Ballpark Tour 2014: The Itinerary

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MLB-teams-map

A couple days ago, I broke the news that I am writing a book. I’ll be spending the 2014 Major League Baseball season traveling the country visiting all 30 MLB ballparks. This experience, I hope, will provide a skeleton outline of my book, and the countless stories will be the backbone. For more information on my project and why I’m doing it, check out my Kickstarter and consider helping me fundraise by pre-pre-ordering the book before 3/1.

So this trip. Its going to be nuts. Even now that the Kickstarter has launched and that I’m under contract with a publisher, I’m struggling to comprehend the fact that I’ll be traveling to 30 different cities within 6 months.* It seems impossible, yet I look at my calendar and there it is. All 30 cities in one MLB season. It looks foolproof and easy on paper…not unlike my fantasy football team this year. Hopefully this pans out better than that did.

* – Throw a trip to Myanmar in there too. I’ll be traveling there in March for two weeks with my CBTS seminary cohort taking classes at the Myanmar Institute of Theology. Yep, that’s MIT.

Want to hear something even crazier? When I first had this idea, I wanted to do all 30 of these games in 30 days. It’s doable, and it’s been done before. But as I thought about the writing process and I pictured myself coming home exhausted, sleeping for eighteen consecutive hours, waking up and trying to write a book…and spending most of my time asking myself, “wait, where was Game 6 again? Oh yeah, San Diego. And who were they playing? Oh gosh, maybe Washington? Colorado? Dodgers? Shoot I don’t remember.”

So I wised up. And I spread it out over the entire season. Here’s a look at my current itinerary:

  • March 31: STL @ CIN
  • April 11: WAS @ ATL
  • April 14: SEA @ TEX 
  • April 15: KC @ HOU
  • April 16: NYM @ ARI
  • April 17: COL @ SD
  • May 7: NYY @ LAA
  • May 8: SF @ LAD 
  • May 10: KC @ SEA 
  • May 11: WAS @ OAK 
  • May 12: ATL @ SF 
  • May 18: BAL @ KC
  • June 3: ARI @ COL
  • June 25: OAK @ NYM 
  • June 26: MIA @ PHI
  • June 27: BOS @ NYY 
  • June 30: CHC @ BOS
  • July 1: COL @ WAS 
  • July 2: TEX @ BAL
  • July 18: TB @ MIN
  • Aug 5: BOS @ STL 
  • Aug 6: TEX @ CWS 
  • Aug 7: SF @ MIL 
  • Aug 8: TB @ CHC
  • Sept 17: NYY @ TB 
  • Sept 18: WAS @ MIA
  • Sept 21: MIL @ PIT
  • Sept 22: SEA @ TOR
  • Sept 23: CWS @ DET 
  • Sept 24: KC @ CLE

(It’s okay if you just scrolled through all that quickly without really looking at it. I understand.)

Not only will spreading it out make the entire project more manageable, but I imagine the storylines will be way more enjoyable as well. I’ll get to follow teams from start to finish. If this was the 2013 season, I’d remember how terrible the Dodgers were early, and how Don Mattingly was on the hot seat for his job, but then the Human Firecracker, Yasiel Puig, showed up and Hanley Ramirez got healthy and the Dodgers went on a tear and became one of the NL’s top teams. Storylines like that.

By spreading it out, the entire season comes better info focus. By zooming out, the stories become larger and the entire journey is able to gain more momentum.

The toughest part of creating the itinerary is maneuvering through the MLB schedule itself. On any given day of the week, only half the teams are playing at home. Throw in off-days and an All-Star break, and there’s something like a 40% chance* that any given team is actually playing in the city between Opening Day and the end of the season.

* – Just did the math…between March 31 and September 28 there are 210 days and each team only has 81 home games. Which makes it a 38.6% chance the team is in town. Basically, I nailed it.

So where to begin my scheduling?

Obviously I have to take my own personal schedule into account – I’m still working full-time and taking classes full-time through May and beginning again in August – but the best place to begin, I discovered, was finding the times where nearby teams were in town at the same time. I clustered teams together into a few geographical groups…

Chicago +1: Cubs, White Sox. Brewers
The Californians: Dodgers, Angels, Giants, Athletics, Padres
The East Coast: Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Nationals, Orioles, Red Sox
Florida: Rays, Marlins
Lake Erie: Tigers, Indians, Blue Jays, Pirates
Texas: Astros, Rangers
Middle of Nowhere*: Mariners, Rockies, Braves, Diamondbacks, Minnesota
Missouri…ish: Cardinals, Royals, Cincinnati

* – also a terrific Hanson album. #mmmbop

I knew I wanted to go to Cincinnati for Opening Day – the Reds have a long history of doing Opening Day (more on that later), and it served as the “official” OD location each year until recently. And since I live in Kansas City and St. Louis is only a few hours away, the “Missourish” section was easiest and most flexible. I decided to begin by finding the dates for the most difficult trips first.

One thing I discovered very early: cities with multiple MLB teams don’t schedule them at the same time. In order to hit two teams in one trip, I had to catch the last game of one series and the first game of the next. For Chicago, having Milwaukee in the mix, that was the most difficult task. I found my answer on August 6-8: the last game of the White Sox series, a Thursday afternoon game up in Milwaukee, and the first game of a Cubs series. Book it.

Then I checked out SF/OAK & LAD/LAA. Found both sets ending and beginning series right by each other in early May. Stuck a quick flight to Seattle in the middle…book it.

Then I went searching for NYY/NYM & BAL/WAS. Found the former in late June, the latter on the first two days of July. I squeezed Philly and Boston in between…book it.

I had a couple different possibilities for the Lake Erie group. I could hit the west side cities – Cleveland and Detroit – as a part of the Chicago trio. I could hit Toronto and Pittsburgh in between the New York and Baltimore/DC sections too. There was some flexibility there.

Then I looked at the teams I was dealing with and realized the right answer: I need to visit these games in September. As a fan of both the Cardinals and the Royals, I’ve watched the AL and NL Central compete over the last few years and know it will be a dogfight for the last two wild card games – Cleveland*, Detroit, Pittsburgh…and if Toronto can have a bounce back year anything like last year’s Red Sox did, it should be the perfect storm of drama leading up to the playoffs. And with all four teams playing home games the second to last week of the season, that’s where I want to be as the season is winding down….book it.

* – Especially if my Royals are fighting for a spot too, that last game in Cleveland could get pretty exciting.

Then I noticed that Tampa and Miami were playing back to back just a couple days before the Lake Erie tour…book it.

Here’s something funny: it took me months – months! – to remember that i was already going to Denver in June with my youth group. Duh! Sure enough, the Rockies were in town the exact days we were going to be there. Guess what students?! I just figured out what our evening excursion is going to be on June 3…book it.

So that leaves the two Texas teams, 60% of the Middle of Nowheres and the Padres. What do I do with a smörgåsbord like that? Solution: bunch em all together, get em out of the way early, and move from east to west so I’m gaining hours and not losing them.

I found a stretch in April that worked out almost perfectly: Atlanta to Arlington to Houston to Phoenix to San Diego. Six days. Five games. Book it.

That just leaves Minnesota.

And I am NOT going there until it is nice and toasty this summer. Did you guys hear it was -36F there yesterday morning?! Why does anyone live there?! I just don’t understand how that’s possible. But wait a minute…where’s the All-Star Game this year?

Minnesota.

Ooooooo. So tempting. We’ll see if I can make that happen, but if not, the Twins are for sure in town the weekend immediately after the ASG so that can serve as a safety net regardless of if I can figure out a way to finagle my way into the ASG or not. Also, I’m still uncertain whether going to the All-Star Game at Target Field actually counts – it completes the ballpark requirement, but I won’t even see the Twins play! So I might end up spending a few days there and hitting both just to make sure I’m covered.

Plus the closest IKEA is in Minneapolis*, so….book it.

* – That is, until September 2014, when we finally get one in Kansas City! I hear we’re getting color television soon too. And Creed was just here a few months ago. Look out world.

So there you have it. The itinerary split up into major sections…

1. The Smörgåsbord (April 11-17)
2. The West Coast (May 7-13)
3. The East Coast (June 25-July 2)
4. The Chicagoans +1 (August 6-8)
5. Florida & Lake Erie (September 17-24)

…with a few single game additions in between…

1. Opening Day, Cincinnati (March 31)
2. Dressed to the Nines Day*, Kansas City (May 18)
3. Youth Group, Colorado (June 3)
4. All-Star Week, Minnesota (July 15&18)
5. World Series Rematch*, St. Louis (Aug 5)

* – More on these later. For now, you can get some more info in these two places: Dressed to the Nines Day on Facebook and this Instagram post from before Game 4.

And when you put it all together it looks a lot like a Table of Contents. Interesting.

1. Opening Day, Cincinnati (March 31)
2. The Smörgåsbord (April 11-17)

3. The West Coast (May 7-13)
4. Dressed to the Nines Day, Kansas City (May 18)
5. Youth Group, Colorado (June 3)

6. The East Coast (June 25-July 2)
7. All-Star Week, Minnesota (July 15&18)
8. World Series Rematch, St. Louis (Aug 5)

9. The Chicagoans +1 (August 6-8)
10. Florida + Lake Erie (September 17-24)

So there you have it. My itinerary and how it came about.

It may not stay all the same. (Read: it probably won’t all stay the same.) There may be opportunities along the way to hit games earlier or later than planned. There also might be a missed flight or flat tire or death or dismemberment that may throw a wrench in the whole thing…sorta like my fantasy football team when half the team gets injured. Things will happen outside my control, and I hope those make for some of the best moments in the whole book.

Or, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann once said, “The road emerged only as I walked it.”

-apc.

PS – Thanks to everyone who has pledged to this project so far – I’m 17% of the way to my goal in just 2 days – and thanks in advance to those of you who are going to follow this link and help me out by pre-pre-ordering the book.

Image cred: http://moneyqanda.com/major-league-baseball-stadiums/

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