By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox took two of three from the Twins in Minneapolis over the weekend, the offense erupting for 28 runs over the final two games of the set. The wins mark the only times Boston hitters have posted double digits on the scoreboard in a game this season.
While the Red Sox bats were waking up on the long road to October, my own visit to Target Field this weekend was the conclusion of a personal journey.
Over 15 years of road trips and flights, through college and grad school, internships, jobs and second jobs, five different apartments, a house, births, deaths, family reunions, the weddings of friends and last year, my own, I can finally say I’ve been to the home of all 30 Major League teams.
It all started in a friend’s living room during winter break of our freshman year of college. How the conversation came about, I don’t recall. But I do remember printing out a bunch of team schedules and sprawling a map across the floor. By the end of the night, we had decided it was possible to go to eleven games in eleven different ballparks in nine cities over ten days that summer. A classic baseball road trip.
The journey to Shea and Yankee, to the Vet, Camden Yards and Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, up to the old Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, to Wrigley and Comiskey, over to Detroit and Cleveland and back to Boston tested our endurance and at times, our friendship. We stayed with family, crashed on a friend of a friend’s couch in West Philly, pitched a tent in Ohio, and took a nap in the Bapst Library on the BC campus the last day of the trip. Every meal was probably fast food. We got lost once or twice (my fault). I remember being so exhausted behind the wheel on the home stretch from Cleveland to Boston that I think I started hallucinating as the sun came up over the New York State Thruway. Either that or I’d listened to one too many of my friend’s “Live Phish” CDs. By the time the car crawled into my parents’ driveway the following night, we were beyond cooked.
And it remains one of the coolest experiences we’ve ever had.
The outcome of that first road trip and my continued love for the game evolved into a desire to see a home game in every Major League city. I figured, with some luck, I might be able to pull it off, someday. After all, I was already eleven deep. But I didn’t have the time or the resources to do it alone. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have enthusiastic friends help push me to the finish line. Whether the visit was a side dish for one of the 30-odd weddings I’ve attended in the past decade, a weekend trip with friends, or the result of another carefully planned road trip (the Midwest in 2009, West Coast in 2010 and the South in 2012), I’ve seen some great ballparks. And this weekend, I reached the final destination in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Looking back through the pile of tickets, the Facebook photos (and real ones) and all of the memorabilia over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been inundated with memories.
The architecture. The atmosphere. Each city’s unique spin on the baseball experience. Watching the game unfold beneath the Pittsburgh skyline, the dying sun lighting the painted bridges as kayakers dot the river below, awaiting the splash of a home run ball. The kitsch of Dodger Stadium. The organ at Wrigley Field. The imposing former Western Metal Supply Co. warehouse built into San Diego’s Petco Park. The warehouse in Baltimore, a top-five place to see a game. The coldest July I’ve ever experienced in San Francisco. The hum of insects on a muggy August night in Kansas City. That one of a kind buzz at Fenway Park when the game is on the line.
The mascots and in-game shenanigans. There’s a fine line between cute and stupid. But I love Mr. Met, and the Philly Phanatic with his ATV. Raymond patrolling the empty seats at Tropicana Field, looking for somebody to clown. Bernie Brewer, trapped in his dugout like a zoo exhibit until the home team hits one out and he’s free to go down his slide. The Budweiser Clydesdales gracefully clopping along the warning track before a game in St. Louis. Then you’ve got the races: Milwaukee with the giant sausages. In Pittsburgh, they’re pierogies. In D.C. – presidents.
Not every team can anticipate a sellout every night, so you’re going to see lots of promotions to pack the fans in. Dollar Hot Dog Day at the Vet and at Oakland Coliseum. T-shirt Tuesdays in Kansas City. James Loney bobblehead night at Dodger Stadium. Post-game fireworks all over the place. A free concert with KC & The Sunshine Band after the game in Pittsburgh.
The beers, the bars, the BBQ joints, the ballpark food. In scientific terms: too numerous to count.
The games, themselves. Pedro Martinez, at the height of his powers, throwing eight shutout innings and striking out 11 Devil Rays. Seeing Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum and Zach Greinke dominating opposing hitters at their Cy Young-best. Andy Pettitte out-dueling the immortal Mark Redman at old Yankee Stadium, the outcome decided in the bottom of the ninth. Catching a game at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park on the same day, with Fred McGriff walking off in the Friendly Confines before the ChiSox lit up the exploding scoreboard that night. Even Joe Mauer hitting his first career walk-off home run against the Red Sox on Friday night.
We’ve seen about a dozen Hall of Famers on the journey, and who knows how many more will one day have a place in Cooperstown.
The swag. I’ve brought home various hats and half a dozen wooden mini-bats. For a while in my 20’s, I collected jersey t-shirts: Pat Burrell and Jay Gibbons. Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks and Tom Seaver. My Nomar Garciaparra A’s shirt was 50% off at the team store. There’s the Mr. Met bobblehead and a Pirates beach towel I got by completing customer surveys (if it’s free, it’s for me). Ice cream helmets. My buddy caught a home run ball in the bleachers at Wrigley. I had a near-miss on a batting practice bomb off the bat of Frank Thomas that left my hand numb for a couple of hours.
The art of the road trip. In the early days, I would carefully curate a number of mix CDs and bring them in a binder. Those songs made their way onto the iPod, then the iPhone. They’re probably in some sort of cloud by now. City to city, the drives would last four, six, eight, even 15 hours in one day (Chicago to Boston at the tail end of a trip). We tackled Route 66, hundreds of miles of corn, and tunneled through mountains outside of Pittsburgh. The only accident was a love tap one time in Philly. A sleepy driver (I won’t name names) once took our rental Dodge Charger airborne off a highway exit in Kettleman City, CA in the middle of the night as we drove from an extra-inning Dodger game to catch a Red Sox-A’s game in Oakland the following afternoon. Surprisingly, no damage.
The friendships. My road trip buddies: Will, Jay and Pun. The hospitality of friends in other cities, who’ve shown me a great time and helped me complete the circuit. The nice fans and ballpark staff I’ve met who were maybe friends for a couple of hours before the last out was recorded and we went our separate ways.
Our country. The Grand Canyon at sunset. The Field of Dreams in Iowa. The Arch and the Museum of Westward Expansion in St. Louis. The White House. Red Rocks. Beaches (Laguna and South). The Pacific Coast Highway. Mount Rainier watching over Seattle. That video of my friend diving off a cliff in Sedona. Stops at Notre Dame and Miami University. Various Halls of Fame (Baseball, Football, Hockey, Jazz, Rock and Roll). Seattle’s Experience Music Project. The Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City. The Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore. The Ted Williams Hitters’ Hall of Fame in Tampa (by far the most interesting part of a Rays game).
It has been exciting to see the country through the lens of baseball, invigorating to capture its beauty, humbling to learn of its history.
Back to the weekend. It’s tough to say (at this point) where Target Field ranks among its peers, and it has many: exactly half of the league’s venues have opened since the turn of the century. Opened in 2010, it’s a clean, aesthetically pleasing ballpark with seating under 40,000, great sightlines throughout, outfield and upper deck seats that are on top of the action, and a fantastic walk-up from the street onto the outfield concourse. Statues of Twins legends greet you along the way. The beer selection is strong and the food options are unique. The people are nice. There’s a reason people speak so highly of the place.
What’s next? For the Sox, a three game set in Milwaukee. For me, I’m not sure. But I kind of feel like I should write about it.
Sean Sylver is a contributor to CBSBostonSports.com who can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter@sylverfox25.