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The journey never ends

Posted: March 31, 2008 2:07 a.m.
Updated: June 1, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Craig Leener is a former Signal Staff Writer. In the summer of 2006, Leener and his son, Zachary, traveled to every Major League Baseball stadium. Leener's weekly Signal column, 30 Ballparks in 63 Days, documented their journey.

Two weeks ago, my son and I headed for Phoenix to take in some Cactus League Baseball and reconnect with the game after its winter slumber.

I was looking for an epiphany.

Instead, somewhere between the resilient Joshua trees lining Interstate 10 and the equally resilient guy hawking soft drinks at an Angels-Diamondbacks game at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the weekend getaway became an opportunity to measure my relationship with Zachary and explore the impact that the previous, larger baseball journey had on our lives.

Our status as baseball enthusiasts was cemented two seasons earlier when we completed the most hallowed of all father-son road trips - a two-month odyssey to every Major League ballpark.

Zak, a Hart High alumnus and working artist, has long been the sounding board and human litmus test for every career change I've made and relationship I've steered onto the rocks.

He expresses his love unconditionally, offers opinions about my work without compromise and has the uncanny ability to combine both qualities when needed most.

One of the best examples of this occurred early in the big road trip with Zak behind the wheel as we headed southbound on an Ohio interstate toward Cincinnati. That's when Signal Sports Editor Cary Osborne phoned to express his uncompromising opinion about the final draft of my first story.

"It's not what we talked about," Osborne said.

What the heck was he talking about?

I wrote this great piece about Justin Morneau's game-winning home run in Minnesota and how Twins coach Tony Oliva grew up in poverty playing sandlot ball on a dirt farm in Cuba. Touching stuff, for sure.

"It's supposed to be about fathers and sons and baseball, like we talked about," Osborne said, deadline looming.

I hung up the phone and started tossing around expletives like peanut shells when Zak pulled me up short.

"He's right," Zak said.

Then he pulled the car off the highway and got out, tossing me the keys for emphasis.

"Here, you drive."

Then something happened. Looking back, it was a defining moment in our relationship. Zak took out a pad of paper and a pen and asked me how I was feeling.

"I'm tired," I shot back angrily. "My back is killing me, I've had a headache for three days, I miss my girlfriend and my stomach hurts from eating too much bratwurst."

There was plenty more, but I thought I'd start there.

"Good stuff," he said. "Keep going."

I watched out of the corner of my eye as Zak dutifully jotted it all down.

This kid, whose biggest concern what seemed like only yesterday was whether to order a Coke or a 7-Up over lunch at Dupar's coffee shop in Studio City, picked up the save by coaxing that story out of me as I drove us to the Reds game.

In the months following the 14,407 road miles that comprised the journey, I've been asked many times how much the trip cost and how Zak and I managed to take that much time off from the responsibilities of everyday life.

The simple truth is the best advice I can offer - I worked hard for many years to put us in that position.

To the best of my knowledge, it cost around $7,000 from the first game in Kansas City to the last one at Dodger Stadium. And if not for the generosity of good friends in distant outposts who offered up valuable sofa space, or the numerous press and photo passes we received along the way, it no doubt would have cost considerably more.

It helped to have an understanding boss like Cary, who gave his blessing to the concept even though it meant being short-staffed for much of the summer.

If I have any regrets about the trip, it was for bagging on venerable Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets - and on Mr. Met, the team's mascot.

Zak and I had the good fortune to take in a Mets game with former Signal Sports Editor Grant Parpan, an ardent fan who served as our game-day ambassador.

After Parpan explained how he felt Shea was one of the last true ballparks in the bigs, I wrote that it was "neglected and worn out" and suggested it couldn't be torn down fast enough to make way for the organization's new stadium.

To top it off, I was overtly critical of Mr. Met, the beloved baseball-headed humanoid. Frankly, I felt he should have been trying to get something going instead of just standing around when his team needed him most. I also called him "the only entity in the majors with a noggin larger than that of Barry Bonds."

Sorry about all that, Grant - except for the Bonds part.

The views expressed in this column represent those of Craig Leener and do not necessarily reflect those of The Signal. He can be reached at


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