|Take Me Out to the Ballpark: 189 of Them
Jamie Rose for The New York Times
On Friday, Cass Sapir, a 27-year-old documentary filmmaker, attended the Potomac Nationals' game in Woodbridge, Va. He threw out the first pitch and raised $295 for the Jimmy Fund.
By ALAN SCHWARZ
Published: July 30, 2006
FREDERICK, Md., July 25 - The Curemobile, Cass Sapir's nickname for his exhausted but feisty Honda, rumbled down a Maryland interstate Tuesday on the way to field of dreams No. 126. Only 63 more ballparks after that. In 45 days.
Jamie Rose for The New York Times
Cass Sapir is raising money for cancer research by trying to attend a baseball game in every major league and affiliated minor league ballpark.J
In the car were a summer's supply of peanut butter and jelly, some misplaced but nonetheless pungent bananas and one charitably crazed baseball fan.
Sapir, a 27-year-old documentary filmmaker and former Brown University class president, has spent the past four months on a quest - driving 34,000 miles through 42 states - to crisscross the nation and attend games at the stadiums of every major league and affiliated minor league team, 189 in all. He had worked one hand-operated scoreboard and had his head munched by the Hickory Crawdads' mascot. The journey began April 4 in Arlington, Tex., and will end Sept. 8 at his personal baseball mecca, Fenway Park in Boston.
Sapir's self-financed Tour for the Cure - he raises money at each ballpark for the Jimmy Fund, the Boston-based cancer research charity - will include a New York doubleheader on Sunday. He will hit the Yankees-Devil Rays game in the Bronx before hopping in the Curemobile and driving upstate to see the Eastern League's Binghamton Mets play the Harrisburg Senators. Only on a tour like this can the majestic House That Ruth Built be merely No. 133 of 189.
We didn't want to only be two guys on a ballpark tour - we wanted to raise money for the Jimmy Fund, Sapir said, referring to his twin brother, Tim, who has joined him for parts of the journey. So it had to be the ultimate baseball road trip, the pinnacle - every ballpark, no exceptions. It's a fund-raising message but also an awareness message for the Jimmy Fund. Every radio interview I do, every first pitch I bounce, gets the word out.
Sapir has become something of a minor league celebrity as his tour chugs along. With tousled red hair straight from Norman Rockwell's palette, Sapir, a peppy native of Providence, R.I., is asked into radio booths and is recognized at the raffles he holds at most games behind folding tables on stadium concourses.
I'd love to be a mascot, he said recently. I want to see what it's like to be inside that 120-degree sweatbox.
Intriguing options include coming stops to see the Batavia Muckdogs in upstate New York and the Ottawa Lynx, but Sapir has fixed his eyes on his Aug. 15 visit to the Lansing Lugnuts in Michigan.
I'd love to be a lug nut, he said with a sigh, though my girlfriend would say I already am.
Unaware of events happening in the world around him - except rising gas prices - Sapir has raised $30,000 by raffling items like autographed bats donated by clubs, and by gathering other items for an end-of-the-year online auction. Several times a week, he jingles into a local Wal-Mart with an envelope full of quarters and dollar bills to get a money order for the Jimmy Fund.
Just going over $10,000 surprised me, said Caitlin Thiem of the Jimmy Fund's special-events department. He's already blown away our expectations.
Just as the trip has blown away Sapir's. He delights in going to small old-time stadiums like Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., where Satchel Paige and Honus Wagner once played. He has cavorted with mascots ranging from Neon Leon (an overgrown tennis ball) of the Pulaski Blue Jays in Virginia to Conrad Crawdad in Hickory, N.C. His schedule, which took 100 hours to devise on his computer last winter, required a drive from Minneapolis to Frisco, Tex., but it did allow him to squeeze in a few days to visit the Grand Canyon.
Tuesday was the beginning of a particularly grueling two-games-a-day stretch, starting with a day game in Hagerstown, Md., and traveling through Princeton, W.Va.; Salem, Va.; Salisbury, Md.; and other towns before heading up Interstate 95 to New York.
In Hagerstown, Sapir worked the hand-operated scoreboard at Municipal Stadium, one of the oldest parks in the minors, baking on the rickety wood pavilion behind left field and hoisting the two-foot aluminum numbers whenever the score changed.
I need a 4! he yelped after the hometown Suns scored in the eighth. The game started at 11 a.m. to accommodate local campers, and more than 1,000 youngsters were in the stands.
You can close your eyes and track the flight of a foul ball by listening to the squeals, Sapir said.
After the final out, he walked to his car while clapping his hands to Walking on Sunshine playing over the loudspeakers, as fans came up to him.
You the guy from the tour! one said during a hearty handshake. My girlfriend would kill me!
Sapir chatted, then excused himself and headed to his car for the drive to the night game down the road in Frederick.
The Curemobile looks like any 2002 silver Honda Accord until Sapir opens the back door to reveal overflowing crates of applesauce, canned soup and peanut butter. (For protein, he said.)
The rear window displays caps from the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons and the Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets. The trunk is filled with T-shirts and shorts, as well as items that clubs have donated for the online auction, like a jersey autographed by all the Cardinals - of Johnson City, Tenn., and the Appalachian League, that is.
Here's my most important item, Sapir said, reaching deep into the trunk and slipping out a Wiffle bat. We've had some epic battles on this trip.
Sapir jumped into the front seat, pushed a few buttons on his trusty global positioning system and started the drive to Frederick. He has had no serious car trouble yet, though he did get one speeding ticket in Oregon (driving from the Idaho Falls Chukars to the Tri-Cities Dust Devils), and he sputtered into a gas station on fumes outside Oklahoma City. He has caught halting sleep at friends' houses, in cheap motels and even on Wal-Mart asphalt. They're the Ritz-Carlton of parking lots, he said.
Jamie Rose for The New York Times
Sapir said his Tour for the Cure was scheduled to end Sept. 8 at Fenway Park. The Jimmy Fund is a Boston-based cancer research charity.
Spending $18,000 of his money to finance the tour - and interrupting his filmmaking for the Discovery Channel and the PBS series Nova - Sapir has joined a long line of so-called normal people who devote a summer to the baseball road trip.
One man is driving around in a lime-green Mercedes powered by vegetable oil to promote alternative fuels. Tome Hanks, Ron Howard and Dennis Miller have visited several ballparks this year to celebrate Hanks's 50th birthday, and dozens of college pals have embarked on nomadic pilgrimages to every major league park east of the Mississippi and the like.
Jim Siscel, a retired Seattle-area schoolteacher, made it to every stadium recently, but it took him four summers. He's crazy, Siscel said of Sapir, but he's younger than I am!
Legend has it that one man did make it to every park from the rookie-level Pioneer League through the majors, the way Sapir is set to do, in the mid-1990's.
There's a wanderlust that's unique to baseball stadiums, said Dave Chase, president and general manager of the Pacific Coast League's Memphis Redbirds, a mid-May stop for Sapir. People love being outdoors in ballparks and connecting with the country. It's the Route 66 mentality.
In Hagerstown, while manning his table and selling raffle tickets for a bat signed by all the Hagerstown Suns, Sapir was asked the two questions he hears from fans every day. Has he caught a foul ball? Yes, though he also dropped one to a chorus of boos at Minute Maid Park in Houston. And the ever-incredulous, What about rainouts?
Sure enough, four games on Sapir's tour have been washed out: his one opportunity to see the Pioneer League's Missoula Osprey in Montana, and three games during his Midwest League swing through Burlington, Iowa, and South Bend and Fort Wayne, Ind. (He braved the rain and set foot in all four stadiums anyway; seeing every ballpark was the tour's true raison d'être.)
Then again, with some fiddling with the schedule and extra driving - what's another 450 miles? - he can still hit the Midwestern parks later this month, when he doubles back through Illinois and Michigan.
It's minor league baseball, one passer-by said approvingly, plunking money in Sapir's raffle can.
Yep, Sapir replied with yet another handshake. I figured I'd take in a game or two this summer.