Home plate is where the heart is

By on August 15, 2018
The Stauffer five, including (back row, left to right) brothers Kevin and Keith, along with (front, l-r) Keith’s sons Julian, Nicolas, and Andrew, are shown outside of Dodger Stadium on their trip to the west coast in 2013.

The Stauffer five, including (back row, left to right) brothers Kevin and Keith, along with (front, l-r) Keith’s sons Julian, Nicolas, and Andrew, are shown outside of Dodger Stadium on their trip to the west coast in 2013.

Stauffers visit all 30 MLB ballparks in six years

As a lifelong Dodger fan, Kevin Stauffer naturally has a bias toward his club.

And those feelings didn’t change at all once he visited Dodger Stadium five years ago.

“It’s a great stadium,” the 1980 Warwick grad said. “I think it’s the single best view of any of the 30 stadiums.”

That’s just Kevin’s opinion, however. Brother Keith and his three sons, Andrew, Nicolas, and Julian, all had their own favorites from a baseball odyssey to all of Major League Baseball’s ballparks.

For six consecutive summers, from 2012 to 2017, the Stauffer boys indulged in America’s pastime, getting a first-hand look at the Green Monster at Boston’s Fenway Park and McCovey Cove at San Francisco’s AT&T Park and all points in between.

“We all just had a blast,” said Keith, a 1987 product of Warwick High School. “It just built up steam as we went on and every year, we all were in anticipation of the summer and what we called the baseball trip. It just became our routine for six years.”

It was actually Keith who had the brainstorm to plan this adventure. Admittedly not a huge baseball fan, he hatched the idea to spend quality time with his kids and to experience a fun journey.

“Six years ago when the three boys were, like, 5, 7 and 10 years old, I thought, ‘Man,that would be a handful. I can’t do it on my own,’” Keith recalled. “I went to my brother — he’s single and a great uncle and loves my kids and he’s a big baseball fan. I pitched the idea to him and said we need to be all in for six years if we want to do it, and we were.”

Year one, staying in the northeast, took them to Fenway, then to Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, and finally onto the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“Each summer, it pretty much worked out to a week,” said Keith, a finance executive who moved to New Jersey last weekend to work for Coty, a beauty care company in New York City. “Maybe it was both weekends on either side, but it never went beyond a week.”

Being able to enjoy the look of awe in his nephews’ eyes as they checked off one destination after another created a lot of special memories for Kevin. Baseball is a passion for the three youngsters, as Andrew helped to lead his Lancaster team to the LNP Midget semi-finals in 2017, while Nicolas and Julian are still playing at their age levels, having recently returned from the Cal Ripken Camp.

“I see the similarities with the romanticism with sports and baseball, particularly, as in Field of Dreams, something like that, and seeing the wonder in the boys’ eyes for six consecutive years,” said Kevin, an HR manager for GSM Roofing in Ephrata. “Just the look on their faces, at certain points during the trip, was just special.”

In the summer of 2013, the Stauffers headed to the West Coast, traveling north to south in California to catch the San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, Angels of Anaheim, and San Diego Padres.

A lot of Keith’s enjoyment came from the logistics side of things and planning everything out, and he said they were charmed to have the pieces fell into place with teams playing at home at the right time.

“We feel very fortunate on many fronts,” Keith said.

Alas, though, the six-part journey was more than just about baseball. On off days, or as schedules permitted, they made side trips to see various slices of America, including Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, the St. Louis Arch, Niagara Falls, and the Grand Canyon, just to name a few.

“You name it, we saw it,” Keith said.

Year three took them to six ball parks in the Midwest. Flying into Minneapolis, the Stauffers saw the Minnesota Twins play, then hopped in a car to drive to Milwaukee, then to Chicago to see the Cubs at historic Wrigley Field and the White Sox, and finally onto St. Louis and Kansas City.

As part of their routine, they got to the ball parks as soon as the gates opened, usually about two hours before game time. Once inside, Andrew, Nicolas, and Julian made a dash to get batting practice balls and interact with the players. With Keith’s wife being from Puerto Rico, they knew how to speak some Spanish, which was advantageous to get the attention of Latino players.

“They knew the drill. We weren’t worried about them getting lost or anything,” Keith said. “They knew where our seats were and all that. We had that planned.”

It was in Milwaukee where Nicolas was able to get 1-on-1 along the left field foul line with Donegal High School product Chris Heisey, who was playing for the Cincinnati Reds at the time.

“They got pretty proficient at getting autographs and stuff,” Keith said. “(Chris Heisey) is the one I remember because we were just so excited to get his autograph with him being from around here.”

Heisey ended up playing outfield in that game, and the Stauffers looked on with dread as the Lancaster native committed two errors in the Reds’ 5-2 loss to the Brew Crew.

“We kept saying it was our fault,” Kevin laughed, “because they were the most hideous errors on simple plays, and we thought his mind was elsewhere in that game.”

Kevin, himself, claimed a prized autograph in the sixth and final year of their adventure while preparing to watch the Braves beat the Diamondbacks 8-5 in Atlanta. Working his way up to the SunTrust Park press box, hoping to meet his childhood hero Don Sutton, who is now a Braves’ broadcaster, Kevin was shocked when he turned the door handle and got inside.

“I’m thinking, ‘Well, it’s one of those scanners, it’s going to be locked,’” Kevin recalled. “I walked in, and I think it was a security guy and a woman there, and they go, ‘May I help you?’ I said, ‘I just wanted to see if I could shake Don Sutton’s hand.’ And they go, ‘Well, he went out to eat.’”

The opportunity presented itself, though, to strike up a conversation with the two attendants, enabling Kevin to gain some points while sharing that he was on a baseball trip with his family. Eventually, the security guard again checked on Sutton’s whereabouts and encouraged Kevin to wait outside until he returned from dinner.

Only a short time later, the Baseball Hall of Famer happened by and Kevin was able shake hands with him, then get a photo taken and have Sutton sign his 1966 Topps rookie card.

“That’s a capper. I’m not an autograph hound or anything like that, but it just presented itself and I couldn’t believe it,” Kevin said.

Prior to going to Atlanta, the Stauffers knocked off the Great Lakes region in the summer of 2015, seeing the Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates, and then the following year, they did the southwest, flying into Dallas to see the Texas Rangers, then driving to watch the Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks.

Behind the wheel from Denver to Phoenix was the largest chunk of their 7,200 miles total miles on the road, allowing them to see the Grand Canyon during their stay in the desert. They also flew 16,700 miles over 15 flights.

“We flew when we had to fly and we drove when we could drive,” Keith said. “One thing we did agree to up front is we would not skimp on the quality of seats we got. We said, ‘OK, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right.’”

Of course, their sixth and final year also included a drive from Atlanta to Florida, where they saw the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins.

Last but not least, they caught a cross-country flight to Seattle to see the Mariners play at Safeco Field.

“That was our finale last summer was number 30 in Seattle,” Keith said. “We had a blast. I got what I wanted to get out of it, which was the enjoyment of accomplishing something like that together and seeing a lot of America together and going to all the ball parks and hanging out and doing everything that we did.”

By the time they returned from the Emerald City, Keith’s oldest son, Andrew, was 15 years old, and to his father’s relief, he wasn’t sick of baseball — or the adventure.

“We didn’t know six years ago how my boys would develop over a six-year period,” Keith said. “I thought, ‘OK, six years from now, is going to care anymore? Is he going to rebel and not want to go with us?’ Fortunately, it didn’t go that way.”

When all was said and done, Kevin invested three months doing a hard-cover book from their six-year quest, encapsulating their memories over 150 pages and 364 photographs. Each of the five in their traveling party received a copy on Christmas Eve last December.

“My brother is a big numbers guy and keeping track of everything,” Keith said, “and it’s an awesome book.”

There is even a section in the book where the Stauffer five list their favorite ball parks. And yes, Dodger Stadium made the cut.

“I would say the common three would be the ones you would think — Fenway, Wrigley, and Dodger Stadium are probably, if you averaged our five rankings, the top three because of the nostalgia,” Keith said.

Speaking of nostalgia, the Stauffers will always look back on their accomplishment with exactly that.

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