Joey Mellows, a 34-year-old from England, set out six months ago with a straightforward but daunting goal: to traverse the United States from spring until fall, watching 162 baseball games along the way.
Mellows, who has chronicled his travels on Twitter under the handle @Baseball_Brit, quit his job as a teacher in South Korea, spent a few days back home in England and flew to Tokyo for the season-opening series between the Mariners and A’s. He followed the clubs across the Pacific to Seattle and started his North American journey there. He’s been on the road ever since.
The son of a former professional soccer player, Mellows was introduced to baseball when he went to a game in Japan with his parents. The experience inspired him to start following the local team while he taught in Korea. Five years later, he decided to quit his job and spend all the money he had saved (thanks to the Korean school providing room and board for its teachers) and embark on a trip most baseball fans can only dream of.
We spoke with Mellows as his trip winds down to get his impressions of the game, the country and life on the road.
Dan Gartland:We’re getting down to the wire here at the end of the season. Are you still on track for 162?
Joey Mellows: Absolutely not, Dan. No. I think I’m going to finish on about 155 in the regular season. So it looks like I have about seven games or something to get to in the postseason. But it’s not really up to me. It’s on U.S. immigration, whether they let me back in from Canada.
DG:And which MLB ballparks do you still have to get to?
JM: I still have to go to Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit. So three pretty close ones. And then I have to go to Toronto, Minneapolis and Miami.
DG:Are you going to be able to get to all those?
JM: I’ll be at all of them. I’ve had to rearrange. The Toronto one will be at the end of the season, just because of immigration concerns. Whatever happens, I’ll get to all 30 ballparks. It’s just up to the border people whether I can get to 162 or not.
DG:You’re obviously meeting tons of people along the way on this trip. What are their reactions when you tell them what you’re up to?
JM: The overwhelming reaction has just been very positive. People here are very kind. Normally I hear that it’s something that they’d love to do as well. It’s something that most baseball fans would love to do, I think. I’m very fortunate that I can do that this year.
DG:Are they jealous at all?
JM: I don’t know if they’re jealous. The day-to-day reality is quite different from what it probably looks like on social media. Worrying about where you’re sleeping, whether you can trust a stranger to take their sofa or whatever. It’s a very fun trip but the reality is perhaps a bit different from how it’s portrayed online.
DG:I sort of figured that and I wanted to ask you, along those lines, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced on this trip?
JM: I’ll be honest, Dan. What I’m doing, I’m so lucky. So it’s not really any challenge, compared to what most people face. The driving’s fine. The diet’s pretty bad, but that’s my fault so it’s not really a challenge as such. It’s just the logistics, trying to figure out, where am I sleeping today and how will I get to the ballpark? Can I afford that motel? Does that place look safe? My biggest challenge is really just getting to the end of the season and still being alive. Because I’ll be doing like 20,000 miles on various roads that I’m unfamiliar with, driving in the dark and staying with people who I’ve never met before. Every day I have to make pretty quick decision on whether this is going to be okay or not, and it always is. So I’m very fortunate.
DG:I’m curious what stereotypes you had about the U.S. and how this trip has altered or confirmed them.
JM: The best thing about this trip really has been, from outside the U.S.A., I’ve lived in Asia for five years so I’m speaking more as someone who has not really lived in the U.K. for the last five years. The U.S.A. seems, at least in the news, very divided. You’re on one team, the Democrats, or the other, the Republicans. The great thing about this trip is, I haven’t asked any questions and most people haven’t talked about politics at all to me. They’re just baseball fans and it’s just nice to be able to go out and watch a game together and put all that stuff to one side and share an experience that is joyful regardless of what you think about guns or abortion or healthcare or the current president. That’s been the best thing for me. After 10 years teaching in a classroom with children, it’s been nice to be with adults. And it’s kind of restored my faith in humanity somewhat, being in the U.S.A. for this long. The people here are so generous and warm on the whole. It’s a real compliment.
DG:You mentioned guns and I thought it was really interesting that you were in El Paso just after the shooting there. How did you process that?
JM: I actually stayed right by the Walmart where the shooting took place. I didn’t realize at the time when I booked the hotel. I always wanted to go to El Paso. I had been in touch with the Chihuahuas even before the season started. I love the name. I love the fact that it’s on the border. I’ve never been to Mexico. It was a place I wanted to get to. When I was in El Paso, the thing I wanted to make sure was that I portrayed the city in as positive a light as I could. When I was there I posted things I love about El Paso. The shooting there, that can happen. That can happen anywhere and we’ve seen that in the U.S.A. I think it was important to the town that the baseball team was there and the community was all out. To be honest, when I was there, I didn’t really think too much about the shooting that had taken place. It can happen anywhere, can’t it?
DG:What are some similarities and differences you’ve noticed between the fan experience in the majors and minors, and what you’ve experienced in Asia?
JM: In Korea, where I’ve watched most of my baseball, each player has their own song. It’s very musical, chanting through the at-bats. The away fans travel a lot because in Korea the teams are sponsored by companies. The Samsung Lions, for example, while they’re from an area of Korea two or three hours south of Seoul, because of Samsung offices they have lots and lots of fans in the capital. In the U.S. you don’t really see many away supporters, and certainly not en masse. While in Korea you have these chants on either side of the ballpark from the various company people as well as the people in the city who support the team. It’s very noisy. The minor leagues, it just seems like more of a community atmosphere, where people are there and they’re talking and they’re enjoying it and having some drinks. It’s nice to see a night out among people who live very close to the ballpark. That’s very cool. There’s a place I’m going to, Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is my favorite minor league ballpark that I went to last season. That sort of helped regenerate the whole downtown area. When you’re at those minor league ballparks, you realize just how important the team is, not just to the people who live there but the local economy.
DG:The point you made about away supporters is interesting. Does that remind you at all of soccer in Europe?
JM: Yeah, it does. In Korea, people are standing for much of the game, especially when their team is batting. That’s not something you see much over here.
DG:I saw you were able to catch a couple of soccer games while you’re here. What are your impressions of American soccer fans?
JM: I was really impressed. That Atlanta ballpark, Mercedes-Benz, where the Falcons play, it blew my socks off that an MLS team was playing there. I did some research and saw that they had like the 10th highest attendance in all of global soccer last season. They do some cool stuff. They had some basketball guy who was hammering a nail or something. We were standing the whole game. That’s something you’re not allowed to do in the U.K. You’re not allowed to stand. You’re also not allowed to drink beer in your seat in U.K. soccer stands. That was cool. I stood almost on the halfway line at Atlanta United, just having a beer.
DG:You told another reporter earlier this summer that paying for this trip would be “a real test.” Is that still a concern for you?
JM: I mean it’s a concern in terms of, when the season ends I have no idea what I’m going to do. There’s no plan. This money I put aside and I wouldn’t have set out this goal if I didn’t know I could afford it. At the moment, I’m just enjoying the last five weeks and I’m putting that on the back burner for now because there’s no point—I can’t do anything about it. I’m all in on this. I said I was going to do it. I don’t know what the future’s going to hold for me. I’m fortunate that I’ve lived in different parts of the world. I’ve got qualifications and things. I know I’ll be okay, but it is odd to think that it’s gone, everything I’ve worked for 10 years.
DG:You mentioned not knowing what’s coming next, aside from writing a book. Does that make you nervous or are you okay with that?
JM: I’m okay with it, Dan, because I wouldn’t have done this trip—this is essentially me rolling the dice. I’ve done the same thing for 10 years since I left university. I’ve been a teacher and I’ve worked with young people. I found that so rewarding and so enjoyable. But you do something for 10 years and you’re going to wonder when you look out the window in your office sometimes what else I could be doing. Baseball came to Europe for the first time this summer. I was determined to grow interest in baseball before the Yankees and Red Sox came to London. I don’t know whether I achieved that or not. Now I’m out here just enjoying each day, learning as much as I can about baseball, making connections.
I never planned to write a book either, by the way, that was never my intention at the start of the trip. But so much great stuff happened on the road, things that I would never put on Twitter, that it seems now that when I get home it would give me something to do for two or three months to sit down and work on each chapter. I’m going to try to write it in a geographical way, so that even if you’re not interested in baseball you could read about Texas or the Pacific Northwest to see how a foreigner and an outsider experienced and understood the areas that I’ve been to. Because the U.S.A. is so diverse and so large. I’ve been to Japan, the U.S. and soon Canada. If I don’t make it to the postseason because of immigration, I’ll probably go to Australia or the Dominican Republic and finish off the last seven games there. Whatever happens happens. I’m very fortunate that I’ve got a family that understands. I’ll be okay whatever happens. I’ll just be very poor.