Midwest baseball road trip

pgh.pnc night

The Pittsburgh skyline looms above the right field fence at PNC Park.

Five days. Four nights. Three baseball games in three cities. Two states. One rental car. One baseball fan. One generous wife.

Add them all up and you get one jam-packed, solo trip to see six baseball teams in three stadiums in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

road trip map

As part of the deal, you get to hang out with new and older friends, stay in the homes of three strangers, feast on tasty foods, visit a couple of museums, and be alone with your thoughts as you drive hundreds of miles on interstate highways where Northeast meets Midwest and the Rust Belt transitions into America’s Heartland.

Self indulgent?

Yes.

Enjoyable?

Totally.

Call it the Great Midwest Baseball Road Trip of 2016.*

* (I understand western Pennsylvania is part of the Northeast, but five of the six teams I saw are from landlocked states so I’m keeping it simple and going with “Midwest.”)

***

cle.selfie1

Progressive Field in Cleveland — one of three impressive baseball stadiums I visited within a four-day span.

As a youth baseball player and lifelong fan, I’ve always fantasized about seeing a game in every Major League Baseball park. Living on the West Coast, it was easy to get to the first six. Reaching those in other regions of the country has been challenging at times but after this trip I’ve now been to 25 stadiums, leaving just 5 to go.

Several years ago I’d done something like this on a smaller scale when I drove my dad from his home in rural New Mexico to Arizona so we could see 3 games in 3 days at 3 ballparks during spring training. That preseason fling was a piece of cake because we stayed in one place and the parks were relatively close to each other in the Phoenix metro area.

In contrast, this trip required not just more time but more planning. And I got a big assist with the logistics from my mother, a devoted fan of the Oakland A’s right up until the day she died. (More on that below.)

I flew from Portland to Pittsburgh late Monday night and arrived Tuesday morning. I saw games there Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. I drove to Cleveland the next day and saw a game that Thursday night. I drove to Cincinnati the next day and saw a game that Friday night. I flew home the next day and arrived Saturday evening, just ahead of Mother’s Day.

Some might wonder why I did this alone. Why not ask a friend to come along?

Well, a trip like this isn’t out of the ordinary for me. When I traveled the country as The Oregonian’s newsroom recruiter, I was typically on my own, flying to cities I often hadn’t been to before, getting a rental car and staying in a blur of hotels.

Frankly, that’s how I managed to see ballgames in so many different places. If my work  hadn’t taken me to places like Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, I most likely would have gone there on my own.

Having retired at the end of last year, time wasn’t the issue in planning this excursion. Rather, it was a matter of finding game dates in nearby cities within a few days that wouldn’t cause havoc for Lori, knowing she had to maintain her work schedule, manage our three pets and respond to any household issues that came up in my absence.

Bless her. She agreed.

***

Mom&George

Visiting Mom at her residential group home in July 2013.

My late mom had a role in this too. .

When she died in the fall of 2013, I had to cancel a work-related trip to Iowa. The airline wouldn’t refund the full cost of my ticket but I did get a voucher for partial credit. It was enough for a one-way ticket I could use at a later date.

Well, that opportunity presented itself when I made my travel arrangements. The flight from Cincinnati to Portland was essentially free. I’d like to think Mom would be happy knowing she contributed to my Midwest adventure.

For the record,  my two favorite teams went without a win in my presence.

In Pittsburgh, the Pirates lost twice to the Cubs. In Cleveland, the visiting Tigers fell to the Indians.

In Cincinnati, I had no vested interest in either team so I didn’t mind at all cheering the Reds to victory over the visiting Brewers.

cvg.solo1

Wearing a Cuban National Baseball Team jersey at the Cincinnati riverfront.

Though baseball was the main attraction, I’ve got to say the overall adventure was mighty fine. The combination of new and familiar experiences, hanging with friends, and seeing more of this landlocked part of the country made for a great trip.

It was fun to be in Pittsburgh again. It was sobering to spend time in Cleveland. And it was an epiphany to visit Cincinnati for the first time.

Map: Zesco Inc.

Tomorrow: The Steel City

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