the upper deck on the right field line. When we got there, we realized that they absolutely sucked. We walked around during batting practice and planted ourselves in the right field bleachers. Daniel almost got nailed by a BP homerun when he wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t get any balls hit anywhere near me and my glove, and he wasn’t even paying attention and almost got drilled in the face. Oh the irony. While he was busily checking the sky for more dropping baseballs, I was trying to scope out some unoccupied seats that we could just sit down in and hopefully not get removed by the rightful ticket holders. Unfortunately, the ushers here are better than those at most stadiums and actually checked tickets. We saw them check a couple of people and kick them out of the section, so we decided we would leave under our own power. We went back to our nosebleed seats and started checking out other parts of the stadium to move to at the first opportunity. Once the lineups were announced, ushers were at every entrance and they continued checking tickets. It didn’t appear that we would be moving anytime soon.
There were several fans in our section that were Dodger fans and came to support the Royals’ starting pitcher that night, Jose Lima. They were obnoxious and managed to irritate just about everyone in the section before the game even started. Sometime in the middle of the first, some people who were sitting behind us got tossed from the stadium. Nobody really knew what was going on, but apparently someone had reported them to the usher for some sort of violation. In the middle of the second inning, we decided that we actually wanted to see the game so we headed down to the first level. Ushers were everywhere, but there was some standing room that we were allowed to use. We stayed there for an inning or two before we noticed that the center field bleachers appeared to be usher-free. We moved out there and checked out the situation. Ushers were there but they weren’t as active as in the other sections of the park. When one of the ushers was busy removing a beach ball, we made a move and sat down about eight rows behind the outfield wall. We watched the rest of the game from the bleachers and got to watch Francisco Rodriguez warm up in the bullpen from about 20 feet away. That guy throws some serious heat. He got into the game and the Angels beat the Royals by a score of 8-3.
After the game we started driving back up I-5 through the heart of California to Reno. We stopped for dinner and gas somewhere in LA and helped a guy find his way back from Tijuana to Las Vegas. When he first approached us, we thought we were about to be mugged, but it turned out he was just extremely “lubricated” and also extremely lost. We had planned on spending the night somewhere near LA but wound up stopping at a rest stop about five minutes outside of Sacramento at 2:00 in the morning. We woke up at 8:00 and made it back to Reno at 11:00 on Sunday.
After we got back, I started planning for the next trip to California. I had originally planned on doing two separate trips, but upon further review of the schedules, I realized that it was possible to knock off Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego all over the course of a weekend. That’s coming next time.
Kevin Naughton is back at home now following his incredible journey. You can also find him in the Cafe's forums, where he posts as luckygehrig.
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