Half a lifetime in the making, Ryan Weaver and his dad Mark will soon mark a milestone very few people have achieved.
Ryan was 17 years old when he and his father started making yearly visits to Major League Baseball parks across North America, and this year marks the end of journey on Aug. 25 with the home of the Miami Marlins, the last of 30 stadiums visited in 19 years.
“How it started was I had a baseball tourney in Kalamazoo, Mich. and got talking to people from western Michigan who said while you’re this close to Chicago you should check it out, so we figured what the heck we’ll do it,” Ryan, now 36, explained.
The duo went to Chicago after the tournament ended, and although they wanted to see Wrigley Field, the Cubs weren’t playing, so they ended up going to a White Sox game instead.
“That gave us the idea that we should make another trip back here to go to the Cubs game. We did that a couple years later and it really started from there,” Ryan said.
Mark said he looks forward to the trips every year as a chance to spend time with Ryan, see new places and try out local specialty foods. They usually spend two or three days in one city and get a sense of local flair and food and take it in.
“We ate buckets of seafood in Baltimore, and lots of ribs and steak out in St. Louis and Kansas City. You get a sense of the local flair,” he noted. “We always asked the cab drivers for the best places because they know the best places.”
Ryan added that talking to locals was the best way to find things to do other than going to the ball game.
Trips to the fields sometimes were grouped together, especially for fields on the coasts.
“There are six parks on the west coast and we did that in 11 days. We flew into Seattle and worked our way down the coast to San Diego,” Mark said.
Ryan laughed, and said that trip took the most planning.
“I’d go online and open up windows for every single team and started looking at the schedules and how we could make it work,” he noted. “It worked; we didn’t have to back track at all. It was a great trip.”
“We looked around the cities to see what was there and met up with friends once and a while,” Mark said. “A lot of the new parks are going back to the old style; ones that don’t need a roof that is. They try to keep it as fan friendly as possible.”
When it comes to a favourite park, Ryan said that one park didn’t stand out more than another.
“You tend to bias towards the most recent one because that’s what you remember the most,” Ryan noted. “I think my favourite still is Wrigley field in Chicago, if I had to choose. There’s the history and it’s really intimate, the stadium. The seats are right on top of the field so you’re right on top of the game, which is good, plus the baseball atmosphere before and right after the ball game is really good.
“For a 1 p.m. ball game, at 11 a.m. in the morning, the area around the ball park is already starting to fill up. For some other stadiums, they are out in the middle of a parking lot; it’s the game and that’s it.”
Mark, however, had favourite of his own, and said he is “kinda partial to San Diego.”
The father-son duo always has a great time no matter what park they go to, but one park Mark thought was one of the “goofiest” ones was the former Shea Stadium in New York where the Mets played. At the time, the Mets had to share the field with the New York Jets football team.
Both men are not big fans of the roofs in Toronto and Tampa Bay.
“I would never say they are terrible, because we always have a good time there,” Ryan said. “Even the newer ones with roofs there are making it a bit more stylish.”
Talking about the difference between fans in the different areas, Mark said some fans are “crazy.” Mark agreed but said with certain towns, the whole town is a baseball town, like St. Louis for instance.
“St. Louis probably has the most knowledgeable baseball fans around because they don’t really care about their football team that much and their hockey team is meh, but baseball is huge in St. Louis,” Ryan said.
Mark said Yankee fans are the same in New York, and you can’t go anywhere there without being asked what’s going on at the game.
The most bitter rivalry they said, however, is in Chicago between Cubs and White Sox fans.
“That’s the most heated bitter rivalry between the north side and the south side,” Ryan added. “I talked to a White Sox fan once and he said he would rather see his team be beat out in the American league championships to Detroit than lose to the Cubs in the World Series – that’s how badly they hate the other team.”
Although they reached a milestone few fans achieve, both men said this won’t be the end of it.
“We’ve been talking about going around New York State and visiting a bunch of minor league teams,” Mark said. “We did a little mini-tour like that in Michigan and enjoyed it.”
“We can always go back and visit all the new parks we didn’t see on our first time around,” Ryan joked.
For Mark’s wife, Cindy, she jokingly said she enjoys the boys’ time away, but she has been on a few trips with them and will probably do more in the future.