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How baseball road trips reconnect friends

by Staff

ATLANTA – The only thing better than going to an MLB ballpark? Going with friends.

In the modern world, filled with technology and fast-moving lifestyles, taking in a baseball game is one of the best ways you can spend with someone you don’t live with.

Think about it. It’s nearly impossible to get people to talk on the phone for five minutes, let alone spend personal time with someone in person for hours. It just doesn’t happen. Most simply won’t commit two or three hours of leisure time to another person.

But that’s exactly what you do when you agree to catch a ballgame. It’s my go-to to reconnect with friends. Not only can you watch the game, but also talk and share our lives and feelings in the process.

That’s why I embarked on the ultimate MLB vacation — 10 MLB games in 10 days, covering nine different cities (Chicago twice). It started May 18 at Citi Field in New York. Then it was off to Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago (White Sox), Cleveland, Chicago (Cubs), Milwaukee, Detroit and Kansas City. The bucket list vacation ended on Saturday in Atlanta.

You might wonder why a long time sportswriter — who began covering MLB in 1986 — would go to baseball games for vacation. It’s simple. There’s not a better way to de-stress with food, friends and fresh air.

Other sports don’t give you quite the same environment. The rhythm of the game doesn’t allow for conversation or bonding in exactly the same way. Your experience at other games could be closer to sitting next to a stranger, considering the attention span needed to track everything happening.

Not when it comes to baseball, however.

Baseball is comfort food for the soul. It’s a comfortable chair, a warm cup of tea, the radio playing in the background. Indeed, there’s plenty of excitement and reason to yell your head off. But there are those other moments when friends are free to chat, catch up and share thoughts and ideas. That’s what makes baseball special, the national pastime. The game is a soundtrack to our lives.

Take my first stop. The Rays vs. the Mets at Citi Field. It was my high school friend’s birthday. I bought Ben his ticket as a gift. We graduated from Martin Van Buren H.S. in Queens Village, New York in 1982. Back then, Ben and I always talked and followed the Mets. It was our bond, the link to us becoming friends in the first place. And 41 years later, we still share a bond. The conversation is different now. He talks about his grandkids in between must-see at-bats by Pete Alonso.

Going back to Cincinnati is like going home, even though I was born in New York. It was there my career took off as the Cincinnati Reds’ beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1991. The best part about going there is seeing all my friends I left behind, like having lunch with retired Hall of Fame Reds’ broadcaster Marty Brennaman. We laughed so much my lungs hurt. I also saw Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, who is now a TV broadcaster for the team. The memory-filled conversations were heartwarming, refreshing.

In Cleveland, I had the best seats of the trip. My friend, Bobby, got tickets for me and my co-worker at MLBbro.com, Rachel. We sat in the second row, on the first base dugout side, at Progressive Field. The conversation centered on life goals and dreams. And, of course, we mixed in the idea that MLB’s rule changes to the game — mainly the pitch clock — have worked. Cleveland’s 3-0 victory over the White Sox took 2:15, almost not enough time for a second beer.

The next day in Chicago was like Christmas. That’s what Wrigley Field feels like to me. I just love going to that old place, the second-oldest stadium behind Fenway Park. There I saw professional friends, guys I worked with at ESPN. Cole Wright and Doug Glanville both work for the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network. The stories, the laughs. Proud of those guys.

On Wednesday, May 24, it was off to Milwaukee and the great indoors at American Family Field. The roof was closed for the day game, but it didn’t dampen a moment for me and Telly, another friend I couldn’t wait to chat with. Everybody knew Telly because he did Brewers’ the pre- and post-game show for years. And in this case, we didn’t have long to rap because the Brewers beat the Astros, 4-0, in 2:09. Still, there were plenty of moments I got to hear about Telly and his family. It had been years since he talked on a personal level. The conversation had depth, fabric.

Motown was a blast, another homecoming for me. I was a columnist for both the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News. I covered a million Tigers games over my 20 years working there, starting at Tiger Stadium and later Comerica Park. Hence, I saw so many old faces, including my friend Tony and his son, Jordy, who is now in college. The old-school/new-school banter between the three of us was priceless. And don’t buy that terrible narrative that young people aren’t into baseball. Jordy was all in, just like me and his pops.

The best party about Kansas City, other than beautiful Kauffman Stadium — and it’s still a showcase with those fountains — was a trip to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and lunch at Gates Barbecue. Grubbed out with three friends. I had the ribs with no sauce — watching my weight. But they were still delicious.

The trip of a lifetime wound up in ATL. What a great scene at Truist Park. It’s a party at that place. Best of all, I got to spend more quality time with a few mentees, Jason and Dante. Both love baseball as much as I do.

Crazy conversations were had throughout, even about the NBA playoffs. But mostly, and more importantly, the time spent was about us continuing to bond and share in a world that makes it harder to do it.

Thank goodness for an MLB ballpark near you. It can be done there. This is proof of it.

Rob Parker is a BBWAA member and has covered Major League Baseball since 1986. He covered the Cincinnati Reds for the Cincinnati Enquirer. He is the founder and editor of MLBbro.com.

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