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I summoned the remnants of my Grade 12 physics to evaluate the angles – this strike-2 foul ball was almost certain to ricochet right back in my direction! I am still haunted by my son’s look of disappointment as the ball glanced off the tip of my extended gloved hand and into the appreciative crowd below. I know I could have stretched further. This was Anaheim, Calif.’s Angel Stadium – park No. 10 on our family quest to see all 30 major-league ballparks.
Our journey began six years ago as a way for my wife and I to extract family time from two maturing iGeneration kids, while sharing our collective passion for sports, travel, music and culture. We started on my birthday in Philadelphia, where we endured an epic seven-hour, 18-inning battle featuring a dramatic Phillies home run to tie the game in the eighth inning. Already tired and weary from this late night, we then proceeded the next morning on a five-day, five-game trip down through Baltimore and Washington and then back to New York. The following year was back-to-back games to cover all five California parks, followed thereafter by two separate journeys to eight ballparks throughout the Midwestern states and, most recently, a tour from Seattle to Phoenix, by way of Colorado.
At each stadium we purchase four ball caps, take the same picture under the scoreboard and cheer for a home-team victory so the crowd stays animated. Our record to date is 16 wins and five losses. Pretty impressive.
At Yankee Stadium in New York, however, we broke ranks and bravely wore Baltimore orange to cheer not for the Orioles, but against the Yanks. As a Blue Jays family, we simply will not condone any emotional or financial support for the Yankees. We were forced to cling to our anti-Yankee convictions through hunger and thirst, as the New York vendors seemed determined to overlook our beckoning waves.
We like to get to the parks early enough to do a walkaround as we mentally register our ranking of the stadium based on admiration of the architecture, sightlines and nostalgia and, of course, sampling of the resident delicacies. We saw the Sandman – Mariano Rivera, baseball’s greatest reliever – close out a victory in New York, we gave Doc Halladay the Toronto-salute when the Phillies visited the Mets, and we traded smiles with the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig as his white Rolls- Royce prepared to drag race our taxi postgame in Los Angeles. In our favourite ballpark so far (I knew you would ask), we sat beside the visitor’s dugout to admire the ivy-covered brick walls of Wrigley Field, the oldest stadium in the National League. As Cubs fireballer Aroldis Chapman dismissed Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen with three straight 101 mph (about 162 km/h) fastballs, the Pirates slugger upstaged the jeering Wrigley faithful with his humble acquiescence, “Ya, that was pretty fast.”
There is both art and science in mapping out the home schedules, travel logistics, game times and the absorption of local culture. In-between games, we ran the Rocky Balboa steps in Philly, taught the kids about Pink Floyd at Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, failed miserably at surfing on our drive to San Diego and took scooters past the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. We have completed 21 of 30 parks to date. The inconvenience of employment and the geographic isolation of the remaining ballparks are providing challenges. But we will make it happen.
When I talk about this family tradition, people often ask how I managed to convince my family (read: my wife) to waste valuable summer vacation days deshelling leftover ballpark peanuts at the Motel 6 in Kansas City, Mo. But I was blessed with a wife who acquired her appreciation of sports the Canadian way – standing stoically between the pipes in a red CCM goalie helmet and extra layers of padding on her seven-year-old frame, while her older brothers honed their wrist-shot accuracy in the driveway. Today, I dare not switch the TV from Hockey Night in Canada on a cold Saturday night, nor suggest a head-start on traffic before the Blue Jays final at bat. Her only real break with tradition being a preference for an oaky white wine with her ballpark frank. In the last of their teenage years, my daughter and son were the perfect age to spend long highway hours discussing dreams, struggles, politics and perspectives, with intermittent music interludes ranging from my wife’s Merle Haggard to the kids’ less melodic, higher-decibel rap music. Upon reflection, these captive hours were invaluable as parents seeking comfort on the character of their young adult children – judgment, confidences and insecurities, self-awareness, motivations – all of the building blocks that one hopes has adequately prepared them for the big leagues of adulthood.
We have nine parks left to visit. In my man-cave at home, I am building a display of authentic MLB baseball hats – 29 teams on a 30-hat rack. (A spot for the Yankees hat will remain forever empty.) This summer we are off to the Lone Star state with the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros both on the schedule. I plan to get a car-ride update on new issues including relationships, graduate-study programs and the inequities of wage versus rent in Toronto. I will learn who should replace rapper A$AP Rocky on my playlist so I can maintain the façade of staying on trend. And, in-between games, my wife will teach us to line-dance in San Antonio while the ball players rest.
Mark Gordon lives in Toronto.