This story originally appeared in May of 2009 on NBCSports.com. But since they’ve change publishing platforms, it has vanished. I’ve revived it here, and I hope it makes you want to take a monster road trip.
Mike Hartman and Aman Dhaddey sat beside the road in the blistering summer heat, feasting on grocery store chicken and trying not to melt into the asphalt.
Their car’s tires had shredded in the desolate southeastern corner of California, about 40 miles from the Arizona border. After a tow into Blythe, Calif., (centrally located on I-10 at the Arizona-California border!) , they found themselves curbside as they waited for new tires, devouring their elegant meal and trying not to sweat in the 115-degree heat. As they sat there, they noted the misery of their surroundings.
“Blythe is probably the most depressing place on Earth,” recalled Hartman in a recent e-mail interview. “As Aman put it, ‘everyone there looked like they wanted to die.’”
In that moment, on the surface, so did they.
But deep down, it was another story altogether. Deep down, they were having the time of their lives, their car troubles just a little setback on an epic journey.
Hartman and Dhaddey were attempting the most ambitious of baseball odysseys: attending a game in each of the 30 Major League ballparks, all in one season.
And while the pair of college kids would come up short in their quest, hitting 24 parks before being sidelined by a lack of funds, the adventure itself was worth the effort.
“It would have been amazing to keep going, but it had almost been 10 weeks worth of traveling and we had seen so much of the country, met great people and had dozens of interesting experiences.”
Others who have attempted such a trip agree.
“This journey was probably the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Troy Foster, who accomplished the feat with a friend in the summer of 2008.
“Anyone who is a baseball fan should do it,” said Cary Freels, a hardy fellow who actually did his trip on a motorcycle – in a mere 40 days – in 2008. “I think it’s our Mecca. It’s something you have to do before you die.”
So fear not the heat of Blythe, Calif., baseball fans. Just get out your maps, gas up the car, and prepare for the ultimate road trip.
Just don’t forget to check those tires.
CHARTING THE COURSE
Perhaps the most difficult part of pulling off such a trip is the logistics of scheduling. It seems so simple. Open up a calendar, pull out some team schedules and make them match. But a number of factors make this more difficult that it seems.
Teams can go on extended road trips just as you arrive in town, leaving you stranded. Cities with two teams don’t always have them both in town at the same time. And long distances between cities, particularly in the West, can make for brutal travel as you scramble to get to the next game.
“Our route was probably one of the most difficult things to figure out as far as logistics went,” wrote Hartman. “It was very much a trial and error sort of thing. I posted a screen capture of the route on Facebook and several people pointed out potential time-savers. I don’t know how we would have managed to plot it all out without the Internet.”
For Freels, the scheduling was especially important, as he was attempting what he thought would end up a Guinness World Record – 30 ballparks in 40 days.
A 33-year-old native of Houston, he could’ve just hopped on his bike and done the trip, but as he explains it, he never does “anything small.” He designed his trip to raise money for Livestrong, Lance Armstrong’s foundation fighting cancer. He was accompanied by his mother Lynn Funk, a cancer survivor, who rode alongside in an RV. Also in the RV was a small camera crew to document the trip, plus another crew member to man his web site.
Freel’s hope was that his record chase would stir up publicity for the charity. While aware that others had done it in fewer than 40 days, he hoped for a special classification as he was doing it while riding a motorcycle.
Unfortunately, halfway through his trip, he was notified that would not be the case.
“If not for the record I would’ve really slowed it down,” Freels said. “I took some chances that could’ve cost me my life. … I would do it again, but not in 40 days.”
He’ll have a hard time convincing his mother, who is seven years in remission, to go along next time. “We’ll always have this trip no matter what happens,” Freels says, before adding. “But she swears she’ll never do it again.”
DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT
Once you’ve got your course charted, a huge obstacle looms – how to pay for your trip. Gas, lodging, food. And, don’t forget, you’ll need tickets, too. It’s daunting to even think about it, especially in the current economic climate.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the average price of gas nationally as of May 18 was $2.31 a gallon. At that price, and assuming your car gets 25 miles per gallon – and you took our suggested course — you’re looking at least $1000 for gas alone.
Fluctuating gas prices were frustrating for Foster, when he planned his 2008 trip. The former newspaper editor – who has since started his own media company (Foster Group Media LLC) and aims to become a documentary filmmaker — sold his house to help finance his trip.
He convinced two of his closest friends — Daren Many and Nolan Rice — to attempt the ultimate baseball road trip. The idea was to meld business with pleasure, shooting video along the way to eventually produce an in-depth multimedia project. (You can view some of the videos at Basecrawl.com)
While selling his house helped set aside financial worries, it was nonetheless jolting watching gas prices soar in the summer of 2008, from $3.06 during the planning stage, to $4.25 by the time they started their trip.
Even more painful, Rice bailed on the trip after seven games, homesick for his girlfriend. Foster and Many forged ahead in a gas-guzzling SUV, while Foster’s hybrid car – too small for three passengers but just fine for two — sat unused at home.
“It would be maddening at times to spend $80 to fill up my tank when I had a hybrid sitting at home,” Foster said.
But while the cost of your trip will remain at the whim of gas prices, there are ways to save money, namely on lodging.
Foster suggests sitting down and writing down all the people you know: Old friends, relatives, former classmates and co-workers. “You’ll find you know people everywhere,” he said.
Furthermore, once word gets out of your trip, unexpected assistance just might surface. Foster and Many said they were contacted by friends of friends, people they didn’t know, who offered them a place to crash for a night or two.
“We slept on a lot of couches,” Many said. “These people fed us dinner and put us up for multiple nights.
“It was amazing how interested people were in the trip. We couldn’t have done it without them. We didn’t have that kind of money for hotels.”
Hartman and Dhaddey also recommended avoiding hotels. Camping is cheaper, as is sleeping, as they did at times, at rest stops.
“Ear plugs and a Benadryl and I was out like a light,” wrote Hartman, “Some of the rest stops in Iowa, if I recall, even had free wireless Internet.”
Hartman stressed what he said was another good source for lodging, a web site called couchsurfing.org, a community where people host passing travelers.
“Aman and I met some fantastic people who went out of their way to make us feel at home,” Hartman wrote. “We made some lifelong friends through the process.”
Another way to save money is to contact the teams for tickets. Explain your trip and what you’re trying to accomplish, and you might score some free seats.
Allan Stejskal, who visited all 30 ballparks in 2003 along with his wife Pattie and sons Sam and Max, used this method with some nice success. In addition to receiving free tickets from “about a third of the teams,” Sam (12 at the time) and Max (11), ended up with some nice perks. The boys were allowed to take the field at Dodger Stadium, to interview Marcus Giles on the jumbo-tron in Atlanta, to catch pop-flies in Minneapolis, and meet the man in Baltimore who rubs down the baseballs before every game.
Freels also received special treatment, helped by the fact his trip was raising money for charity. The Phillies let him drive his motorcycle on the field and he met players Shane Victorino and Brad Lidge. In Arizona, he presented Orlando Hudson with a Livestrong bracelet, and his mother spoke with pitcher Doug Davis, a fellow cancer survivor.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Like that nasty pitcher on the mound, life will throw you a curve ball once in awhile, and being on a lengthy baseball odyssey will only enhance your chances of encountering the unexpected. Be prepared to embrace the challenges ahead, and roll with the punches.
We already mentioned the possibility of out-of-control gas prices wreaking havoc on a budget. But that is just one of many problems that can crop up when driving thousands of miles on single trip.
Foster and Many made an expensive mistake in Washington, D.C., when their car was towed, forcing them to get a $250 hotel room in the city and destroying their $500 lodging budget in one fell swoop.
Later in Chicago, Many was caught in a scalping sting while trying to sell a ticket on the street. After being threatened with jail, he was issued a citation, which he accepted coolly without letting on that Foster was filming the encounter from across the street. The end result was $240 out of Many’s pocket.
And don’t forget the havoc that weather can play.
Stejskal said he had two games rained out in the first week of his trip. The ensuing chaos meant games in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati – in that order, with Cincinnati a noon start – on successive days, a rough stretch of travel. “That was probably the toughest part of the trip,” he said.
Not all of the surprises from your trip need be bad. Hartman, then a student at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo, liked the Milwaukee area so much that he ended up moving there, which he said “confounded friends back in California.”
And Stejskal said his flexible approach led to some entertaining adventures, like a 250-mile detour to New Orleans just to have dinner.
“It was a great experience to spend the summer with no stuff. You just go where you go and don’t have to worry about much of anything.”
BONDS STRENGTHENED, OR TORN ASUNDER
Stejskal stressed his trip only brought his family closer together. Books on tape helped keep the boys occupied during the long drives, and their leisurely pace, including early arrival to many games, allowed them chances to talk and explore the ballparks together.
“We were really lucky,” he said. “Hardly anyone has the chance to spend two and a half solid months with their kids. For me, anyway, and I think it goes for the rest of my family as well, it was a really special time for us.
“Whether doing it with your family or friends, it really is about doing it with people you care about.”
Foster, however, offers words of warning for those who don’t have a family to take with them, yet may be leaving important people behind.
“Be single,” he said. “I had a girlfriend when I left, and when I got home I was single. It fell apart, man.”