Fan journeying to all 30 ballparks on bicycle
Washington resident enjoying adventure of a lifetime
Darren O'Donnell, like any baseball fan worth his Cracker Jacks, is keeping score.
He knows that since his season began at Seattle's Safeco Field on April 8, he's among the league leaders in several categories, such as:
"I've had at least 50 of 'em," says O'Donnell, 24. "And I'm on my third set of tires now, too."
"I bought 216 of them at lower than cost," he says. "Now my mom sends me packages with about 40 in each box. That lasts me about three weeks."
And then there's his favorite stat of all: Since the former food co-op employee from Bellingham, Wash., committed to ride his 27-speed, steel-framed bicycle to all 30 stadiums in the course of an April-to-September big league slate, he's already pedaled more than 6,000 miles of the estimated 10,500-mile journey.
"It's awesome," he says. "I can't believe I'm actually doing it."
DARREN O'DONNELL'S BASEBALL BIKING TOUR
|April 8||Safeco Field||Indians 12, Mariners 3|
|April 19||Oakland Coliseum||A's 5, Red Sox 0|
|April 22||AT&T Park||Braves 4, Giants 1|
|April 27||Angel Stadium||A's 2, Angels 1|
|April 29||Dodger Stadium||Dodgers 3, Padres 2|
|May 2||PETCO Park||Pirates 4, Padres 3|
|May 5||Chase Field||D-backs 3, Rockies 2|
|May 15||Coors Field||Padres 8, Rockies 2|
|May 24||Rangers Ballpark||White Sox 8, Rangers 6|
|May 29||Minute Maid Park||D-backs 4, Astros 2|
|June 15||Tropicana Field||Red Sox 3, Rays 0|
|June 20||Sun Life Stadium||Angels 2, Marlins 1|
|July 1||Turner Field||Braves 4, Orioles 0|
|July 15||Great American Ball Park||Reds vs. Cardinals|
|July 22||Progressive Field||Indians vs. White Sox|
|July 24||PNC Park||Pirates vs. Cardinals|
|July 31||Citizens Bank Park||Phillies vs. Pirates|
|Aug. 3||Nationals Park||Nationals vs. Braves|
|Aug. 5||Camden Yards||Orioles vs. Blue Jays|
|Aug. 9||Yankee Stadium||Yankees vs. Angels|
|Aug. 10||Citi Field||Mets vs. Padres|
|Aug. 16||Fenway Park||Red Sox vs. Rays|
|Aug. 26||Rogers Centre||Blue Jays vs. Rays|
|Aug. 29||Comerica Park||Tigers vs. Royals|
|Sept. 7||Wrigley Field||Cubs vs. Reds|
|Sept. 8||U.S. Cellular Field||White Sox vs. Indians|
|Sept. 10||Miller Park||Brewers vs. Phillies|
|Sept. 16||Target Field||Twins vs. Indians|
|Sept. 21||Kauffman Stadium||Royals vs. Tigers|
|Sept. 25||Busch Stadium||Cardinals vs. Cubs|
O'Donnell has always loved baseball. His father, Jim, grew up near Cincinnati and watched the memorable "Big Red Machine" teams of the 1970s. Jim settled his family in Eagle, Idaho, where Darren cut his teeth as a seamhead.
He was captivated by the 1991 National League Championship Series between the Pirates and Braves and even more captivated by the nightly heroics of his boyhood idol, Ken Griffey Jr. He played Little League and kept going all the way through his sophomore year of high school.
"My biggest regret was quitting playing baseball," O'Donnell says. "My dad was totally right. I should not have quit."
O'Donnell says he's always admired the individuality required to excel in baseball's team setting. "You can't rely on anybody else like you can in any another sport," he says. "In baseball, when a shortstop misses a ground ball, the spotlight is right on him. The same with a guy striking out in a key situation.
"Every guy has to perform at such a high level on both offense and defense."
Last year, while he and his buddies were on a 1,000-mile ride from Bellingham to Chico, Calif., the idea of pedaling to all 30 parks was hatched.
"I mean, you hear all the time about people who are all proud of themselves for driving to all 30 stadiums," O'Donnell says. "But anybody can do that. Why is that a big deal?"
Energized by his idea, O'Donnell began saving money and making plans. He plotted out a sensible schedule. He took the advice of experienced bike-touring friends and opted for the durability of a steel frame despite its 40-plus-pound weight. And he discovered that he was not the first person to take on this ambitious pursuit.
Charlie Hamilton of a Provincetown, Mass., did it in 2004, starting in Atlanta on April 2 and finishing in Boston on Sept. 26. And last summer, an Arizona biker named Romano Scaturro pedaled to all 30 parks, beginning on April 5 in Houston and concluding Oct. 5 in Seattle.
O'Donnell found them online and called them for advice. He got plenty of it.
"He called me up and asked me if he needed a tent," says Scaturro, currently on his way to Canada via bicycle. "I didn't want to laugh at him, but I realized that he wasn't all that experienced. He thought he might get by with a hammock.
"I said, 'Dude, you're going to need a tent, and break out the piggy bank and buy a good one. That's your savior.'
"Hammocks don't work too well in the Midwest. You can't really set one up on two cornstalks. And I also told him to get the best mosquito netting you can buy for Wisconsin. Those things will pick you up and take you away over there if you're not careful."
O'Donnell listened and learned. He purchased a big-league tent and nets and piled 41 pounds of gear on the bike, with rear panniers (luggage compartments that hang over a rack), a sack with the tent and sleeping bag connected by Bungee cords to the rear luggage carrier rack, and a fanny pack tied to his handlebars that holds his wallet and other everyday items. He has two water bottles, a pump, and inner tubes galore crammed into other nether regions of his rolling machine.
He left Bellingham ready to play -- and watch -- some serious hardball.
The wild West was tough in the heart of a cold, wet spring. Even though he took in grand scenery down the Oregon coast, he was broadsided by wind and rain. A mere 40-something miles from his second stop, Oakland, he suffered the biggest scare of the trip to date.
Pedaling through downtown Petaluma, Calif., known to astute baseball fans as the hometown of Reds slugger Jonny Gomes, O'Donnell took the worst of an encounter with slick pavement and an uncooperative train track. He fell, uttered a few choice words, examined his bike, which wasn't too banged up, surveyed his road rash -- a gnarly gash in his knee, a rosy spot on his shoulder -- and got back in the game. He reached his friend's house in Berkeley that evening.
"He's amazed me so far," says Scaturro, who's following O'Donnell, along with a growing number of fascinated online onlookers, on the cyclists's Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Baseball-Biking-Tour/112785048771614) and Twitter account (@Baseball_Biking).
"That kid is tough. It's a hard, hard adventure to do, but he's doing great."
O'Donnell is becoming a bit of a celebrity as the journey spins along. Before he started the trip, he and Jim crafted a letter that they sent out to all 30 Major League clubs informing them of the adventure.
"This trip combines Darren's avid interest in baseball and its unique characteristics with his commitment to bicycle riding as a viable and efficient transportation mode," the letter reads, adding that O'Donnell's ride hopes to promote healthy, active and sustainable lifestyles, including the benefits of bike riding, as well as promoting the benefits of food cooperatives and encouraging support of local food banks and volunteering in one's community."
Teams have noticed and jumped into the escapade themselves.
O'Donnell was invited onto the field before a game at Tropicana Field, where he met pitcher David Price, with whom he had traded tweets, and the Rays' bike-friendly manager, Joe Maddon. The Rays presented him with a jersey bearing No. 11, signifying that St. Petersburg was the 11th stop on his itinerary.
"I woke up the next morning and was like, 'Did that really happen?'" O'Donnell says. "I saw the jersey and was like, 'It did happen! That's awesome!'"
In Miami, after being discovered on Twitter by Marlins marketing supervisor Boris Menier, O'Donnell rolled into another Major League welcome. Menier gave O'Donnell a tour of the club's offices and Sun Life Stadium, showed him the team's two World Series trophies, escorted him into the dugout, introduced him to outfielder Logan Morrison, another Twitter follower, interviewed him on TV and decked him out with shirts, shorts and hats.
And then the pinnacle: O'Donnell got to meet one of his father's heroes, former Reds star, Hall of Famer and current Florida special assistant Tony Perez.
"That was something else," Jim O'Donnell says. "It seems like something great happens everywhere he goes. We're just extremely proud of him. He set his mind to do this, he planned it out, and now he's getting it done. It's fantastic."
But there's no time to celebrate ... yet. Wheels roll on. Darren has more American asphalt to conquer, cities and stadiums to visit, and magic to discover.
For example, he's learned how valuable a smartphone can be. He's been able to do radio and newspaper interviews while riding, take photos, write journals at night and post them online, and get directions and road conditions from Jim and his girlfriend, Amber, who have been in contact with state and city transportation departments.
He's been comped breakfasts and Gatorades by random diner and convenience-store patrons enchanted by his story.
He's begun splurging on inexpensive hotel rooms rather than camping out in abandoned lots or under bridges, having learned that lesson in the middle of Texas when he heard "some sort of wildlife rustling up against my tent ... maybe it was a raccoon or armadillo. I assumed it wasn't an alligator."
He's enjoying all the ballgames and stadiums. He took in the beauty of the ballpark by the Bay from upper-level seats at AT&T Park in San Francisco and correctly predicted a stirring extra-inning comeback victory by the D-backs in Phoenix.
He and Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie have traded tweets about possibly biking to Camden Yards together when O'Donnell arrives there in early August.
O'Donnell has ridden up to 166 miles in a single day and seems to be getting mentally stronger with each leg of the route.
And he's pitching a shutout against America's high gas prices, too.
"He's got the spirit," Scaturro says. "That's the biggest thing, and he's got it.
"I know he's gonna do it."