LYNNWOOD – Jim Siscel thought a road trip sounded like an ideal way for he and his wife to kick off their retirement. The longtime elementary school teacher just couldn’t work up the courage to tell her.
Before he had the chance, Andrea Siscel approached him with an eerily similar proposal.
She suggested that the couple pack their bags, lock up their Lynnwood home and explore the country by visiting every Major League Baseball stadium.
Jim nearly pinched himself.
“To both have the same idea was kind of neat,” he said.
The one caveat Jim had in mind was to throw in all the minor league ballparks as well.
“When Jim wants to do something,” Andrea said, “he does it all-out.”
So the Siscels treated themselves to a sparkling silver Dodge Caravan and a digital camera and laptop computer to document each stop of their baseball odyssey across the United States and Canada.
Two summers, 172 ballparks and 55,604 miles later, the couple completed their adventure earlier this month where it all began, in the stands at Everett Memorial Stadium.
The same group of students and their families from Jim’s final third-grade class at Echo Lake Elementary in Shoreline that gathered June 23, 2002 to send off the Siscels reconvened to watch Jim and Andrea each throw out a first pitch before the AquaSox took the field.
The pregame festivities were an unexpected bonus for the Siscels and a fitting finale for the kind of tour true baseball fanatics dream of, but don’t have the finances or the fortitude to tackle.
“The response as we were going and met people was, ‘Have you got room in your suitcase for us? In the trunk of your car?’” said Jim, who taught in the Shoreline School District for 25 years.
“When you talk to baseball fans in the parks like we did, it was, ‘Oh man, if only I could get my wife to agree to something like that.’ And it was the same with the women.”
In many cases, women were the bigger boosters. As the trip wore on, Jim became amazed by the scope of baseball’s growing female fan base.
“I’ve seen it a little bit at Safeco (Field), but I hadn’t really realized how much women are into baseball,” Jim said. “That’s really cool. It’s made a great relationship for the two of us.”
Between the two, Andrea is the more devoted fan. While Jim walked around the stadiums snapping pictures and collecting information about food prices and field dimensions for a Web site he developed (www.baseballroadtrip.net), Andrea was glued to the action.
She read each program front to back, faithfully rooted on the home team – everywhere but Yankee Stadium – and chronicled the couple’s trek in a journal.
“My dad was a huge fan and always had a game on,” Andrea said. “I couldn’t tune it out growing up. When we moved out here, we starting going to Mariners games with our kids. When we were able to start affording better seats, it starting growing on me more.”
The Siscels were content with outfield seats at Mariners games until Jim got hold of a friend’s tickets that were right behind one of the dugouts. Being so close to the field made an impression on Andrea.
“After that game she said, ‘I’m never sitting in the outfield again,’” Jim recalled.
Part of what attracted Jim to visiting the 140 minor league franchises was the more intimate setting of the small town ballparks compared to monumental major league stadiums.
“You’re never more than 25 or 30 rows back. Most of the time we sat within 10 or 15 rows and a lot of times in the first couple of rows,” Jim said.
“It was fun seeing the variety of parks, seeing really old parks that don’t necessarily have the amenities today we’re used to. But they’ve got personality. We’ve got some favorites, but every ballpark is unique. Each one’s a little different.”
To evaluate ballparks, the Siscels looked at three main criteria: the ability to see the game from anywhere in the park,. the quality and variety of foods available, and the view of the scenery surrounding the park. Under those guidelines, Jim ranks Safeco Field, PNC Park in Pittsburgh and SBC Park in San Francisco as the best the big leagues have to offer.
Character comes into play when grading minor league parks and Andrea’s top choice is Blair County Ballpark, home of the Altoona Curve, the Class AA Eastern League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since the park is sunken, games are visible from the sidewalk beyond left field. Bordering the right-field fence is a large wooden roller coaster.
The Siscels stopped in Altoona, Penn., midway through the grueling, six-month second leg of their journey. In 186 days they visited 117 parks up and down the East Coast and logged close to 29,000 miles.
The first year they stayed west of the Rockies and saw 36 parks in 56 days, traveling just over 11,000 miles. This past spring and summer they took in 33 parks throughout Texas and the Midwest – which included three repeat visits and three independent league teams – in 70 days and put more than 15,000 miles on the Caravan.
Along the way, the Siscels encountered plenty of colorful characters who were in the midst of baseball-themed vacations of their own, though not nearly as exhaustive.
They crossed paths with three couples who were visiting all of the minor league parks in the Carolinas. In Syracuse, they spotted three fans wearing jerseys that read “Who,” “What” and “I Don’t Know” on the backs – in reference to the classic Abbott and Costello routine – who were in the process of attending games at all of the major league parks.
Swapping stories with fellow road trippers was part of the fun.
“It was really a great trip. Seeing America, talking to people at ballparks. There’s a lot of neat areas out there,” Jim said. “I’d almost do it again in a minute.”