Those two words that bring joy to players of all sports is a serious hobby for Larry McDonald.
The longtime Comox Valley resident has visited every Major League Baseball stadium in North America. His travels began seven years ago and spanned a five-year period. Now he’s getting ready to hit the road again – five new ball parks have been built since he finished his tour.
“I like driving and I like meeting people and I like professional baseball,” said the amicable McDonald, who found the time to make the road trips after going on long-term disability from the pulp mill in Campbell River.
“To tell you the truth I had no idea of doing it. The first time, I took a drive to Denver, a place I always wanted to see. I like Seattle so I stopped there and saw a ball game. Then I went to Denver and saw a game there.”
From there it was on to Los Angeles, San Francisco and points east. “When I got back I said, ‘What the hell, I should go and see all these things.’ So I did.”
There’s been many adventures – and some 540,000 kilometres on a 1999 Chev Silverado pickup – along the way. In 2005 he was in New Orleans just a few days before Hurricane Katrina hit the area. On a trip to Detroit he was trailing a vehicle that was spewing liquid onto his windshield. “I pulled up beside it and it was a cattle truck with cattle urinating out of it,” McDonald recalled with a smile. “I got my truck washed at the next stop.”
Although he has since traded in the Silverado (with leather seats, air conditioning and heated seats to accommodate all sorts of weather), it was a faithful companion during his five-year odyssey. McDonald would park the truck at the hotel he was staying at then taxi to the stadium.
That strategy did more than ease his mind about his vehicle being vandalized – it might have saved his life. “I was in a taxi after a game in Detroit that ended late because the lights went out. I told the driver to take me downtown because I wanted to get a sandwich. He turned around and said, ‘Are you black?’ I said, ‘No, but I’m not white either.’ He said, ‘You’re not black, you don’t go downtown. They’ll kill ya. Get a sandwich in your hotel.’ I took his advice.”
McDonald said life on the road has been good.
“I’ve had good time. I’ve really enjoyed myself. Nothing went wrong as far as accidents or problems on the road or problems with people. You hear stories about the deep south … I got stopped by a county sherrif in Southern Texas one day. He kept me for 25 minutes but all he wanted to do was talk. He’d never seen a B.C. (licence) plate. ‘Mr. McDonald, y’all come back and see us again,'” he said.
McDonald has only had one rain out (on his second time through Chicago at a White Sox game) and once saw two games in one day. “I went to a game at 1 p.m. in Chicago with the Cubs, then went to a game at 7 the same night in Milwaukee. It’s only 90 miles away.”
McDonald says planning his trips are half the fun and he uses his computer to print out game tickets and make hotel reservations. With careful planning, McDonald is on the road early to avoid the morning commute and arrive at his next destination before the evening rush hour.
He gets to games early enough to catch batting practice and stays till the final out. But he also makes time to tour the cities he visits, and his travels have included stops at several military aviation museums, Dodge City, Tombstone, the auto museum associated with the Indy 500, Graceland and the Empire State Building – to name but a very few. He’s dipped his foot in the Great Slave Lake and rode the elevator to the top of the 630-foot Friendship Arch in St. Louis.
He has visited every state in the union, and his travels have dispelled some misconceptions. He says New York City is very friendly and Pittsburgh is not shrouded in a cloud of steel mill emissions. “My conception of El Paso had always been the Marty Robbins song. But it’s spread out over a huge area.”
McDonald’s favourite outdoor ball park is Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City with the waterfalls beyond the right field fence. His favourite indoor facility is Minute Maid Park in Houston. “They have a train on a track that runs around when somebody hits a home run. It’s cool.”
The worse park he’s visited was RFK in Washington. “But that’s gone now,” he notes. “The stadiums themselves are all beautiful,” he said. “In Phoenix (home of the Diamondbacks) they have cages of snakes in the outfield stands and in Tampa Bay they have a pond full of little rays. You can actually touch them. The kids love it.”
As for ball park food, McDonald says he paid $40 for a “really terrible meal” at the Skydome in Toronto. The best? “The pulled pork sandwich in Seatlle. Just unbelievable,” he replied without hesitation.
While has collected too many souvenirs to keep track of, he has given his grandson a collection of bobbleheads and has photo files on his computer that bring back great memories at the click of a mouse.
McDonald will be planning his next baseball journey to see the new stadiums he has not yet visited as soon as next year’s MLB schedule is released. His wife is not a baseball fan so does not accompany him on his road trips, however the two are veteran world travellers and hope to “see the whole thing if we can before we kick off.”