Yakima County Stadium, home of Yakima Bears of the Northwest League, Aug. 25, 2002. They have the largest hamburger I have seen, a 1/2 lb. Family burger with a bun of at least 6 inches with the meat hanging out the side, for only $4.75. There is a group of fans on the 1st base side who hang up Ks when Yakima gets a strike out. Then they all chant to the opposing batter “One, Two, Three, See Ya.”
excerpt from Jim and Andrea’s website, baseballroadtrip.net

***

It began, as many great ideas do, with a confluence of mutual inspiration.

Back in 2002, Andrea Siscel was retiring from her job as a medical lab tech for Group Health. Her husband, Jim Siscel, was retiring from a long career as an elementary school teacher in the Shoreline District.

The Lynnwood couple, inveterate baseball fans, were looking for a new diversion in their lives.

“You know what I want to do? See all the ballparks from Single-A through the majors,’’ Jim told Andrea.

“I’ve been thinking the same thing,’’ she replied.

And thus began an 18-year odyssey for the Siscels that has taken them crisscrossing around the country (and into Canada), viewing our nation one baseball stadium at a time, summer after summer, town after town.

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“It was an enjoying and relaxing way to get away from everything we were used to,” said Andrea Siscel. “Just to talk to people all over the country, and spend some time with each other away from any other things that interfere.”

It has been an invigorating whirlwind of crazy mascots, often-unhealthy menu items, and thousands of innings of baseball, ranging from sublime to ridiculous.

“It’s just a great way to see America,’’ said Jim Siscel.

Initially, it was just a three-year plan. The first year, they loaded their brand-new silver Dodge Caravan, started nearby at Everett Memorial Stadium (now Funko Field) on June 23, 2002, and then visited 36 parks in 56 days, all west of the Rockies.

In a photo out of their major league scrapbook, Jim and Andrea Siscel pose in the Montreal Expos’ Olympic Stadium in 2003. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
In a photo out of their major league scrapbook, Jim and Andrea Siscel pose in the Montreal Expos’ Olympic Stadium in 2003. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

The second year, 2003, was the marathon — 117 ballparks in 186 days over six months, putting nearly 29,000 miles on the trusty Caravan as they traversed the East Coast. And in Year Three — 2004 — the Siscels completed their original goal with 33 more stadiums through the Midwest and Texas over 70 days.

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All told, the Siscels spent 312 days on the road over those three seasons, traveled 55,604 miles, spent about $27,000 (an economical $100 or so per day) and visited 186 ballparks.

***

Community America Ballpark, Kansas City, home of the KC T-Bones of the Northern Independent Baseball League, May 26, 2004. A UPS delivery person delivers the ball for the first pitch to Sizzle, the mascot, who then throws it. Sizzle is a red bull who is a good fan interactor. He needed a rest at the end of the game and put his feet up on Andrea.

***

But they just couldn’t stop. In 2005, the Siscels decided to follow the Lewis and Clark Trail for their annual trip, and darned if that didn’t lead them to ballparks in the Pioneer League as well as various independent leagues along the way.

“Then it was, like, ‘We’ve got to go see the Appy (Appalachian) League,’ ’’ Jim said. “And, dang, they keep opening up new ballparks, or they keep moving to new towns. So it just kept going.”

Each year, the Siskels would hit a new region, a new league. The total of ballparks visited now stands at 323 … and counting, all chronicled in impressive detail (complete with photos) on their website. That includes every major-league stadium but one (and they keep building new ones to lure them), every level of the minor leagues, and then a sprinkling of spring training parks in both Arizona and Florida, the Arizona Fall League, three collegiate leagues, and a variety of independent leagues (some that don’t even exist anymore).

Andrea, who has survived two bouts of cancer, doesn’t go on every trip now, choosing to stay home at times to dote on their two grandchildren (and also wisely opting out of any trip that involves overwhelming humidity in the South).

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This was to have been Jim’s last year of the pilgrimage that has taken him to every state with a professional team except Hawaii. At 78, the former Air Force colonel (active duty and reservist) has to admit he’s slowing down a bit — but you wouldn’t really know it.

He maintains a “wish list” of about 30 ballparks he hasn’t visited yet, either because of remote locations (an isolated park in Granville, West Virginia, has proven particularly elusive), or a new park has been built since their last trip, or a team has changed location.

Jim had a trip scheduled this past April that would have taken him from Reno to Las Vegas to Amarillo. It would then culminate in Arlington, Texas, where Andrea was to join him so they could take in the brand-new Texas Rangers stadium — with an appearance by their beloved Mariners as a bonus. In August, he was going to embark on a solo excursion to Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia to knock a few missing stadiums off his list.

But then, of course, COVID-19 hit, throwing both baseball and travel into disarray. All of this year’s trips have been canceled — and so has Jim’s planned retirement from traveling to ballparks. I mean, he can’t stop at 323 when his new goal was to get past 325. This year’s journeys would have taken him a little over 330. So he’s decided to forge ahead again next year, pandemic permitting.

“I still want to get to 325. That’s kind of my goal,’’ he says over the phone. “And my wife is laughing in the background.”

***

Clint Lightner Baseball Field, home of the Garden City (Kansas) Wind of the Pecos Independent League, June 16, 2017: In order to keep the seating area clean cups are provided to put sunflower hulls and peanut shells in. On the right field outfield wall is a sign incentive for the players to win a steak, provided by the host families … When a Wind’s player does something great a fan will say, “Way to go Wind!” The other fans respond with, “Wooosh!”

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***

A new complicating factor is baseball’s plans to contract 42 existing minor-league teams, which greatly frustrates Jim Siscel. That is likely to include many venues that are favorites of the couple.

“It’s just killing me, because I’ve been in all these minor-league parks, and I’ve been in all these small towns, and I see how important baseball is to these small towns,’’ he said.

The Siscels are longtime season weekend ticket holders for the Mariners, dating back to the Kingdome days. In fact, they still have their Kingdome seats from Section 205, which they bought when the park was razed.

Jim and Andrea Siscel sit in the seats they once occupied in the 200 level of the Kingdome when they watched Mariners play there. (Greg Gilbert / Seattle Times, 2004)
Jim and Andrea Siscel sit in the seats they once occupied in the 200 level of the Kingdome when they watched Mariners play there. (Greg Gilbert / Seattle Times, 2004)

When the Siscels go to a new park, Jim likes to wander around for the first few innings, check out the concessions and sightlines, chat up folks and take pictures. Andrea, who grew up playing “workup” on the sandlots of Iowa, and then honed her knowledge of baseball serving as scorekeeper for their son’s Little League team, prefers to concentrate on the actual ballgame.

“I mean, I’m into baseball, but she’s more into it than I am,” Jim said. “She watches the Mariners on TV when they’re out of town. I work on my computer until I hear her screaming and yelling and shouting. Then I run downstairs to see what’s going on. But I really enjoy going to ballparks. I love the interaction with people.”

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***

Warren Ballpark, Bisbee, Arizona, home of the Bisbee Blue of the Pecos Independent League, July 19, 2014. The thinnest chalk baselines ever seen … Before the game the Blue’s players gave their host families bouquets of flowers. Bluemo is the mascot. Jake LaMotta, a lifelong baseball fan, middleweight boxing champion in 1949 and 94 years old was in attendance.

***

The banes of their existence on these road trips are inclement weather, parking and traffic. But those occasional inconveniences are more than made up for by the fascinating people they’ve met along the way, and the quaint, picturesque stadiums they’ve encountered in the most surprising of places.

Like Blair County Ballpark, home of the Double-A Altoona Curve, in Altoona, Pennsylvania. That’s where the Siscels found a delightful park, sunk into a hillside, that features an all-brick façade in front and an active wooden roller coaster behind the left-field fence.

A page from the Siscels’  minor league scrapbook features the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx  of Jackson, Tennessee. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
A page from the Siscels’ minor league scrapbook features the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx of Jackson, Tennessee. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

That’s a favorite of both, as is Asheville, North Carolina (“The outfield is all trees. Just a pleasant little park.”). At the major-league level, Jim picks PNC Park in Pittsburgh for the National League. And for the American League?

“Obviously, the Mariners,” he said. “And I’m not biased on that. Great sightlines — you can see from the concourse, and that’s something in a major league park I think is essential. You’ve got to be able to walk around and see the game no matter where you are. You can do that at the Mariners.”

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But really, Jim says, they’re all his favorites, declaring that there’s not a bad ballpark out there.

“Wait a minute — I take that back,” he says upon reflection. “The Oneonta Tigers of the New York-Penn League. They’re not there anymore. I’ve never seen a ballpark as bad as that one.”

But that’s the exception that proves the rule. He and Andrea have a story, an anecdote, a memory, from each park, all treasured. And as part of the adventure, they would take out their Triple-A guidebooks and find interesting attractions in the vicinity — museums, national parks, battlefields and other historical sites.

“I’m a history major originally,” Jim said. “This was cool for me because I got to see all these things I had heard about, and a lot of them that I hadn’t.”

The Allman Brothers once sang, “The Road Goes on Forever.” It might not for the Siscels, but they hope to keep traveling well beyond the time they end their ballpark mission — whenever that turns out to be. But even then, don’t be surprised if they still take in a baseball game (or 12) in some remote outpost. By now, it’s in their blood.

“We found,” said Andrea, “that people that go to baseball games are invariably nice.”

***

The Depot at Cleburne Station, home of the Cleburne (Tx) Railroaders of the independent American Association, June 13, 2017. For a between-inning activity a fan gets to try to hit the broad side of a barn. They get three swings at a baseball on a T to hit the side of a barn that is towed in to center field. A common T-shirt seen at the stadium has written on itA Small Town With BIG GAME.I enjoyed my evening at The Depot.