Take Him Out to the Ball Game(s)
Eau Claire fan achieves goal of visiting all 30 major league ballparks
To the truest of fans, the baseball lover’s dream vacation is an expedition to see every team, in every home venue, all across our land. In 1994, I read Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks, written by a man who took a summer to attend a game in every Major League Baseball ballpark (at the time, there were 26 of them). As a 16-year-old, I was hooked into the sports lover’s vacation. One day I totally want to do it. Andy Brown already did.
The athletic director at Northstar Middle School and a baseball coach – including with the 2011 state champion Eau Claire North team – Brown took the practical approach to the mission, going to stadiums nationwide over the course of nearly two decades, tallying his final trips this past summer.
“It sounds like baseball, it smells like baseball, it looks like baseball.” – Andy Brown, on Boston’s legendary Fenway Park
As you likely surmised, Brown is a huge baseball fan. As a sophomore at UW-Eau Claire, he and some friends road tripped to Wrigley Field in Chicago and the old County Stadium in Milwaukee. The trip was such fun that he recalled saying, “I think I wanna see a live game in every ballpark.”
And so the journey began, visiting the Metrodome and County Stadium’s replacement, Miller Park. Of course, these are the easy ones, but a connection through a pro player helped expand the horizon. Brown met a friend whose cousin is catcher Dan Wilson, and during Wilson’s tenure with the Mariners, Brown made the excursion to Seattle’s Safeco Field. “And then I just kinda started checking off the list,” he explained.
To help with the journey, his friend’s father built Brown a shelf featuring four bats with pegs for all the teams. “And every ballpark I go to, I buy a hat to the home team, and then I put the box score of the first game I ever saw in that park above the hat.” Brown has filled out those pegs; here are the highlights from the trips.
Matching the consensus of most baseball fans and ballparks aficionados, the homes of the Red Sox (Fenway Park), Pirates (PNC Park), Giants (AT&T Park), and Twins (Target Field) are near the top of his list, with Fenway in first. Being a baseball historian, he instantly appreciated the atmosphere surrounding the stadium. “You walk up to Fenway Park, and literally, you get within two-three blocks ... it sounds like baseball, it smells like baseball, it looks like baseball.” Knowledgeable fans (also found in St. Louis) help with the ambiance. And, like in Field Of Dreams, “You have to order a dog and a beer.”
PNC Park was notable for the downtown Pittsburgh skyline immediately beyond the Allegheny River running just on the other side of the right field fence and seats; a similar effect is provided by the kayakers waiting in San Francisco Bay for home runs to splash down from AT&T Park batters. At Washington’s Nationals Park, you can see the monuments lit up at night; Denver’s Coors Field has a row of purple-colored seats to mark a mile above sea level; and Detroit’s Comerica Park stood-out for its family-friendliness.
The Brewers will always be well-regarded for their tailgating. Yet vibrant restaurants, bars, and activities in close proximity to a stadium also helped Brown’s opinion of Target Field, San Diego’s Petco Park, Cleveland’s Progressive Field, and Baltimore’s trendsetting Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Gastronomically speaking, Brown found the food stood out in Seattle, San Francisco (try the fish sandwich and garlic fries), Target Field (the Tony Oliva Cuban sandwich), and Texas, where for $40, you could get a ton of food throughout the game and watch through windows if you preferred. “For the entire game, you could go back and just eat,” he said.
At the bottom? The homes of the Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, and Oakland A’s.
This past summer, Brown hit up Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Miami to finally see all of the stadiums (now there are 30). The capper in Miami came a night after Ichiro Suzuki got his 3,000th hit – and Brown happened to see Ichiro more than any other player (in six stadiums) over the years, so he bought an Ichiro shirt to mark the occasion.
Already, replacement venues beckon, including a new Atlanta ballpark next year. Brown will get around to those places, but he’s lived the vacation. Use his travels as your guide ... and save room for a dog and a beer.