Monday, March 09, 2015

March is Mostly Mets Reading Month: Did 1988's 'Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks' led to our beloved MLB Pass-Ports of today?

Today we're highlighting a book that inspired baseball fans to hit the road and experience ballparks around the country.

March 9: “Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks” by Bob Wood
Published in 1988.

Each time I get a stamp in my Major League Baseball Ballpark Pass-port, I think about Bob Woods’ book and some of the adventures we’ve had traveling to see games in stadiums near and far.

Woods is a fellow Michigander, growing up in Kalamazoo. He is a huge baseball fan who was working as a math teacher in Seattle and decided to do something extra-special during his summer break – see games at every Major League ballpark.

The book, “Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks,” follows his journey across America. He’s a teacher, so he graded each ballpark on things like layout and upkeep, seating, food, atmosphere and employees. 

He writes about things that happen along the way, but the focus is on how each ballpark offers a different experience. I think he’s a little harsh, with four parks earning a D+ and three more a C-. There’s no such thing as a bad day at the ballpark.

But I don’t think too many people even thought of such an adventure before this book was published. People went to see games at their home park. Now, many die-hard fans plan vacations around visiting one or more parks in distant cities.

Right after the book came out, I convinced my bosses at the Bridgeport Post to let me write a travel story about such a road trip, on a smaller scale, of course. Buddy Rich Nangle, his friend Mark and I spent a glorious week on the road, seeing games at Comiskey Park, County Stadium in Milwaukee, back down to Chicago to Wrigley, then over to Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. We then crossed the border to see SkyDome in the months after it opened before wrapping up in Cleveland.

A couple years later, I convinced the Flint Journal editors to allow me to write a story about how the Tigers were replacing Tiger Stadium and visiting cities that faced similar choices to see how they fared. I was joined by Will and John Munson for a trip included games at Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, where John snagged us a hard hat tour of Camden Yards, which was still under construction.

Later, Will and the fellow members of our writers conducted our annual Executive Game in a different city and ballpark – often working in a second game at another stadium or a minor league park.

It’s almost as if we collect the experiences of new and different parks -- and all the things that happen along the way.

There’s a website I frequent called Ballpark Chasers devoted to such visits, and from that a brilliant man named Tim Parks created the MLB Pass-Port, which has fans getting a special stamp each time they visit a new yard. It’s a lot of fun, and I saw a number of fans carrying their Pass-Ports around the ballpark.

We nearly saw an incident in St. Louis last year when the souvenir store clerk couldn’t find the stamp and told a number of fans to come back later in the game after she had a chance to look for it. Hey, sold out game on the July 4 weekend -- what could go wrong? There were some unhappy people in the store until the stamp finally turned up.

The downside – and it's a slight downside – is that I’ve already visited a bunch of parks near and far since the book came out in 1988. I got the Pass-Port for Christmas last year. That means I’ll have to visit a bunch of parks all over again.

It’s a tough assignment, but I’ll bravely move forward. Last year I collected stamps from Comerica Park, U.S. Cellular Field, Wrigley Field and the infamous day at Busch. That leave's just 26 to go!

Here's the rest of your reading list:

March 5: "Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century" by Marc Okkenon
March 4: "Clemente! The Enduring Legacy" by Kal Wagenheim 
March 3: "Mets by the Numbers" by Jon Springer and Matthew Silverman
March 2: "Faith and Fear in Flushing" by Greg W. Prince

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