At Citi Field this summer with my family: Alan, Benjamín, Adrian, Daniel, Melody, and Brian (me).
Driving back home to San Antonio in early August, I couldn’t help but stare out the window and reflect as the scorching Texas sun set on another wonderful family baseball road trip. It still amazes me that we only have five out of 30 major league stadiums left to see.
In 2012 my dream of seeing my favorite team, the Orioles, play at Camden Yards in Baltimore came true, marking the beginning of my family’s ballpark-chasing days. Instead of having a big party for my Bar Mitzvah, my dream was to see all 30 MLB stadiums. What began as a simple wish has turned into unbelievable adventures with my family driving across the U.S. (and Canada!) to see all the MLB ballparks.
Over the last four summers, I have gotten to witness and do some extraordinary and really fun things: from taking in the spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay and the downtown skyline in Pittsburgh, to enjoying deep-dish pizza in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field and eating Dodger Dogs in Los Angeles, to feeling goose bumps while singing “Sweet Caroline” with 37,000 of my closest friends at Fenway Park.
At our first game this year, the Baltimore Orioles played their biggest rival, the Yankees, at Yankee Stadium. Just to go to that ballpark was special, but to hop on the subway from Manhattan to the Bronx with passionate Yankees fans and walk around the stadium while wearing my bright orange O’s shirt was very entertaining. I drew some compliments from fellow O’s fans and mostly playful — though sometimes annoying — criticism from the Yankees’ faithful.
I never thought I’d experience the famous sausage race in Milwaukee or see the Windy City Showdown between the Cubs and White Sox on the South Side of Chicago. I also never envisioned being all the way in Canada to see the recently-traded Troy Tulowitzki make his debut in Toronto as a whole country started to buzz about their Blue Jays.
I’ll never forget seeing Atlanta Braves star Chipper Jones play in his last season, Angels rookie Mike Trout’s highlight-reel catch, or the electrifying wild-card playoff game between the Rangers and the Rays in Arlington.
Every ballpark has its charm. In Kansas City, the fans make up one big family, singing and chanting all game long. In Oakland, the “Bleacher Creatures” in left and rightfield create one of the rowdier environments in the league. In Houston, a mini-train rolls along high above the leftfield wall after every Astros home run. And in Arizona, while a small number of fans watching their last place team didn’t quite make for an electric atmosphere, where else would you see a swimming pool at a baseball stadium?
Apart from the 25 stadiums we’ve visited, we try to see any baseball-related attractions that we can during our travels. Walking on Main Street in Cooperstown, New York, it’s amazing to see how every shop and restaurant is baseball related. Inside the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s incredible that so many topics are featured, such as how women have impacted baseball. There was even a whole theater dedicated to baseball movies. My favorite room was where the evolution of baseball stadiums was detailed because I have now gotten to experience some of that evolution firsthand.
In Louisville, we toured the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory and saw how baseball’s most-used bats are made. Did you know 80% of Hall of Famers used Louisville Slugger bats?
The great thing about driving is that you get to explore natural wonders along with historic landmarks and other interesting sites. We’ve seen the rushing waters of Niagara Falls, the seemingly endless depths of the Grand Canyon, and four of the five Great Lakes.
We saw ESPN’s campus in Bristol, Connecticut, and took part in the show SportsNation. We toured the Coca-Cola Factory in Atlanta, Georgia, and walked outside the huge campuses of Facebook and Google in Silicon Valley in California.
At Fort McHenry in Baltimore, we saw where “The Star-Spangled Banner” — the song you hear before every first pitch — was written by Francis Scott Key. The giant replica Liberty Bell ringing at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and the Racing Presidents in Washington combine baseball with history, which go together like peanuts and Cracker Jack.
I’ve met a lot of wonderful people along the way. In Cincinnati, I met Tim Parks, the founder of the Major League Baseball Ballpark Passport. That passport is something that expanded my desire to accomplish my goal of seeing all 30 stadiums. In Baltimore, I attended a Q&A session with Orioles manager Buck Showalter and General Manager Dan Duquette.
Meeting everyday people has also been very rewarding. A deaf usher, who’s been with the Atlanta Braves for more than 20 years, keeps her section decorated and treats fans with so much kindness. Blue Ivy, who works with guest services at Dodger Stadium, heard about our adventures and greeted us with stickers and even a bobblehead!
The hardest — and most fun — part of trips like these is the planning, which has become my responsibility. Baseball road trips are hard to plan, in that you have to make sure the teams you’re visiting will be home in the order you want to visit. The scheduling has to be perfect, and at times we would have to leave one city as early as 6 a.m. to get to a noon game in the next.
Another part of planning is thinking about things to do on the way to games, which is also another fun thing about driving. If we flew to every game, we would never have seen the Durham Bulls, who were the inspiration for the classic baseball movie Bull Durham, or have been able to stop off to see several other minor league stadiums. We would never see all the universities that we have visited or the tiny towns we’ve driven through.
Being in the car that long, you get to spend a lot of time with your family, which makes for many funny, happy — and frustrating — moments. Talking trades, debating our favorite stadiums, and singing and joking as a family make our trips special.
We’ve made lasting memories: driving along the winding roads of the Smoky Mountains in the night, as my mom hung on every turn. Not being able to find a hotel within 100 miles of Los Angeles because of the millions of events going on. Playing the baseball name game, which one of my brothers came up with, or watching baseball movies and our favorite show, Friends, on the mini TV we brought for the road.
Where it all began: on the field at Camden Yards with Baltimore Orioles star Chris Davis.
On these trips we have met remarkable people, and we’ve done and seen amazing things. At every stadium, my must-do list includes getting my passport stamped, buying a mini bat, walking around and sampling food specialties, and making sure to take a picture behind home plate from the upper deck.
From the moment I stepped on the field at Camden Yards — the first ballpark I visited outside of Texas — and saw the players I looked up to in what felt like a majestic setting, I knew I was living a pretty cool dream.
Back home in San Antonio this past August, as we unpacked the car, I was already planning our next adventure.
Photos: Brian Yancelson