My name is Ken Lee and I am a ballpark addict….
They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step on your way to recovery. Well, I have been an addict for years and I don’t see my “problem” going away any time soon. Just last night as we watched “I Survived A Japanese Game Show,” I commented to my wife, “It would be fun to go to Tokyo, just so we could catch a game at the Tokyo Dome!”
My addiction started innocently. It was 1977. After a few months of listening to Seattle Mariners games on radio, as they were only on television once or twice a year during those first several years, my Dad asked my brother and I if we would want to go to a game. OF COURSE WE DID! Our first game was the Mariners vs. the Yankees at the Kingdome. As we walked up and into the dome I saw the field for the first time, and I was hooked! I know people talk about their first ever game being at Wrigley or Yankee Stadium, Fenway or Tiger Stadium… mine was at the Kingdome, and I loved it! The grass may have been fake, and the sun certainly didn’t shine on the field and you couldn’t feel the wind blow, but it was a beautiful sight for a 4 year old, and that will stay with me forever.
Over the next 10 years we went to several Mariners games. My parents would take us up for weekend games where we would see the Saturday night game and double back for the Sunday afternoon game. We only lived an hour from Seattle, but we would stay in a hotel just south of Seattle on those weekends. I still remember those weekends like they were yesterday. Even after my father passed away in 1986, Mom made sure we still went to games and had our weekends without fail.
In 1987 as we were visiting family in Northeast Oklahoma a group of us decided to go to Kansas City to catch a Royals game. It’s a 3+ hour drive from Picher, OK to Royal Stadium and I couldn’t hide my excitement. Until that day I had never thought I’d get to see a game anywhere else besides the Kingdome. The experience was incredible! It was hotter than blue blazes, but we had a great time. We sat in the front row, down the 3rd baseline directly by the foul pole. Bo Jackson was playing left for the Royals then and I got a great picture of him waving in our direction. All I recall of the game is that the Royals beat the Twins and Dan Gladden hit a HR for Minnesota, but I can remember the beauty of the ballpark vividly.
Even though I got my first taste of another ballpark in 1987 it was 10 years before I did it again. In June of 1997 I was in Dallas, TX with a friend attending a concert for a country singer we worked for. We decided that the day before the concert we would go to Arlington and catch a game. We sat up in the rafters and although I developed a fear of escalators after taking a ride on the one there up to the upper deck, (the “Escalator to Heaven” as I call it), I still loved The Ballpark in Arlington. The design was so different than any of the other few I had been to at this point. The way they used the history of Texas in its design was so cool. I loved the green steel and red brick! It was that very night, June 14, 1997, that I decided I wanted to see all the Major League ballparks!
In 2000 I went to visit some friends in California. They took me to see my Mariners play the A’s at the Coliseum. While the ballpark is a real dump, this coming from someone that loved the Kingdome, I loved being there to see the park, to taste the local foods, and to see how different fans react to the game. The M’s won! They spanked the A’s big time! It was this trip that made me realize that I could go see other ballparks, that I could see them all… eventually.
In July 2000, I took my Mom to Austin to see family. We ended up going our separate ways. She went north to Oklahoma for our family reunion and I went to Nashville for Fan Fair. We were to eventually meet up in Alabama a couple weeks later. After Fan Fair I ended up back in Texas and decided to make the drive to Houston to see Enron Field. I had seen countless games at the Kingdome with its roof, and Safeco Field after it opened the previous year, I never felt like I was watching baseball indoors. Although Enron, with the roof closed, it felt like we were watching a game in a warehouse. I really enjoyed my walk around the park, seeing how they used the old train station in its design and all, but that roof really spoiled it for me. It wasn’t until the end of the 7th inning when they finally opened the roof, you felt the rush of hot air coming in from the beautiful Houston night. At that moment, he game changed completely. All of a sudden we were watching a game the way it was supposed to be watched at night, under the stars. After eventually meeting up with Mom and the rest of my family in Alabama, I found myself with a few days on my hands so I decided to go to Atlanta, see Stone Mountain and go by Turner Field. As per my luck, the Braves were out of town that day and wouldn’t be at home any day that I could catch them. I still made the best of it. I took the time to see the park from the outside and was sure to visit the remains of Fulton County Stadium. I had watched a lot of Braves games from there when I lived in Oklahoma because the Braves—via TBS—was if for the baseball we got on television back then. I was so bummed I didn’t get to see a game at Turner Field. This just fed my fire. I vowed to make it back one day!
On my drive back to Austin I was able to take in a game at The Ballpark in Arlington. It was the Mariners vs. Rangers on July 3, 2000. The Ballpark is a great place to watch games. If it wasn’t for the incredible heat of July, I would have loved to have stayed for a few more games. This was my 2nd game at The Ballpark. It was strange to me to be back, but I loved it this time through just as much.
In May of 2002, I was planning a trip to the Chicago area to see a friend for a few days, I realized that while she was busy the first couple days, I could catch some games! I flew into Chicago and made the drive up to Milwaukee to see the Braves vs. Brewers game at Miller Park. It was awesome! The land of brats & kraut didn’t disappoint! I was enthralled with the way their roof opened, having just had Safeco and its retractable roof for not quite 3 seasons yet. The sight lines are great. No matter where I walked I could see the action really good. I stayed in town that night and caught the afternoon game the next day before driving to the South Side of Chicago to catch the White Sox vs. Mariners game at Comiskey Field.
May 2, 2002, was the first day I ever went to 2 games in 2 parks in 2 states! What a thrill that was! 1 American League and 1 National League game even! To top it off, in the nightcap, I got to see history made as Mike Cameron hit 4 HR’s. He tied 12 others for this feat, was only the 4th from the AL to do it and only the 5th in history to do it in 4 consecutive at bats. In his last 2 ab’s, he was plunked on the backside and hit a drive that had the right fielder literally against the wall reaching up to make the catch!). In addition to his 4 HR’s, Cammy and Brett Boone went back-to-back with HR’s twice in the same inning. This was the first time in MLB history that a pair of teammates had ever done so. That feat still hasn’t been beat or matched. One of the greatest parts of going to different ballparks, for me, is meeting the people who go to those games. The couple that sat next to me at this game just happened to realize the White Sox were playing that night as they got to town on their drive to Iowa for a wedding. They decided to stop early and catch the game. What a game they got to see. I had been warned by my friend about wearing my Mariner’s gear on the South Side, but I had no problem. Actually had a great time kidding around with the White Sox fans and an usher that kept dropping by to comment on the game.
July 2002 found me back in Oklahoma with family. After our family reunion I was hitting the road on my first ever “Baseball Road Trip”! My addiction was getting the best of me. After careful planning, I mapped out a route that would take me to games in Cincinnati (Cinergy Field), Cleveland (Jacobs Field), Detroit (Comerica Park) and a weekend of Cubs vs. Cardinals in St. Louis at Busch Stadium. This made 5 games in 4 ballparks in a week. This is what life is all about, yeah? It was incredible! But this just fed the appetite for my addiction and left me wanting more.
Later in 2002, a friend of mine, Bob Mason, and I planned a trip we had wanted to do for a few years to see “The Field of Dreams”. While we were planning this trip Bob told me to plan it all and put in as much as we can do in the few days that we had. I naturally added a White Sox vs. Angels game at Comiskey Field and my 3rd game at Miller Park (Brewers vs. Expos). I usually go to games on my own, so this was a treat to get to share other ballparks with a friend of mine and to show him what I liked and disliked about them. I took him by Wrigley to see it, even though the Cubs were out of town. We had a great time on our baseball weekend and I couldn’t wait to do more.
My Mom asked me in early 2003 to take her to see family in Oklahoma, I decided that I would drop her off and plan a trip that was bigger and better than I did the previous year. I spent days working on a schedule and getting everything planned out so when we hit the road on July 9th, I would be ready. I even planned a stop at Coors Field in Denver on our drive to Oklahoma. Before we could leave I had 1 last thing to do, I asked my brother, Judd, and his wife, June, if I could take my 16 year old nephew, Sean, with me. They agreed and told me I could. I made sure to let them know it’s not just about the ballparks, cause while we are in town for games, we’ll do other historical things. On July 15th we left on a trip that would have us seeing: The Negro Leagues Museum, Kauffman Stadium (no game), the Field of Dreams, Wrigley Field (no game), US Cellular Field (no game), Louisville Slugger Museum (did the tour), Great American Ballpark (Astros v Reds), PNC Park (Brewers vs. Pirates), Yankee Stadium (Monument Park, Old Timers’ Day game and Indians vs. Yankees, with my favorite Yankee David “Boomer” Wells pitching), Fenway Park (Blue Jays vs. Red Sox – 1st row Green Monster seats), Baseball Hall Of Fame (only 3 hours worth), Veterans Stadium (Mets vs. Phillies), Oriole Park @ Camden Yards (Rangers vs. Orioles), Turner Field (Marlins vs. Braves) and Old Busch Stadium (Pirates vs. Cardinals). 8 games in 8 different parks! It was amazing! My first trips to Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, I cried like a baby! Along the way we took in the Gettysburg battlefield, toured New York City and Washington D.C., as well. We also got to see both the new and old Durham Athletic Parks as well as Shoeless Joe Jackson’s grave. That trip was so amazing! I was so glad to get to share it with my nephew because I know he will never forget it! We got to do and see so much. It was awesome!
While on the 2003 trip, in Philly at The Vet, is when I realized that I was going to marry my girlfriend. I even told Sean and he just laughed. The day after I got back, I proposed to her and we planned a July 17, 2004 wedding. As we were thinking about our honeymoon Yvonne, (who is not a sports fan, but goes to games with me occasionally) says, “We should go to California. We can split the trip between me showing you things I love and you can take me to the ballparks you haven’t seen yet.” I knew I loved this woman and she just proved to me again why I did! For our honeymoon, along with Disneyland, Universal Studios, Sea World, San Diego Wild Animal Park and Sedona, we caught games at SBC Park (Padres vs. Giants), Dodger Stadium (Padres Vs Dodgers), Bank One Ballpark (Rockies vs. Diamondbacks), Petco Park (Giants vs. Padres – got my 1st ever batting practice home run ball at this game!) and Angel Stadium (Mariners vs. Angels). We even saw the Peoria Sports Complex, where the Mariners and Padres hold Spring Training. I am so addicted that even my future wife knew what I would want to do, though I would have never dreamed that we would do that on our honeymoon, we loved every moment of it!
In 2005, my wife asked me if I would take her on an East Coast trip so she could finally go to New York. I was game because to me that meant more ballparks and she agreed! This trip found us at games at Oriole Park @ Camden Yards (D’Rays vs. Orioles), Citizens Bank Park (Marlins vs. Phillies), RFK Stadium (Mets vs. Nationals), Shea Stadium (on 05/05/05, Phillies vs. Mets), Fenway Park (roof box 1st baseline seats, Mariners vs. Red Sox) and Yankee Stadium (a tour 1 day and Mariners vs. Yankees the next). The games at Citizens Bank Park and RFK Stadium were the same day, an afternoon and night game. I just love doing that!
In November 2005 as we went to Florida to see Yvonne’s Nana for her 80th birthday, I took a day to go see 10 different spring training ballparks: Knology Park (Blue Jays), Bright House Networks Field (Phillies), Progress Energy Park (D’Rays), Legends Field (Yankees), McKechnie Field (Pirates), Ed Smith Stadium (Reds), Joker Marchant Stadium (Tigers), Chain Of Lakes Park (Indians), Osceola Stadium (Astros) and Champion Stadium (Braves) along with Tropicana Field. Later in that same run I got to take in the huge Dolphin Stadium. It just looked wrong to me as there was a football field where a baseball field should have been. I would have to go back and catch a real game one day.
For our trip in 2006 my wife really wanted to take her mom to see New York in December with it all decorated for Christmas. While I would have enjoyed that a lot, going in December meant no baseball. She informed me she really wanted it to be a “Girls Trip” so I could go on a ballpark trip on my own if I wanted in exchange… WOOHOO! I planned a run that had me seeing the rest of the parks I needed to see to complete my tour of all 30 current MLB Ballparks. I caught 2 games at the Metrodome (Indians vs. Twins), Miller Park for my 4th game there (Astros vs. Brewers), 3 games at Wrigley Field (2 Cardinals vs. Cubs, and 1 Phillies vs. Cubs night game), Comerica Park (White Sox vs. Tigers), Rogers Centre (A’s vs. Blue Jays), PNC Park (Astros vs. Pirates), 2 games at New Busch Stadium (Cubs vs. Cardinals), The Ballpark in Arlington (Orioles vs. Rangers – picked up my brother in Oklahoma and took him with me to this game, we both got batting practice home run balls at this game, in our seats, didn’t even have to try, they came right to us!) and Coors Field (Mets vs. Rockies). I had seen all 30 MLB Ballparks when I got to St. Louis on August 25th!
Even though Nationals Park opened on March 30, 2008 and I had another ballpark to see, I decided to wait until for the 2 new ones in New York to open the next year and do them all on the same run. Besides, this year, my wife wanted me to take her to see her Dad in Knoxville, TN for our trip. I planned it, with stops at the Metrodome (White Sox vs. Twins – where Tony Oliva left us his tickets for the game), 2 games at Wrigley Field (a night game and a day game vs. the Brewers) and the Rogers Centre (White Sox vs. Blue Jays). I am so addicted that I made sure to show my wife US Cellular (no game), Comerica Park (no game), PNC Park (no game), Great American Ballpark (no game) and we toured the Louisville Slugger Museum.
It was just 2 days before we left for our trip in 2008 that the company I work for, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, held our ‘end of the tax season’ dinner and awards banquet. It was then I found out that they were sending me to Orlando in August to the Jackson Hewitt Corporate Management Summit. My addiction is so strong that all I could think was “Baseball in August in Florida! Wooohooo!!” Needless to say our plans had us seeing games at Tropicana Field (Blue Jays vs. Rays) and Dolphin Stadium (Mets vs. Marlins) as well as seeing the other 7 spring training ballparks I need to see to complete the Florida parks.
In 2009, I got to hit the road with my friend Bob Mason again. Ever since we attended 8th grade at Tumwater Middle School in Tumwater, WA, we both had a fascination for the Civil War. We decided back then that one day we would go to Gettysburg and walk around the battlefield. In 2009, we got that chance. On that trip, we were also able see Oriole Park @ Camden Yards (Mets vs. Orioles), Citizen’s Bank Park (Blue Jays vs. Phillies), Yankee Stadium (Nationals vs. Yankees), Fenway Park (Marlins vs. Red Sox – where we were joined by my nephew Sean and his girlfriend Nicole), Citi Field (Rays vs. Mets) and Nationals Park (Blue Jays vs. Nationals). We had planned a doubleheader for the Yankee Stadium & Fenway Park games. Problem is that with it raining in New York as hard as it was (it was bad enough to make two guys from Washington State say “Damn, that’s a lot of rain!”) we were unable to see the game at Yankee Stadium. Luckily they did open the gates on time. We were able to go in, walk around and pay the extremely high concession prices before we hit the road for Boston. After hitting Citi Field and getting to the game at Nationals Field later in that trip, I had once again completed the tour of all 30 MLB Ballparks.
In late fall 2009 my nephew Sean called me to let me know he had popped the question to his girlfriend Nicole. They were getting married on July 23, 2010 in Mystic, CT and asked if my wife and I could come. I told him we wouldn’t miss it for the world. At the point I got really excited. Not only for their wedding, but for the possibility of more games. When the MLB schedules came out I worked up an itinerary that would allow me to see a few games while back there. Then it hit me, I needed to catch a game at the brand new Target Field in Minneapolis as well. I figured out a way to make it happen. However, to do it as planned I needed to leave town on July 17th, my wedding anniversary. After debating it for a while, I asked my wife if I could and she agreed. The plan was for me to fly to Milwaukee overnight, get a car in the morning and drive to Minneapolis for a game that afternoon. I would stay in town that night; catch the game the next evening as well, before making the drive overnight back to Milwaukee for a 6am flight to Baltimore. From there I would see Nationals Park (taking in a tour as well as a game a few days later), Oriole Park @ Camden Yards (2 Rays vs. Orioles games), Fenway Park (just a tour), Yankee Stadium (Royals vs. Yankees) and Citi Field (Cardinals vs. Mets).
While this trip was great especially with getting to Fenway yet again, the day that stands out to me the most is July 18th. That is the day I got to Target Field for the White Sox vs. Twins game. It’s a special day to me because it is the day that I once again became “Whole”. I was back in the “All 30” club once again… at least until the next one is built.
The 2012 season brought me a challenge I never thought I would be able to attempt: to See All 30 ballparks in 1 season! To do this I would do it in 2 different trips. The first would be with Chuck Booth as part of his Guinness World Record breaking attempt. I would see 9 games with him on his streak, plus a few more on my own. Once he broke the record, full games at all 30 MLB ballparks in 23 days, he joined me for 3 games on my run. After which we parted ways as I kept going to games and we eventually met up for another game in early May at Citi Field. After that game I kept going and when I got to Atlanta on May 17th, I had seen games in 23 of the 30 ballparks. The ballparks I saw on this portion are, in order: Safeco Field, Kauffman Stadium, Wrigley Field, Miller Park, Target Field, Comerica Field, PNC Park, Progressive Field, U.S. Cellular Field, Busch Stadium, Oriole Park @ Camden Yards, Citizens Bank Park, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Rogers Centre, Great American Ball Park, Nationals Park, Citi Field, Minute Maid Park, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Marlins Park, Tropicana Field & Turner Field.
The second part of my SeeAll30 Summer will begin August 18th in Denver and will take me to, in order, the remaining 7 ballparks: Coors Field, Chase Field, Petco Park, Angel Stadium, Dodger Stadium, O.co Coliseum and when I get to AT&T Park on September 3rd, I will have seen all 30 ballparks in 2012!
My name is Ken and I am a ballpark addict…