“Well I hit the rowdy road
And many kinds I met there
And many stories told me on the way to get thereCat Stevens – “On The Road To Find Out” 1
So, on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out
So much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out”
Saturday, September 21st, 4:00 AM, Tucson
Triumphant, Predawn Drive to Phoenix
I start driving west on I-10 back to Phoenix, at the crack of dawn. I’m a little ahead of schedule since Phoenix is only about 90 minutes or so from Tucson. But I have to gas up and drop off my rental before my 8:00 AM flight. It’s not atypical for me to leave earlier than necessary since I always worry about being late. However, I’m also excited to get to Detroit to see Mrs. Nomad, who’s joining me for the triumphant end to my journey. Detroit’s Comerica Park is number thirty! I’ve done it!
Although I’m not officially done, it’s not too early to celebrate my accomplishment.
When I planned my 42 stop journey, I had no idea if I could finish my quest. To do so, would take persistence, fortitude and a little luck. But, this morning, it’s clear that I’ll complete my journey successfully.
In a sense, I’m like a golfer, walking triumphantly up the eighteenth fairway at Augusta. His ball is on the green, it’s clear that he will sink his last putt and win the Masters. As he walks, he waves to the cheering crowd that is offering its appreciation and congratulations.
Similarly, I have one more ballpark to visit to meet my goal of visiting all 30 MLB ballparks. However, it will be almost impossible to miss my last game in Detroit. The game starts more than 24 hours from now, and I have a nonstop flight to Detroit. I can even miss a few flights and still make it to the game.
My predawn drive to Phoenix is my personal victorious walk up the 18th fairway at the Masters.
More Miles Left to Go
Not that my trip is totally over. I still plan to return to Phoenix in a few weeks for the Arizona Fall League. The AFL will be my forty-first of forty-two stops on this epic journey. It will also be the last one of the season. I’ve already decided that I won’t go to the World Series as I originally planned to do. However, I’m fine ending my journey one-stop short of my original plan. My main goal was always to visit thirty ballparks in one season. I did what I said I would do and what I wanted to do.
The Ties That Bind
To complete my baseball journey, I dropped out of the life I knew and spent money that I wasn’t sure I had. Moreover, I committed to a mission that only I valued and have difficulty justifying. Most of all, I’m willing to live with whatever consequences arise from doing so.
As a generally practical person, I rarely do something totally out of the ordinary because I simply wanted to do it. Certainly, I never invested so much time, effort, and money on what many would consider a superficial whim.
I saw myself like Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams. Ray plowed over his crop and risked his farm to follow his dreams. A dream that only made sense to his family. Yet, he listened to the little voices in his head, urging him to follow a different path. My journey was similar. I followed the voices in my head that urged me on. I did so, even though it would likely end my career.
Moreover, I hoped the journey would help me find a new sense of being. I’d devoted too much of my time, effort, and consciousness to a life that had little meaning. My need for change was especially urgent since my peers discounted my achievements. They certainly saw me as disposable.
I doubt I am the only person who sees little value in their professional existence. I’m certainly not the only person in their early sixties who was left behind.
It was at the Mission on Friday morning when I realized that I’d irrevocably broken the ties that bound me to my old life. I’d felt these strictures loosen during my journey. But in Arizona, the last few ties fell away. I realized that I’d found my new truth.
I was tired, but delighted.
Tuesday, September 17th, Near Midnight, Denver
Four days earlier.
I’m riding back to the Airport on the train from Union Station after leaving Coors Field. It’s late, and I’ll have only a few hours rest since my flight to Phoenix leaves at 6:00 AM.
I’ve worried about this flight since I created my journey’s schedule. I worry that I’ll miss one of my last chances to visit Chase Field. If that happens, I won’t achieve my goal of seeing a game at every MLB stadium in one season. The season ends next Sunday, and tomorrow is one of the Diamondbacks’ last home games. I’m very concerned that a missed flight or significant delay will make me miss tomorrow’s game in Arizona.
If I miss the game, I’ll have to fly back to Phoenix next week. Since, I don’t want to make another cross-country trip, I need to get to Phoenix, tomorrow and on time.
There’s extra pressure because the game starts at 12:40. There’s little room for error.
Wednesday, September 18th, 11:00 AM, Phoenix
Fortunately, all goes as planned and I get to Phoenix on time. I was awake at 3:30 AM and waiting for the airport shuttle with other bleary-eyed passengers, flight attendants, and pilots at 4:00 AM.
My planes leave on time. I even have time to get some coffee at the Delta SkyClub in Salt Lake City, during the layover.
When I get to Phoenix, I see Chase Field’s distinctive roof as I drive to my hotel. It’s big, round, and towers against the buildings that form a backdrop to the scene. I’m looking forward to getting there.
It’s not a surprise that the hotel doesn’t have a room ready for me. Why would it have rooms available so early in the day? So, I store my bags at the front desk and make the short, but hot walk over to the stadium, roughly a half-mile away. As I walk, I admire the mission revival architecture of the buildings I pass.
TGI Friday’s on a Wednesday Morning
Now I’m at the TGI Friday’s that overlooks Chase Field, waiting for my youngest brother to arrive. He’s driving up from Tucson, where he lives and works. I’m at Friday’s because I need to get out of the heat and get something cold to drink. I think I surprised the wait staff who didn’t seem to expect a customer a couple of hours before today’s early game.
However, a waitress happily served me copious amounts of ice water while I watched the pregame activity from the window that overlooked the outfield. Through the open window, I see and hear players in what I assume are their pre-warm up rituals. They are not yet in uniform, just running and playing catch in just shorts and t-shirts.
Later, when I am somewhat refreshed and satiated with ice water, I order some coffee and green bean fries. Green bean fries? Yes, green bean fries. I’m a bit hungry and looking for something, somewhat healthy to eat. After all my travel and indulgent eating, I feel the strong need for healthy food. Green bean fries look like my best bet on this menu filled with fried and other greasy offerings.
National Anthem Practice – Second Time Around
While I watch the small group of players play catch and jog, today’s national anthem performers are led onto the field to rehearse. As the band and singers perform the anthem, the waitresses continue to prepare for the lunch rush, No one at Fridays stands at attention. I quietly eat my green bean fries and other patrons act similarly.
Interestingly, this is the second time I’ve witnessed a national anthem practice session on this summer’s journey. The first time was the Friday morning in July when I toured Wrigley Field. My tour group was sitting in the outfield bleachers in the morning sun when the anthem practice started. Eventually, we all stood at attention. First, one brave soul did so, then a few more stood, and finally, everyone joined in. As we stood, our guide stopped telling bleacher stories and also stood at attention. He resumed his bleacher commentary once the anthem ended and everyone sat back down.
It was a more patriotic display than this morning. However, I doubt that the Wrigley group had a greater sense of patriotism than today’s, Fridays’ patrons.
Interestingly, at Wrigley, a person told me that the performers were not just practicing. Instead, he said, management was recording their practice and would use it before the game. In his telling, the performers would lip-sync the recorded anthem while the crowd stood at attention and sang along. He said that using the recording would ensure that there were no problems in front of the fans. However, I choose not to believe that his suggestion is correct. I’d like to believe that the anthem is actually performed for the fans.
Wednesday, September 18th, Noon, Chase Field, Phoenix
My Wednesday morning Fridays’ sojourn ends when my brother calls to say he’s arrived and is looking for a parking spot. I settle the bill and meet him outside.
We hug, take some pictures and walk inside the park. It’s not our first-time visiting Chase Field together. A few years ago, I followed a similar schedule. Nomad the Younger and I went to see the Rockies at Coors Field when she lived in Colorado. The next morning, I flew to Phoenix to see the Diamondbacks at Chase Field with my brother. Even though I’ve been inside Chase Field before, I still want to check it out again. So, we walk around to reacquaint ourselves.
Retro-Modern Versus Retro-Classic Ballparks
Chase Field is classified as a “retro-modern” ballpark while ballparks like Coors Field, are “retro-classic.”
“Retro-classic” ballparks have the look and feel of older stadiums but with modern amenities. Each resembles the “jewel box” ballparks of the early twentieth century. They feature “green seats, bricks, stone and green exposed steel,” combined with modern-day amenities.2
Conversely, “retro-modern” stadiums combine interiors similar to the “jewel box” ballparks with exteriors that use more progressive forms. In these parks, exterior features include curtain walls, retractable roofs, and materials other than brick. 3
My preferences gravitate to “retro-classic” ballparks more so than “retro-modern” ones. When compiling my list of favorite ballparks, I was surprised to realize that, four of my top five, Oracle, PNC, Camden Yards, and Coors are “retro-classic.” Detroit’s Comerica Park, My next stop, is another wonderful example of the style and another favorite.
Downtown Locations and Parking Lots
Additionally, the more I visit ballparks, the more I realize that its relationship to the surrounding neighborhoods affects its appeal. This relationship is severely dependent on how parking lots are situated. In too many cases, the parking lots create a barrier between the ballpark and the surrounding neighborhood.
Neighborhood locations and parking lot placement vary depending on each ballpark. Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are in the middle of city neighborhoods, without parking ramps forming a barrier. Oracle, Petco, PNC, Camden Yards, and Coors are somewhat similar. Conversely, Chase is one of many city ballparks surrounded by parking and thus separated from its city neighborhood.
The most absurd example of the city neighborhood/parking lot paradox is New York’s Citi Field, where the Mets play. Citi’s exterior is very reminiscent of Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, the epitome of a classic neighborhood ballpark, not obstructed by parking. Fans either walked or took mass transit to 55 Sullivan Place to see the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field. Those that drove to the game, found parking somewhere on Brooklyn’s streets. Ebbets Field was one with the neighborhood and businesses that surrounded it, Yet, Citi Field, an homage to Ebbets Field, stands in the middle of a sea of parking lots. It’s not part of the surrounding community.
The Roof and Playing Field
Although Chase is not the first retractable roof stadium, it was the first to have a roof over natural turf. 4
They kept the grass alive and thriving by opening the roof at dawn and letting the sunlight stream in. It remained open until three hours before the game. Then they closed, the roof to cool the stadium down.
However, it’s more than challenging to nurture natural grass in Phoenix. As such, the Diamondbacks replaced the natural turf in 2019.
“The challenges with growing natural grass in our climate and stadium have been well documented, and we have considered alternate solutions for many years,”Derrick Hall, D-backs president, and CEO 5
Chase is now only one of five ballparks with an artificial surface. However, some other teams followed the Diamondback’s lead and now use natural surfaces under retractable roofs.6
During our walk around Chase Field, we make sure to walk by Major League Baseball’s only outfield swimming pool.
As we are hanging out and taking pictures, a guard asks us if we have tickets to enter the area. We, of course, do not but ask him questions about the pool. He says that the pool is rented to corporations for special events and is never empty.
However, I have trouble seeing the appeal. First of all, it’s likely more than challenging to see the game from the pool. So why bother. Additionally, will corporations continue to have events where their employees frolic in bathing suits in the “Me Too” era? It’s hard to imagine how the practice will remain in vogue.
Chase Field’s Future
Over the last few years, the Diamondbacks and the Maricopa County government have had a tense relationship. The team charged that the county was not investing enough in the stadium’s maintenance. Moreover, the Diamondbacks were dissatisfied because Chase Field does not have “mixed-use” capabilities. They are not able to generate new revenue streams through investment in a business and entertainment area adjacent to their ballpark. 7 Other teams added these areas when they built their new ballparks. For example, the Braves built “The Battery” next to SunTrust (now “Truist”) Park. Similarly, when the Cardinals built the latest Busch Stadium in 2006, they added “Baseball Village.” The A’s plan to do the same when they build their new park in Jack London Square.
Other teams are investing in these areas adjacent to their existing stadiums. For example, the Giants are building a business and entertainment area south of Oracle Field. These establishments will compete with businesses, restaurants and residential complexes that “have grown organically to the north and west of the facility without any gain for the giants.” 8
After making peace with the city in 2018, the Diamondbacks looked for other sites to build a new park in the Phoenix area. However, they’ve now decided to try and stay at Chase and add a multi-use area there. 9
Wednesday, September 18th, 12:40 PM, Chase Field – Marlins vs. Diamondbacks
We walk around for a while longer, taking pictures and making the kind of jokes only brothers can. The jokes that only brothers will understand let alone tolerate. Finally, we stop for a hot dog, and a beer before we find our seats. The game is about to start, and we need to get our scorecards prepared.
Sadly, my interest in baseball is already waning for the day. After all, I’m in my fifth stadium, watching my sixth game in six days. That’s a lot of baseball, and I’m also tired since I woke up early to catch my early morning flight. Yet, although I need a break, I’m also wonderfully comfortable. After attending sixty-five or so games this season, I’m very accustomed to the sights, and the sounds of a ballpark. Now, I feel at home when I am at a ballpark.
I wonder how the Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks feel. After all, each is playing out the string. Neither, no longer has a chance of making the postseason. Frankly, the Marlins’ hope for a playoff birth ended sometime before opening day. This wasn’t expected to be their year. But, each team has been playing since February, and is there really somewhere they would rather be? I don’t know their mood, so I romantically assume that they are also playing for the love of the game. At the very least, I expect that they are playing for pride. Additionally, the younger players are likely trying to prove their mettle so they can make next year’s team. They don’t want to be traded or start next year back in the minor leagues.
It’s my ninth time seeing the Marlins, and I’m starting to feel like we’re old friends.
I started watching the Marlins in Spring Training. We consider Jupiter, Florida out Spring Training base of operations. Since both the Marlins and Cardinals train there, we usually can see at least one of them play every day. However, we don’t have to stay in Jupiter. We can also travel the few minutes to West Palm Beach to see the Astros or the Nationals. Finally, the Mets are less than an hour north.
There’s plenty of baseball games to see. However, the five teams’ proximity to each other means that we will usually see different combinations of them play each day.
As such, we saw the Marlins play four times in Spring Training. We missed a fifth, because another game was canceled due to rain
After Spring Training, I saw the Marlins play four more times. I saw them at home in Miami in April. Later in July, Mrs. Nomad and I saw them play the White Sox in Chicago. Last weekend, I saw them play two games in San Francisco. On Monday, the Marlins went straight to Phoenix to start their three-game series against the Diamondbacks. At the same time, I detoured to Oakland, then Colorado, and now I was seeing them again.
Sadly, this Marlins team that I’ve seen so frequently is also one of the worst in baseball. Their record to date is a sad 53 wins and 98 losses. 10 The team’s awful play is somewhat expected since they are in the middle of a rebuild(some call it tanking). The Marlins hope that the rebuild works and that there are brighter days ahead.
The Diamondbacks have had a fascinating twenty-two-year history fluctuating between success and some failure. They’ve finished first in their division five times, second five times, third five times, and last five times. 11 They also won the World Series in their third year of existence. They’re currently on another upswing, this is their third consecutive competitive showing.
As little as ten days ago, the Diamondbacks were competing with the Cubs for the second wild-card spot. Then they lost eight of the next ten games and are now effectively out of the running. Starting play today, they are five and a half games behind the Brewers and Cubs for the second wild-card spot. They are also a game and a half behind the Phillies and Mets. If the Cubs or Brewers don’t make the playoffs, the Phillies or Mets will. 12
Mike Leake and Sandy Alcantara
Mike Leake, a slightly above average ten-year veteran is starting for the Diamondbacks today. Interestingly, Leake played college ball at Arizona State in Tempe, near Phoenix so he’s familiar with the area. After college, he played his first five and a half years in Cincinnati. Then the Reds traded him to the Giants. For the next two years he played in St. Louis before being traded to Seattle in the middle of 2017. Halfway through 2019, the Mariners traded him to Arizona. Leake is now the definition of a “journeyman.” 13
On the other hand, the Marlins, Sandy Alcantara, is just starting his career. Although he made a few appearances in 2017 and 2018, 2019 is his rookie year. Alcantara was the only Marlin All-Star this year and was also a member of the All-Rookie team. Part of his appeal, besides above-average stuff, is his durability. In 2019, he pitched 197.1 innings, the most by a Marlin rookie in their history. His innings pitched were just shy of the most by a Marlins pitcher. Nathan Eovaldi threw 199.2 innings in 2014. The rebuilding Marlins consider Alcantara to be one of their mainstays for years to come. 14
We discuss the vagaries of life and compare scoring techniques while we watch the early parts of the game.
Leake had a good first inning, throwing just eleven pitches to get the first three outs of the game. 15 Alcantara’s first inning was more eventful. The Abraham Almonte led off and watched the first three pitches before he took his swing. That ball landed beyond the right-centerfield wall near the swimming pool. It bounced near where we stood an hour earlier.
From there, the game went back and forth before the Diamondbacks won five to four.
In the middle of the seventh, I stopped scoring and went off to take some pitchers of the game. We left soon after and went to find some Mexican food before my brother drove back to Tucson. I in turn got some much-needed sleep.
Friday, September 20th, Mission San Xavier del Bac
On Thursday morning, well-rested, I had breakfast with an old friend who, at one time, was an intern I mentored. Then I drove north & west to Glendale to have lunch with a first cousin, once removed whom I was just getting to know.
After lunch, I drove the couple of hours south to Tucson, to spend more time with my brother.
The “White Dove of the Desert”
On Friday, I visited the Mission San Xavier del Bac which is about 10 miles south of Tucson.
Franciscan monks built the first church on the Mission’s site in 1756. They started building the current version in 1783. As such, it’s the oldest European built structure in Arizona. However, it is still an active convent, church, and school that services the local native population.
The Mission “is widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.”16 The beautiful, white, baroque structure stands out in Arizona’s deep blue sky and brown desert. Fittingly, it’s called the “White Dove of the Desert.”
Over its 250 years, the Mission has been part of Mexico and the United States. Jesuits, Spanish Franciscans, the Diocese of Santa Fe, and later the Diocese of Tucson ran the Mission before the Franciscans took over in 1913.
The Mission has survived an earthquake, lightning, and water damage. Each time it was lovingly restored.
On that Friday morning, I admire the structure whose purpose is as beautiful as its appearance. For centuries, natives have sought solace and peace of mind in the Mission’s beautiful spaces. However, the mission remains while the congregants have passed on to other worlds.
Standing outside in the hot, dusty, Arizona desert, I wonder, is there meaning?
My journey started six months ago in the spring when hope springs eternal. Now fifty thousand miles later, it’s the fall, the baseball season is fading and I’m in the dusty Arizona desert trying to make sense of it all.
Is there meaning?
I sense that if I follow the congregants’ example, I’d find that there is solace in the journey. My meager professional accomplishments no longer mean that much to me. My failures mean even less.
I now choose to validate my existence, based on my experiences and the joy I find in the things that I find important. I don’t need external validation.
I’ve traveled many miles to find my new path. I was starting to realize that the daily journey is what’s central to my being. My success and external validation are secondary.
Early the next morning, I drove to Phoenix, triumphant.