EAST COUNTY — For a guy who has just visited all 30 major league baseball ballparks in 38 days, Bill Curphey is surprisingly not a diehard fan of the sport.
He doesn’t read the sports section of the newspaper.
During the trip, he sported a Cleveland Indians hat, for his hometown team, but he wore a plain T-shirt instead of a baseball jersey.
At stadium gates, he turned down bobble-head dolls — a ballpark staple — because he had nothing in which to carry them.
But, for 38 days, flying to a different U.S. city nearly every day, there was Curphey, sitting behind a dugout, often with a hot dog and a beer, surrounded by people like him, appreciating America’s game.
“This was the most baseball I’ve seen in 20 years,” Curphey said. “But, what was neat about this whole thing is, sitting in all these stadiums, you get to meet America. Baseball brings people together. There are no differences between us. We laugh at the same jokes. That’s America.”
A 65-year-old East County lawyer with clients all over the world, Curphey has seen India, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Moscow, London and more.
He’s seen America, too. Before the trip, which he returned from Aug. 24, Curphey had already been to every city in which he would see a game, except San Diego.
But, he had never gotten so intimate with America. The planning for the trip started four years ago, when Curphey vowed to be a part of someone else’s bucket list.
Bill Baumgart, a client and friend, wanted a companion to fulfill a lifelong dream of visiting every baseball stadium.
Before this season started, Baumgart, a White Sox fan from Chicago, studied the MLB schedule and organized a route to the goal.
The friends ordered the tickets, all along the first base or third base lines, through a broker in Chicago.
The trip began with the best. Curphey and Baumgart flew July 16 to Citi Field in New York for the All-Star Game. They stayed for three days before a run of 12 games in as many days. They took July 31 off, one of seven days on the trip with no games scheduled.
By that time, Curphey needed a haircut. The friends only traveled with backpacks with a week’s worth of clothes; they found laundromats along the way.
Curphey’s wife, Joanne Derstine, couldn’t stand being away from her husband for two weeks, so she traveled Aug. 7 to Seattle to meet the baseball travelers. Derstine also attended games in San Francisco, Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia.
Before night games, Curphey and Baumgart explored the cities. They went horseback riding in Denver. Baumgart bought an 8-foot longhorn in Texas.
The complex logistics brought challenges. At first, Curphey’s secretary, who booked hotels as they went, picked lodging close to airports but far away from games.
That presented a problem for the Royals game Aug. 5, in Kansas City, Mo.
They took an $80 cab from their hotel to the Kauffman Stadium.
“The hotel was nowhere near the stadium,” Curphey said. “The stadium is literally in a weed field. There was just nothing going on there.”
But the slow drive allowed Curphey to see more of America.
Curphey also saw America in Boston.
There, at a Red Sox game against the New York Yankees July 20, Curphey felt a part of a conversation between a group of young men nearby, who told stories of their jobs and sports in thick Boston accents.
“You can’t get that authenticity on television,” Curphey said. “They had me in stitches.”
In Houston Aug. 23, Curphey became a co-star in another American rite — a fight about foul balls.
A player hit a foul ball that hit a young child in the shoulder. A skinny man with a scruffy beard came from behind and snatched the ball from the boy’s feet. People hissed at the man and called him names. The boy cried. The said he planned on giving the ball to his child, who was at home.
“I yelled out, ‘You’re going to give the ball to your kid who you didn’t even bother to bring to the game!’” Curphey said.
The man began to preen for a fight. Security hauled him away.
A man sitting nearby, who Curphey learned was a referee for the National Basketball Association, left his seat and came back with a new baseball. He gave it to the boy.
“If Congress went to every ballpark in America and saw what America is really like, maybe things would be better for them,” Curphey said.
By the time the trip ended Aug. 24, with a Rays game in Tampa, Curphey had caught a cold.
“It became an ordeal after a while,” Curphey said. “It was a great adventure I’ll remember. But I wouldn’t do it again.”
Curphey is writing a book about the trip.
“It will be a guide to America’s ballparks with stories about the people who make it American,” Curphey said.
Stats & Highlights:
30 ballparks in 38 days
Total ticket cost: $5,000
Airline fees: $9,000
Hotel and meal costs: $300 per day
Favorite ballpark: Miami Marlins, Marlins Park
Best food: Pitts-burgh Pirates, PNC Park
Worst stadium: Oakland Athletics, Oakland Coliseum
Worst key chain: A Hello Kitty key chain from Dodgers Stadium, in Los Angeles
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