Boys of summer
By Doug Snover
Andy Meyer and Tim Smith, a couple of guys from Corona del Sol High School, have piled up some serious miles, a few extra pounds, a million memories and even a few minutes of television fame while following their dream of a Great American Road Trip to several baseball parks in the Great American Midwest.
Meyer and Smith aren’t students at Corona. Meyer is the 40-year-old campus technology director and Smith is a 43-year-old government teacher.
For more than a week, however, they were the Boys of Summer, following the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team on a road trip to the Midwest and catching several other American League and National League teams in some of the most historic ballparks in the country.
Wrigley Field in Chicago, for instance. And Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where Meyer especially enjoyed watching the Cardinals beat the reviled New York Yankees.
“It’s been a lot of fun just being in different cities and ballparks. You see ’em on T.V. but to be there is really terrific,” Meyer said when Wrangler News caught up to him and Smith via cell phone. The guys were in Detroit where they had seen an afternoon game between the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres.
All told, Meyer and Smith planned to see nine baseball games in eight days on their whirlwind tour that included stops in Cleveland and Cincinnati.
It was in Chicago that the guys got famous—at least for a few minutes. The Diamondbacks were playing the Chicago White Sox at US Cellular Field when Fox Sports Net television reporter Todd Walsh interviewed them in the stands. For that one game, they were joined by Mike Wehrli, an English teacher at Corona who happened to be visiting relatives in Chicago when the Diamondbacks came to town with Meyer and Smith in tow.
The Corona trio wasn’t hard to spot in the crowded ballpark. Two of the guys were wearing loud Hawaiian shirts of the type most people only would dare wear far from home where no one knows them.
“It completely surprised us,” Smith said of their television interview and the subsequent telephone calls from people in Arizona who had seen the broadcast.
When the guys told Walsh they were headed to Wrigley Field the next day to catch a Cubs game, Mark Grace, a longtime hero among Cubs fans, offered to provide tickets. Grace, if you don’t follow baseball, played much of his career at first base for “the battlin’ Cubbies,” as he calls them, before coming to Arizona to win a world championship with the Diamondbacks before retiring to the television booth as a color analyst for the Diamondbacks.
“I’ll do the best I can to help them out. I still have a little bit of pull (with the Cubs),” Grace said on the air. It was a classic bit of understatement.
Meyer and Smith already had tickets, as it turned out, but so great is Grace’s influence that more than 300 other Cubs fans immediately emailed the announcers’ booth looking for free tickets, according to Diamondbacks announcer Thom Brennaman (who came to the Diamondbacks after six years broadcasting Cubs games).
Major League players and coaches travel first class, flying on chartered jets and staying in fine hotels. Meyer and Smith stayed with relatives and traveled from city to city and stadium-to-stadium by rental car.
“We made St. Louis our hub,” Smith said.
“We really wanted to see Busch (Stadium) because this is the last year for Busch,” added Meyer, who noted that a new venue for St. Louis is being built adjacent to the existing facility.
Busch and Wrigley are two of the oldest baseball stadiums in the country. Busch opened in 1966 and Wrigley dates all the way back to 1914.
“Those two ballparks, they are ‘old school,’ ” Meyer said with an air of reverence in his voice that was clear even via cell phone.
Other facilities like US Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, and Comerica, where the Detroit Tigers play, are newer. US Cellular Field, which opened in 1991 and has been renovated several times since, is especially flashy, with loud music filling in any gap in the action, Meyer reported.
“It reminded me of arena football,” he said.
Meyer said he prefers the old to the new when it comes to ballparks.
“I grew up a Cubs fan. I still like the old feeling. Nothing flashy. Just real baseball.”
The guys have been subsisting largely on stadium food during their road trip. Brats, pizza at Wrigley and the traditional ballpark hotdogs.
“Way too much,” Meyer joked. “I’ve gained about three pounds in the past few days. At least it seems like it.”
The travel budget might be ballooning, too, Meyer acknowledged. The guys had budgeted about $1,000 each for the trip. “We’re probably over that,” he said.
They began plotting the trip in March, during spring training in Arizona. Both are Diamondbacks season-ticket holders, but they itched for a trip to other stadiums.
At one time, they considered a California sweep, following the Diamondbacks to games in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, if possible. But scheduling didn’t work out, so they bided their time. Looking at the Diamondbacks’ 2005 schedule, they realized it would be possible to visit some historic Midwest sites and catch a lot of games in a short span.
“We just like baseball,” said Meyer, who said watching two games in a single day—at Wrigley and US Cellular fields—was a highlight.
Getting tickets in advance was “a challenge,” especially for the Cubs and Cardinals, Smith said. But nothing new to guys who watched the Diamondbacks win the 2001 World Series in Game 7 at the filled-to-capacity Bank One Ballpark.