tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
  • Home

Ultimate baseball road trip has plenty of curves

If you’re a baseball fan, visiting every major-league stadium would be a lifetime achievement.

Now, imagine seeing every pitch of 30 games, in 30 days, in 30 different stadiums. Sure, that’s possible if one has deep pockets and a frequent flier card.

That was too easy for Harvard friends Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster. Blatt, a writer for Slate magazine who is also a sports analyst and baseball fanatic, decided to take on this challenge on the ground — crisscrossing the country in a car (with subway trips included) — and dragged non-baseball fan and Harvard Lampoon veteran Brewster along for the ride, which took place in June 2013.

“Ben was driving to see baseball, Eric was driving to see America. We just happened to be in the same car,” Blatt and Brewster write in “I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever.” (Grove Press; hardback; $24; 342 pages).

This book is a cross between “The Cannonball Run” and “The Great Race,” with portions of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” thrown in for good measure. It’s broken into 30 chapters, one for each stadium visited, and there are plenty of zany stories to be told. Some even include baseball.

The road trip — and narrative — zigzags across the country, with the authors (helped by three other drivers at times) driving 22,000 miles in 716 hours. They watched 8,913 pitches and completed their quest with a few hours to spare. Along the way, they encountered long trips, torrential rains, extra-inning games, traffic tickets, a time zone error, a gay pride parade, a Canadian national holiday and ticket scalpers.

The route was carefully concocted by Blatt, as he had to fit home dates into a tight schedule. Some of the drives took more than 19 hours, and the authors produce a map to show their proposed route, which “looked like what would happen if a drunk airplane decided to go on a baseball bender.”

There are some great adventures in this book, and the dynamic and back-and-forth tension and sarcasm between Blatt and Brewster is funny. However, the way the narrative is constructed is sometimes confusing. The reader is forced at times to try and figure out who is doing the talking. Some examples:

“Ben downed the last of his frothing beer. Eric did not finish his chicken.”

“We overheard a tour guide on the streets of Chicago explain …”

“Ben missed Eric. … He had taken Eric for granted. … Strangely enough, Eric felt the same way.”

OK, who’s the narrator here? Sometimes, the reader gets Ben, Eric and we in the same paragraph.

Perhaps the authors should have taken a page out of Peter Golenbock’s style in his oral history books like “Dynasty” and “Bums.”

There are some funny moments. Blatt, a Red Sox fan, is excited to meet the architect of Boston’s 2004 World Series champs at Wrigley Field, where in 2013, Theo Epstein is the Cubs’ president of baseball operations. And yet, his glee turns to despair when Epstein tells him that the White Sox, who had been scheduled to play a night game to make a nice Chicago doubleheader for the authors (two games in one day), had been rained out.

Epstein wonders how Blatt will overcome that weather-induced obstacle and chuckles at the answer.

“Rerun the algorithm, that’s great,” he laughed.

Speaking of Wrigley Field, the biggest baseball glitch in the book was a reference to The Friendly Confines.” The authors note Wrigley was constructed in 1916, when in fact, it was built in 1914. The Cubs began playing at Wrigley in 1916, but the park was originally built for Chicago’s Federal League team two years earlier.

There’s more fun. Brewster creates an online profile for Blatt, who then has a blind date at a Cardinals game in St. Louis. Brewster also works a prank on Blatt in Cleveland (thanks to a friend) that references Hall of Famer Earl Averill and Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton.

While the friends disagreed about the merits of baseball, they were on the same page about ballparks, which “are judged by how much fun you can have by not watching the game.” Detroit had a Ferris wheel. Arizona had a pool. And Blatt, used to the tradition of Fenway Park was aghast at the sensory bombardment he experienced at the Marlins’ stadium.

He felt “like a classical pianist hearing rap for the first time.”

The book’s preface begins at Tropicana Field, as the authors were in attendance when Alex Cobb was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of the Royals’ Eric Hosmer. That is the most sobering event the authors see. But a month of sleep-deprived wandering across the country saw Blatt have time to run the bases at Williamsport’s Lamade Stadium but bypass stopping at the Grand Canyon because the authors cruised past it in the middle of the night.

Certainly, the trip became tiresome for both men, even for a baseball fanatic like Blatt.

In his own mind, Blatt gradually became the worst kind of fan, “the sort he spent a lifetime despising.”

“His custom-made journey designed to make him the ultimate baseball fan had done just the opposite,” the authors write. “He no longer saw baseball. He only waited for it to have been seen.”

It was a lesson in perseverance and keeping a friendship together. Blatt and Brewster discover that the first verse of the national anthem ends with a question, and argue over the correct lyrics of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in Abbott and Costello fashion.

“The trip was easily the best and worst experience of my life,” Blatt wrote last month.

It’s worth reading about.

Weather Center