MLB 2023: Matt’s 30 in 35 Challenge

I’m not quite sure how old I was when I decided that I liked watching sports. One of my first memories was from the 2002 World Cup when time differences meant that a lot of the games kicked off early in the morning. I would have been in primary school at the time, and I vividly remember being part of a large group crowding around a CRT TV in the tiny dining hall to watch England’s quarter-final match against Brazil. I don’t have any memories of the game itself (although I’ve seen the clip of Ronaldinho lobbing the ball over David Seaman countless times since), but it definitely taught me the lesson that football (and sports in general) was a really big deal. I would like to think that day was the beginning of a beautiful obsession in my life.

It probably helped that I was terrible at playing sports myself, so the only option I had was to watch and live vicariously through others. At one point, having been dropped off at a football ground early while my parents went to visit my brother, I decided to have a kickabout with some friends in the car park. After deciding that I was good enough to do some skills (I wasn’t), I went head over heels on the rough gravel surface and broke my wrist and my ankle simultaneously, resulting in a trip to A&E which caused my entire family to miss the game. I don’t think I was the most popular person that day.

I also managed to fall over playing hockey during the one appearance for my school, and so when we were given options, I picked cross-country running instead. The only issue there was that I was an extremely slow runner. I knew that I couldn’t embarrass myself falling over if I was sat in a seat watching other people play sports, so I ended up becoming more of a spectator than a player.

I’ve always had an addictive personality. From the early days of watching Reading FC, I started to think about somehow “completing” a goal. First, it was attending every home game of the season, and soon it grew to seeing as many away matches as I could before I eventually settled on the holy grail of football fans – visiting all 92 league grounds.

Trying to tick off the yet-to-be-visited stadiums became an absolute obsession for years, before I eventually completes the mission in 2017. Having graduated that morning, I frantically drove back to my parents’ house near London before travelling up to Sunderland with my dad to watch what was ultimately a brilliant match of football. Mission complete. But what would be the next thing to aim for?

Well, unlike in American sports, where franchises are fixed, English sports leagues are based around promotion and relegation, so as soon as I’d been to every ground in the top four divisions, new teams appeared, and I had more places to visit. Trips to the glamorous locations of Sutton, Hartlepool, and Barrow-in-Furness did little to dampen my enthusiasm, and it wasn’t long before I was starting to look at other sports for another goal.

A few of you might be wondering why I chose to start an article about baseball with some football stories, but I think it gives a bit of an insight as to why I began to fall in love with sports in the first place. In 2016, I enjoyed an epic road trip through France following the Welsh football team at the European Championships, and I wanted to celebrate finishing my teacher-training course the following year with another big summer holiday.

After some careful planning, I settled on visiting three parts of the United States. San Francisco had always appealed to me, and after British Airways launched a new route to Oakland with some cheaper fares, it became the first stop on the trip. Having finished watching Breaking Bad the previous year, my addictive personality forced me to visit Albuquerque, and my interest in space led me to conclude the trip in Houston.

Wanting to fill my evenings, I’d booked a trip down to San Jose immediately upon arrival to watch the Earthquakes play in the MLS. I also decided that it might be fun to watch one of the major American sports, but with it being the wrong time of year for American football and hockey and the Golden State Warriors of the NBA being out of town, I settled for a baseball game. Tickets were cheap, and Oracle Park (then AT&T Park) was a short walk from my budget hotel, so after a morning spent on an open-top tour bus, I attended my first ever MLB game. And so, on 25 June 2017, when the New York Mets beat the San Francisco Giants, I became a baseball fan.

Little did I know how much I’d enjoy watching the game. I was confused by a lot of what I saw (I didn’t understand why there were coaches on the field wearing uniforms or what the different types of pitches were), but I remember the crack of the bat hitting the ball and the speed that outfielders could throw it back.

Above all else, I remember the sheer Americana of it all. Food vendors walking up and down the stands selling popcorn and beer, the seventh inning stretch, the organ player; all of it reminded me of the classic movies and cartoons, and I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that as soon as I got back to my hotel that night, I went straight onto the Giants’ website and bought tickets to the next two home games. My second day in America, and I was already hooked.

I’d always planned to visit New York the following year, but when I realised that the Giants would be there on a road trip at the end of August, I knew I had to time my holiday to catch those games as well. In a poetic sort of way, my second visit to the United States meant I saw exactly the same matchup as my first-ever game, except this time, I knew what was going on.

Another year later, in 2019, Major League Baseball brought The Show to me – the London Series being an exciting opportunity to see superstars like Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts in the UK, and suddenly I was a full-on fan. A subscription to MLB TV followed, and waking up at 4am to catch a game began to become a routine before work.

In 2022, I took advantage of a free week to fly out to Boston to visit Fenway Park and tick an iconic ballpark off my bucket list.

Walking down Lansdowne Street, at my first baseball game in the USA for four years, was an absolutely glorious experience. The smell of hot dogs and beer permeated the air, and various bars had patrons spilling out onto the street. There were fans for as far as the eye could see in every direction and a palpable sense of excitement for the game that was to come. I’d forgotten quite how special it was.

I also managed to fly down to Philadelphia in the same trip to watch the Giants win a series against a Phillies side that would later go on to take the National League pennant, and my trip was made extra memorable by catching a foul ball hit by Joc Pederson without having to leave my seat.

Before this most recent trip, with the pandemic starting to wind down, the obsessive side of me began to take over, and I started to plan another epic road trip.

30 teams in the Major Leagues seemed like such an achievable number to visit – after all, I’d done 92 different stadiums in the United Kingdom, which was over three times as many. Being a teacher, I knew that I’d have a limited time to visit (about six weeks during the summer holidays), so some intensive planning was needed.

I knew 2021 would be a write-off thanks to continuing pandemic restrictions, and the potential work stoppage in 2022 would also shelve those plans. That meant that 2023 would be the target date, which seemed a long way off at the time. Two years of saving up followed before the season’s schedule was released in late 2022. After hours of routing and re-routing, I had a plan in place.

And so this summer, I am planning something that can only be described as completely and utterly mental.

At the end of July, I’ll be jetting out to New York City to watch the Yankees and Mets play home games in consecutive days before travelling from city to city over the space of five weeks to see every single Major League team play a home game.

I’ve been excited about it for months – even though it’s still half a year away – and I’m hoping some of you might be interested enough to follow my journey. I’ll be sharing updates on social media (and hopefully via Bat Flips & Nerds website), so you’ll have a chance to see another fan visiting your team’s ballpark and watching your favourite players take to the field.

There’s something iconic about a great American road trip. So many movies and books have been made about crossing this massive country, taking in the cities, the deserts, the mountains and the swamps.

When I was still completing the 92, I thought nothing of driving halfway across England, but these four-hour drives to Yorkshire were nothing in comparison to the size of the United States. People in Texas could drive twice as long and still be in the same state, and flying from New York to Los Angeles requires over six hours in a plane – further than London to Baku, a flight that crosses almost all of mainland Europe. The sheer size of the country is difficult to grasp for a non-American like me, so perhaps I don’t know what I am getting myself into, but it will be one hell of a challenge.

And this is where you join me. I realised that some people might be interested in following a hapless Brit navigating the United States to take in all 30 Major League ballparks in 35 days.

Hopefully, this is the start of a regular feature where I can share my journey with you, crossing the country and watching the world’s best players over one epic summer. I hope you enjoy my 30 in 35 challenge.

Matt Morris is a guest contributor for Bat Flips & Nerds. Follow Matt’s progress as he embarks on this extraordinary adventure @30in35Challenge

Images supplied by Matt, with the exception of the Buster Posey action shot by Jason O. Watson

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