30 Ballparks In 23 Days
In the 2012 season, Chuck Booth pulled off a remarkable feat. He saw every inning of 30 games in all 30 MLB ballparks.
Yes, I know. A few people have done that.
But how about pulling off that feat in 23 days?
Booth followed a schedule that included seven doubleheaders…including Toronto/New York, Boston/Washington (those two on consecutive days!), and Cincinnati/Chicago. You can read about this incredible journey, including how to handle flight cancellations, here at MLB Reports.
Platinum-level Ballpark Chaser Ken Lee (you can read about Ken’s fantastic journeys at See All 30) joined Chuck Booth as his limo driver for portions of the trip.
I managed to catch up with both Chuck and Ken to ask them about the trip…and how they did it.
KURT: What made you decide to do this? I ask because I wouldn’t be able to sit and enjoy it trying to do it in that short amount of time.
CHUCK: I choose to do the most amount of games in the least possible time because I have limited time off from my work.
Once I learned what the record was, I knew I had a chance to break it all the way back in 2008. I had six weeks surrounding the All-Star Break, so there was no perfect schedule I could have made. I actually did it in 26 days traveling (in 2008), but I had a three-day patch in the All-Star break and it has to be consecutive calendar days for this record.
KURT: A trip like this involves some awkward scheduling, and I noticed you guys used a lot of flights and rental cars.
CHUCK: Right now, the only time someone could break the record is early in the season, because teams schedule a lot of matinee games because of the weather. So it’s the last chance to do a lot of doubleheaders.
After my trip in 2008, I made a doubleheader master schedule grid for any two clubs based on if I could do them or not. It is about having the second game of doubleheaders available to be flexible in case you miss.
It was important for me to put together a depth chart for any day, so that if I missed a game for any reason, the chain of schedule dominoes could be implemented. Having that knowledge ahead of time saved me in 2012, when I had to rearrange 7 games because a cancelled flight out of San Diego forced me to scramble. I had to change five different flights. The airline was paying for hotels, offering to put people up for the night, I was there in my sneakers, banging away at scenarios.
I do like Southwest Airlines for that reason, because you can change a flight and not pay a transfer penalty. Whatever the value of the flight is, you pay the difference.
KEN: Back in 2012 I lived in Marysville, WA (an hour north of Seattle) and Chuck lived about 90 minutes north of me. He would come down and we would watch spring training games going over plans for each city. What we would do, where we would park, how we would pull off different maneuvers to save and most importantly, to save time.
We had a maneuver set up where I would go via shuttle from ORD (O’Hare Airport in Chicago) to get the car I had set up for 28 days, and came back to ORD and pick him up after he dropped off the truck. We had planned this maneuver in advance, we had it down to a science and it went so smoothly.
I drove as much as I could, that was a big part of me coming out on the road with him, so he would be able to relax as much as he could.
That worked out great until I got sick in St. Louis. My BP was sky high and I didn’t know it then, but the 5-hour energy drinks that caused me to develop Atrial Fibrillation (I am now a proud caffeine and energy shot free Ballpark Chaser). That night Chuck was a trooper and drove us most of the way from St. Louis to Baltimore.
No matter how much planning, no matter how set you think things are, Chaos Ensues and you have to be able to change up plans on the fly otherwise you will be in trouble!
The ballpark chaser community is amazing and people are often willing to help out a fellow chaser with a ride to the game, a ticket, someone to hang out with or a place to stay the night.
KURT: I presume you guys aren’t independently wealthy, how did you cut costs with all of this aside from using Air Miles?
CHUCK: I rent a car 365 days a year, I do courier work. If you’re renting a car 365 days a year, that’s a lot of miles and points you’re going to accrue.
National Car Rental has a rent-rent-reward program. The free day from them is actually free. You can drive anywhere, airport to airport, within 24 hours and have that one-way fee waived.
It might take an extra $10-12 to rent from National, but they have that program. You don’t have to rent like I do…someone like Gary Herman, who rents a car 17 times a year, he gets five or six free days.
I’ve written an article about National and how to save on car rentals. (you can read that here) National is the best; I’ve studied them all.
I know where all the mom and pop rental car companies are too, like in San Francisco, I’ll take the BART into town and there’s like seven Nationals downtown. You waive all the city taxes when you rent from there.
KEN: We would share costs for hotels, gas and everything we could. We ate as cheap as we could, spending several meal times at Wendy’s, Taco Bell or my favorite, Subway.
I also have friends that live all over the country, so I was able to couch surf a lot, which saved a bunch on hotel expenses and also allowed me to have a good home cooked meal while on the road, which was nice.
When you are running a tight schedule, you are forced to spend time driving from one city to another overnight, thus you are saving for hotels that night, since the best you can do is grab a catnap or two at rest stops or in parking lots of places like 7-11. (On our way to CHI from KC, I woke up in a 7-11 parking lot with a dude staring in the window at me – freaked me out!).
One of the main things we did, that I was not used to doing until this trip, was to buy tickets on game day. I learned from Chuck that you can really save a good amount buying your tickets either via StubHub or on walkup the day of the game.
I can’t tell you how many times we would get good tickets for cheap and save the ticketing fees. I was so used to paying that fee that it just became part of the budget. Saving those fees really adds up, and it makes those funds available for other more important things, like nachos and beer!
CHUCK: There’s always moves to save money here and there. You saw it first hand in Baltimore (at the Chasers’ meetup). You know all the tricks, park for free at the casino, dollar hot dogs outside, that’s all what we’re about, right?
KURT: You used a lot of flights, did you have Flyer miles?
CHUCK: No, I paid for the flights. I always fly without luggage. I carry a briefcase at all times, it doubles as a suitcase. You can stuff a pile of clothes into a briefcase and it is only considered a personal item on airliners. I never pay luggage fees on the airlines.
One of the biggest problems that is unforeseen in big trips is what to do with luggage. If you are staying at a room in any lodging, chances are you can leave your bag(s) with the front desk prior to check in…if you take Amtrak or Greyhound, they usually have checked baggage service.
I have gone as far to mail clothes back to myself, or buy new clothes on the road, in order to avoid bag fees. I always check where I can do laundry during the trip…if where I am staying doesn’t have services, I check the closest nearby place. Last year I was doing laundry at the University of Michigan at an all-night laundry facility on campus, after arriving by bus at 1:00 am.
Also check with ballpark rules about what you can bring in…my duffel bag never is too big to enter stadiums.
KURT: There’s also the fatigue factor. This has got to be tiring. Chuck, you even fell asleep for a couple of innings at Miller Park. What did you two do to keep “up”, so to speak? Nothing illegal I hope.
KEN: Bob DeVries and I couldn’t help but laugh when Chuck fell asleep at Miller.
To stay awake? Loud music, like blasting Guns-N-Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with the windows down helps a lot.
CHUCK: Yeah, Ken always likes to say that fell asleep at Miller Park. He’ll probably tell you that at the hotel I was blogging at three o’clock in the morning. If I wasn’t with those guys, I would have been standing in the concourse, I wouldn’t have fallen asleep at all.
Coffee, energy drinks, chewing gum, playing loud music, freezing yourself driving. Driving is the hardest part. We did drives that were 16,17 hours sometimes.
It’s a massive adrenaline rush, though. Every pitch counts, it’s like the World Series, you start to think, man I need a double play here!
Every second counts, so I love the challenge of it all. I have never been so hyper-focused on anything as I have been on my world record chases.
KURT: So it was just the adrenaline of keeping the trip going more than anything else?
CHUCK: Oh, totally, man, it’s crazy! The planning of it is a lot of fun too. I know every doubleheader scenario there is on the board. I do it every year. You can ask me about any possible doubleheader and I can investigate it for you.
KEN: Any Chasing trip is full of emotion and adrenaline. The portion of my trip that I was with Chuck was filled even more with adrenaline, because as his driver, I didn’t want to get him to a game late and have his streak ‘die’ on my watch.
In no situation was that more true than before the game at U.S. Cellular Field. The previous few days had seen me or us going from Kansas City overnight to a Chicago/Milwaukee doubleheader, up to Minneapolis and then an overnight to Detroit, early morning to Pittsburgh for a Pitt/Cleveland double header, then dark and very early driving Chuck to Cincinnati, dropping him for the game and making my way to Chicago. (Just look at that on a map for a moment, would ya? Wow!)
Chuck was to fly from Cincy to O’Hare and I was to pick him up there. If all went well, we would have 90 minutes to get to the ballpark on the South Side.
When I had asked friends from Chicago if it would be possible to do on a Thursday evening, during rush hour, I was told “Possible? I would say improbable”.
As it turned out, Chuck’s flight got in early, however, due to a car hauler fire on the interstate south of Chicago, I got to the airport late! At that point we only had 70 minutes to make first pitch.
The adrenaline kicked in, and since I have spent a lot of time in Chicago over the years, I took side streets and I got us to the ballpark with 14 minutes to spare! We did the improbable!
“Adrenaline”…oh and 5-hour energy shots!
KURT: I was really entertained by your story, how you were fretting about games going into extra innings, etc.
CHUCK: Maybe it doesn’t come across in the blog, but I had a blast! You said it doesn’t sound like fun, it was total fun! I had fun the seven months planning it before I went. It’s still fun talking about it. You’re cheering for outs, man! You don’t have any team loyalty! It’s a different way to look at it.
People in the stands were thinking I’m nuts, cheering for both teams. It was funny, because sometimes I’d get vocal.
The story of the 2012 trip gets 11, 12 hits a day even now. Doing these trips has enhanced my standing as a public MLB fan figure, and led me to a community of incredible Ballpark Chasers during these four incredible trip of a lifetime schedules.
I would not change a thing…having said that, I may not do another one of these trips again…
But one never knows. I said that in 2012, and then went to a game every day of the 2015 calendar, hitting a record 224 games, seeing every game I planned to over the course of 183 days, all within budget.
KEN: I have done Ballpark Chasing both ways, the leisurely way and the Chuck Booth way. Both have their merits for sure. The biggest thing I learned from traveling with Chuck is that no matter how much planning you do, and we did a lot, “Chaos Ensues!”