By Troy Foster
MISSOULA, Mt. — I’ve been to a lot of places, and seen a lot of things.
My buddies and I covered 17,000 miles through 38 states, one Canadian province and the District of Columbia.
I dipped my feet in the Pacific Ocean, the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
I probably ate more than 50 hot dogs, hundreds of chicken wings and drank way too much beer.
I saw countless base hits, home runs, strikeouts and even one ejection as I toured all 30 Major League ballparks.
But baseball statistics — and baseball in general — was often the last thing on my mind.
The three of us who conducted this cultural experiment we call BaseCrawl set out in search of many things, but what we found wasn’t always what we were looking for.
One of those things was generosity. I know that sounds cliche, but I really mean it. People truly are generous at heart. And it didn’t take us the full 75 days to figure this out.
We know this because we depended on a diverse cross-section of people to help us through the project. After all, how do you suppose you visit every Major League Baseball stadium in one season without going broke? Hitchhike? Sneak in without a ticket? Take a life insurance policy out on your significant other?
A lot of people have asked, and I’m not embarrassed to divulge: We spent exactly $3,461.51 on gasoline — a good $961.51 over budget. It didn’t help that gas went from $3.06 a gallon to more than $4 in the time between writing the budget and Day 1. What’s even more frustrating is that I’m the proud owner of a gasoline-electric hybrid car that gets 70 miles per gallon. Problem is it only seats two, and we began our basecrawl with three.
So to offset our costs — gas, mostly — we leaned on many people who opened their homes and their hearts to us. Relatively speaking, we hardly spent anything on lodging. Friends and family gave us floors and couches to crash on, but we also were blessed by the generosity of some people who were, previously, total strangers.
We never asked to be fed or entertained, but it wasn’t uncommon for us to arrive at a destination and find a 12-ounce steak on hot plate, or enough boos to cause cirrhosis of the liver.
Our hosts were not necessarily the subjects of our documentary, but they made it possible, and this is something I don’t want to be lost on the project.
These kind folks reminded us that our basecrawl was more about people than sports, and more about the journey than the destination.
I don’t think Daren, Nolan or I could ever fully repay our hosts for their generosity, at least not in dollars. The least I can do is thank them personally and publicly, as my traveling companion Daren has already done throughout his blogs.
To Al and Rochelle Blair of Redwood City, California:
Thank you for opening your beautiful home to three strangers. Without your help, the Bay Area would have been a nightmare for three novices struggling through the first steps of their fledgling project. You’re the coolest Mac users I’ve ever met, by the way. Thank you, Al, for tips on how to sneak a bottle of vodka into a baseball stadium. And thank you, Rochelle, for letting Al come out and play on that last night. We’re sorry we kept him out so late.
To Bryan Mansell and Jon Harmon of Los Angeles, California:
These guys have more pairs of shoes than your typical Valley Girl. Their apartment sits in “The Valley,” which I didn’t know was, like, totally, like, the name of a real place in L.A. To Bryan, who goes back with me to kindergarten: Remember when you showed me how to make home movies in middle school, and I showed you how to play guitar? Isn’t that weird, now that you think about it? Thanks for helping us solve our microphone problems (Bryan’s a sound engineer), introducing Nolan to your cats and introducing Daren to your medicine. But seriously, dude, do you, like, totally need that many shoes?
To Jack and Judy Roach of El Cajon, California:
I can’t explain in words how well you made us feel at home. We’d never met previously, but within minutes I felt like I was among family. Thanks for three relaxing nights, great dinners, great wine, great smiles and great stories. I can’t wait to see you again.
To Lindsey Messinger and the entire Messinger Clan (Cheryl, Lance, Mandi and Zach) of Longmont, Colorado:
Wow, thanks for putting Daren and I up in your incredible home for three nights, providing us our own beds, great cooking and teaching us a little something about the Rocky Mountain High. We didn’t know Nolan
were also going to crash the party, but your willingness to welcome not two, but SIX rowdy strangers into your home is a testament to your hospitality. Long live The Todds
To Erica, Andrew and Dylan Venancio and Whitney Peterson of Liberty, Missouri:
I never knew hanging out with second cousins and rooting for one of the worst teams in baseball could be so much fun. Thanks for the free tickets and those awesome seats with The Whit
. It was nice watching a baseball game without getting a bloody nose for a change, and you truly gave us the Royal treatment. Also, thanks to Doris and Bob Peterson of Kearny, Missouri, for the steak dinner and planning the pool party we missed. We hadn’t seen each other in 14 years, but it felt just like yesterday. And Erica, if that crazy dog of yours ever gets on your nerves, I know Daren is looking for a new best friend
To Will Sites of Sullivan, Missouri:
One of my favorite former co-workers from my former life in the newspaper business. Dude, I never thought I would ever look a man in the eye and implore him to “Hand over the gun, slowly.” Then there was that one night with you, circa 2005. They say a good friend will come bail you out of jail, but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying, “Damn that was fun!” We had some wild times behind the scenes in Idaho. It was great continuing them in your old stomping ground, even if you have mellowed out a bit. The Sullivan Journal
is consistently a great read, and it’s great to see someone trained in the old way of doing things find new ways to performing a civic duty. Our stay in your home was a turning point in our project, and we’ve been very appreciative of all your candid feedback, good and bad. Thanks for keeping us honest.
To Melanie Cota of Columbus, Ohio (formerly of Minn-e-soter):
My friend and former, I never thought an ultra left-wing feminist could have such stunning curves until I met you. It was great seeing you again and spending two nights on your couch, even if I sometimes annoy the hell out of you. To this day I still refer to someone who fishes as a fisherperson, rather than a fisherman — even though spellcheck tells me it’s wrong. I think it’s just the man trying to hold us down. Thanks for the Fig Newtons, the care package and a positive temperment. You’re the best, man! Text ya’ later.
To Karen Wayman of Charlottesville, Virginia:
The mother of my main traveling companion put us up not once, but on two separate occasions during our basecrawl. I never knew such a beautiful woman could give birth to such an ugly kid. But he turned out alright, and it didn’t take me long to see why after meeting you. Thanks, also, for the kind of advice only a female can give, not to mention the awesome seats with Ava Bagby at Camden Yards. Sorry about the black widow I caught and let go. I don’t think it’ll come back to bite you, because that would be bad karma.
To Ruth, Floyd and Dana Many of Hobart, New York:
My entire time in Upstate New York felt like a journey into a Norman Rockwell painting. And the people I found in there were everything I expected and more. Like I told Daren’s mother, it’s easy to see why he grew up to be such a good guy, even if he was a dork during the years you molded him. To Barbara Van Etten: we’re sorry we kept Dana up so late on that first night. To Dana
: thanks for allowing me to fiddle around in your rehearsal space and fantasize about the career I never had as a rock star
. To Floyd and Ruth: thank you so much for the meals and the love you showed me during our time at your farm. I really felt like I was a part of your family for those three days. And it felt great.
To Becky McTavish of Brooklyn, New York:
I never thought I’d ever set foot in an authentic Brooklyn apartment, or have the courage to drive a car in New York City. Thank you for being such a gracious host, guiding us through those crazy streets and explaining how to use the subway system. You’re the best lawn bowler I’ve ever met (maybe, even, the only lawn bowler I’ve ever met). I also need to say thanks to Jennifer Nelson, my old college pal, for showing us New York, too. I never knew someone from Oregon could ever become so sophisticated, and nobody believes me when I tell them we made out once eight years ago (but I won’t tell). Keep up the good fight, girls, and don’t let the Mets leave Shea Stadium without taking “The Apple” with them.
To Cory Lunde and Scott Magill of Helena, Montana:
Thanks, guys, for coordinating plans, getting us sweet Fenway seats and saving our bacon when our sleeping arrangements in Boston fell through. It was great spending time with two hilarious guys from Big Sky Country, and I’ve never been so comfortable — or entertained — sleeping on a hard floor. Thanks for letting us crash in your hotel room without asking for a penny. Hope your four-game basecrawl was as fun as ours. Cory, I’ll chalk up the fact that you wore both a Yankees jersey and a Notre Dame hat
to your color blindness. But it was great having two guys from Montana along for part of the ride, and I hope to see you again at some Griz games this fall.
To Mark Augenstein of Richmond, Virginia:
Man, you met us at possibly our worst BaseCrawl
moment. We’d practically been up all night, we’d driven all day and we were in a foul mood when we reached Pittsburgh just in time for the game. But you greeted us with a smile, free tickets and an awesome view of the infield, not to mention the place to stay. That had to be the most interesting game of the 31 we saw, and I’m glad it was with you. It was great chatting into the wee hours of the morning, drinking an authentic Pittsburgh brew and comparing notes on the joys of being super loyal to a favorite band. If Pearl Jam
ever decide to tour together, I’ll see you there.
To Rena and Scott Davis of Ashburn, Virginia:
Thanks for three great nights at your home, even though we weren’t there one of those nights (because Homeland Security impounded our vehicle and stranded us in D.C.) You have a great home, you cook great food and you have great, well-mannered kids
. Thanks also, Scott, for your service to this country — even if you’re a Ditto Head. I’m sorry to see you retire at such a young age, because you would have made a great soldier under President Obama.
To Emily Rice of Asheville, North Carolina:
It’s great to see that our MBA social chairwoman hasn’t let the end of graduate school mark the end of her partying days. We miss you back here in Missoula, but it was a pleasure spending a night with you in North Carolina, plus another four days after you decided to become an impromptu member of our baseball roadtrip
. I guess it was an easy decision, though, since that MBA hasn’t helped you land a job yet. But at least you saved our Atlanta pod and added a love story
to the documentary.
To Marshall, Maureen and Jake Rice of Dahlonega, Georgia:
I don’t know whether to thank you or ask for an apology. Two nights in the party barn
were among the most memorable of our basecrawl
, but I could have done without the moonshine that Marshall kept making me kiss. All kidding aside, your hospitality toward two previous strangers was amazing. I’ll never forget the dance party, the funny hats
southern home-cookin. I wish we could have taken you with us, but I’ll settle for your daughter.
To Nicole Cobb and Kevin Ellery of St. Petersburg, Florida:
Tropicana Field was not the coolest ballpark I visited, but your company made up for the fact that I couldn’t see the sunlight that supposedly shines down on your “Rays.” Thanks for the grilled chicken dinner at your condo, and thanks for tolerating us in the KFC drive-thru later that very same night. When I have chicken wings on the brain, I demand no fewer than 10. Gobbles! It was incredible of you to welcome two “handsome and chiseled” men into your home on one days’ notice. I’m not sure I made a favorable impression on you, but you certainly did on me.
To Lori and Rich Sommer of Austin, Texas:
Thanks for redeeming my views of winged mammals by showing us the biggest urban bat colony
in North America under that bridge in Austin
. Just days before that, Daren and I took a break from baseball and saw the latest Batman movie — another pathetic superhero flick with more suckage than the Rise of the Silver Surfer, Iron Man and all three Spidermans combined. But I digress. I admire the fact that you live without television. It taught us that you can still find happiness without “Baseball Tonight” for 72 hours. The meals were great and I’m still ashamed you wouldn’t let us pick up the tab when we went out for Mexican. Thanks for letting us stay an extra night as Daren was trying to plan his future beyond BaseCrawl. Thanks, also, for introducing us to your friends Jim and Sylvia Newman
. We were tired and worn out when we reached Austin, but three days of rest and relaxation with the four of you rejuvenated us for the last leg of our journey.
And to my family: Judy, Eldon and Todd Foster of Portland, Oregon: Todd
: Thanks for letting us share your hotel room in Seattle and holding your little brother’s hand during those extremely nervous first two days (and agreeing to wear the exact same clothes for two days as we tried to pull off our first video pod). Remember, you might be older and wiser, but I’m taller now. And to Mom
: Thanks for dinner and two peaceful nights at the old Portland homestead, not to mention that baseball card Halloween costume
you made for me when I was just 7. It was the best costume at the school that year and everybody knew it. Also, thanks for preserving my loft after all these years in the exact state I left it 12 years ago. It’s a museum to my childhood, and spending another two nights in it this summer was surreal. And to Dad
, for coming out and spending three days with us in your old stomping ground of Chicago, letting us crash at your hotel and buying us tickets. You gave me a glimpse into your own baseball pastime, and I want you to know how glad I am that you helped shape mine. I’ll never forget all those summers you took me up to the Kingdome to see the A’s beat up on the Mariners. The baseball games we watched together are some of my fondest childhood memories, and I’m glad we got in a few more this summer. Mom, Dad, Todd: I don’t say this enough, but I hope you know I love you.
As Daren, Nolan and I left every home we tried to take a little piece of our hosts with us. We had each of them sign a baseball that now sits at the workstation where I’m busy editing together our documentary. The baseball is a constant reminder of how we pulled this off on a tiny budget, and the people who made it possible.
They provided us couches, air mattresses and floors. None of them ever asked for a dollar in return, just a small window into our lives, and we were blessed with a small window into theirs.
Traveling was all I knew for 75 days this summer. Seemingly every night was a new adventure in a new town, with new people and a new place to sleep. On the final day of our basecrawl, I gave my buddy Daren a hug goodbye as he headed toward Colorado and the next chapter of his life. I then spent one last night with Nolan at his home in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Nolan offered me a bed in his guest room, but I chose to sleep on his couch instead.
It just felt so much more comfortable there.
(There’s more on this and our other adventures at BaseCrawl.com.)