While viewing the magnificent Washington Monument in all of its night-time splendor, the illuminated obelisk shining in the dark and watching over the nation’s capital, poet Carl Sandburg was inspired to pen these words: “The republic is a dream. Nothing happens unless first a dream.” In 1950, as a boy of eleven who was attending his first major league baseball game, the kernel of a dream, infinitely less grandiose and historic, took root.
SunTrust Park, Atlanta
My dad quietly observed as I became fixated on the Philco radio in the living room. The Chicago Cubs announcer Bert Wilson and the Chicago White Sox announcer Bob Elson described in their own unique styles the drama at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park respectively. A television set still had not found its way into our home so my dad knew that the time had come to introduce me to, as “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks later named it, “The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.”
It was a beautiful summer day when we drove about forty miles south to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. As we walked into the biggest structure I had ever seen, up the stairs and into the seating area, I was transfixed by what seemed to be acres and acres of emerald green field ahead of me. Could that possibly be grass, I wondered. If so, how could it be so perfect?
I was just coming to grips with the reality that this was indeed grass when the public address announcer, Pat Piper, began his ritualistic and beloved announcement: “La-a-a-dies and Gentlemen, get your pencils and scorecards ready and I will give you the correct line-up for today’s ballgame.” He first proceeded to list each player, position, and number of the visiting New York Giants, followed by the Chicago Cubs.
The game itself, featuring a home run by Cubs left fielder Hank Sauer, became almost secondary to me. I was simply mesmerized by the stands filled with cheering fans, the beautiful brick wall covered with ivy, and the gigantic scoreboard above the center field bleachers, which not only provided information about the game in front of us but of all the other seven major league games taking place at the same time. Though I didn’t verbalize this to my dad or even to myself, I knew within my heart what I needed to do. I needed to see a game at every major league ballpark during my lifetime.
A Baseball Legend
The seeds of my love for baseball were planted in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the unspoken color barrier in major league baseball; he stepped onto the Ebbets field diamond on April 15th and took his rightful place at first base.
As the 1950 season drew to a close, I heard rumors that Jackie Robinson was thinking of retiring. I was beside myself. Baseball was Jackie Robinson and Jackie Robinson was baseball. One couldn’t exist without the other. My mother took pity and wrote Jackie a letter telling him how distraught I was. She told me that Jackie was a very busy man and that he probably received many letters so I shouldn’t expect a response. But I knew my Jackie! He wouldn’t let me down; I was sure of it.
For several days, I raced home from school to see if there was any mail from my hero. Then one day there it was, an envelope addressed to me. I recognized the handwriting because Jackie had signed a baseball for me a few months earlier while I attended a Cubs/Dodgers game at Wrigley Field. I quickly opened the envelope and found a four-by-six inch glossy photo of a smiling Jackie. On the bottom of the photo was a machine-printed signature reading, “Sincerely yours, Jackie Robinson”.
However, that wouldn’t do for Jackie. Over the photo, in blue ink, he inscribed, “To Skipper, my very best wishes, Jackie Robinson”. If there had been an eighth heaven, I would have been in it!
Months later, when I saw that Jackie was back in spring training for the 1951 season, I felt that perhaps I had a little something to do with his decision to rethink retirement.
As the years passed by and Jackie did finally hang up his spikes in 1956, my admiration for him grew stronger. Six years later, when I was living in Seattle with my wife and daughter, the city was set to vote coming up on an open housing initiative that forbade racial discrimination in the housing market. Jackie came to town to speak in favor of it and of course I went to hear him. Following his speech, I had the privilege of speaking to Jackie and thanking him for his contributions to baseball.
Several years following Jackie’s untimely passing in 1972 at the age of 53, I felt compelled to write to his widow, Rachael, and tell her of my admiration for her husband and to describe how he had influenced my own life. By that time, I was a grandfather and I wanted to use Jackie’s example to help encourage the proper approach to racial issues for my grandchildren as I had with my own children.
As I placed the letter in the mailbox, I had the same belief as I did decades earlier that I would receive a reply. Not long after, I did indeed receive a beautiful letter from Mrs. Robinson. She quoted something Jackie once said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” She went on to say that this belief gave him an intense commitment to others and the courage to fight injustice wherever he saw it. She also confirmed what I already knew by saying that Jackie was a wonderful father and husband.
On the 50th anniversary of Jackie's first game, his daughter Sharon threw out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners game. I was able to meet with her and share my stories about her dad. She signed my Jackie Robinson comic book that I had kept from childhood and wrote, “To Skip, a longtime fan of my dad, Sharon Robinson”.
A Dream Deferred
From time to time while we were traveling around the country, my wife and I visited cities where major league baseball games were being played. (Confession time: I planned to be in these cities when games were being played.) My deferred dream of attending a game at every major league park, a dream that was born so many years back, was beginning to develop. Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium, Kauffman Stadium, Alameda Coliseum, Guaranteed Rate Ballpark, and my hometown Safeco Field (now T-Mobile Park) had been checked off the list. It was a nice start, but I was far from achieving my goal.
My wife and I decided that when our grandchildren turned thirteen, we would allow each of them to choose a place within the continental United States where they would like to go on a trip. My wife would go with our granddaughter and I with my grandsons. When my grandson Ryan opted to go to Washington, D.C., I knew what had to be included in the itinerary: the Baltimore Orioles home at Camden Yards Stadium. My check-off list now had eight markers.
Our second grandson Michael chose to go to spring training in Arizona, which was a great choice but we had no opportunity to go to the Diamondback's stadium. Now it was our youngest grandson Daniel's turn. He also selected Washington, D.C. as his destination. Perfect! The Washington Nationals had moved there from Montreal some time earlier, so a game at Nationals Park had to be on the agenda.
I was now up to nine stadiums with twenty-one (ouch!) to go. How was I going to accomplish this seemingly impossible dream? I wasn’t getting any younger.
In 2004 I met a man at church named Jay, who eventually became a very good friend. We shared many common interests such as trivia, history, and baseball. As we were having lunch one day, I mentioned that it had been a goal of mine to see a game at each major league ballpark. I added that my biggest regret was that I hadn’t gone to the Brooklyn Dodgers ballpark, Ebbets Field, before the team moved to Los Angeles.
I didn’t want to have more regrets in this regard, so I asked Jay if he would consider making a few trips to ballparks around the country with me. He picked up on the idea immediately and we decided that we would isolate various geographic regions and then go to games in each region, one region every two years. We broached the subject with our respective wives, and they gave it two thumbs up!
Skip & Jay
On The Road
We started our first journey in the summer of 2007 with Wrigley Field and the Great American Ballpark. As Jay and I are both history buffs, we were able to work in a visit to the home of former President William Howard Taft.
In 2011 we decided that we would head to Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto for games at their respective stadiums.
Cleveland greeted us with torrential downpours and the game was called after only three innings. This would have been disastrous to our plans except for the fact that we had planned to attend two games and were able to get in the second one.
While in that area, we visited the homes and graves of Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and James Garfield. Interestingly, while searching for the log cabin in which President Garfield was born, we were led to a small town some distance outside of Cleveland. We stopped at a local convenience store and asked the proprietor for the location of this log cabin. He was not only unaware of the location but he had never heard of James Garfield. We asked a second person who was pumping gas the same question. He responded that he should know but he didn’t.
We decided to drive around hoping to find someone who knew. I saw a sign for a police and fire station, and we pulled in there. Lo and behold, there was a small arrow sign that pointed to Garfield’s birthplace!
From Cleveland, we traveled on to Detroit to attend a game at Comerica Park and then proceeded to Toronto. The ballpark there, Rogers Centre, is a retractable dome stadium situated next to the famous CN Tower. Jay and I traveled to the top and lay on the glass floor looking straight down, which I don't recommend to anyone who suffers from a fear of heights.
CN Tower, Toronto
Before long, 2013 rolled around and we opted for Denver, Arlington, and Houston. Snow was abundant in Denver and we were faced with the same dread that we experienced in Cleveland, i.e. wondering if we would be able to see a game. Alas, it was cancelled. My wife called to say that we needed to rethink our plan to drive into Kansas to see the Eisenhower site as tornadoes were predicted for the area. We decided to heed her good advice and stay in Denver to see if we could exchange tickets for the next game the following day. It worked! However, the ballpark crew kept us waiting as they laboriously shoveled snow from the field into carts and dumped it over the center field wall.
Coors Field, Denver
On to Texas! We drove through the Oklahoma panhandle and were able to enjoy the Dust Bowl Museum in Boise City. While in Dallas, we decided to visit the Kennedy Museum and relive that sad day in November 1963 when the 35th President of the United States was assassinated.
We attended three games at Globe Life Park in neighboring Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers, and then moved on to Houston for a game at the Astros’ Minute Maid Park. Always in search of adventure, we drove south to tour the NASA headquarters and the shores of Galveston as the voice of Glen Campbell wafted through our brain. Three more down and ten more to go!
With four trips under our belt, we decided to be ambitious and take off for New York, Boston, and Philadelphia in 2015. Our first stop was at Citi Field where the New York Mets play. With that accomplished, we left for my dream ballpark, Fenway Park in Boston. The circus atmosphere there is unrivaled and the history and configurations of the field itself are breathtaking. One interesting aspect of Fenway Park is the fact that the fans sing "Sweet Caroline" in unison before the bottom of the eighth inning at every game.
Fenway Park, Boston
Reluctantly leaving Boston, we drove to Cooperstown, New York to breathe in baseball history and memorabilia at the Baseball Hall of Fame, a must-see for every baseball enthusiast.
We continued to Philadelphia and Citizens Bank Ballpark, home of the Phillies and then eventually back to New York. Both Jay and I had been to the old Yankee Stadium, but not the new one. I must say the architects and builders did a great job in replicating the old park. While on this road trip, we were able to visit several more presidential sites, such as those of Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and both Roosevelts.
A 2017 trip to the southeast was next. Our first park was Marlins Park in Miami. It was built on the site of the old Orange Bowl where I had seen Super Bowl III in January 1969. We then drove west across the state to Tampa in order to check off Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. We even got to pet some of the aquatic creatures in their home outside the center field wall.
Our last stop was in Atlanta and the beautiful SunTrust Park, home of the Braves. On this trip we were able to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial site as well as the Jimmy Carter home in Plains, Georgia.
Busch Stadium, St. Louis
As my wife and I were able to see games in Arizona, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh between some of Jay’s and my trips, it was now 2019 and I needed to visit one more ballpark, Busch Stadium, home of the Cardinals.
I had made a twenty-two-foot banner to exhibit with a list of all the ballparks I had visited, the date I had been there, and a box with a check mark next to each one. I also indicated that I wanted to achieve my goal before my eightieth birthday. I was able to do that with two months to spare! Some accommodating fans helped me display the banner in front of the ballpark and many people came up to me to congratulate me as I also wore a sign on my back.
Unknown to me, my wife had called the ballpark to let them know about my feat and she gave them my ticket seat location. I was shown on the screen several times throughout the game and my name was displayed with a message of congratulations. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience for my last ballpark.
Did I say last ballpark? Nope, it wasn’t. The Texas Rangers are opening a new one in the spring of 2020 and guess who will be there. This time, my sweet wife will accompany me as I check off another “last ballpark”!