Day Eight (Interlude): Meeting King Mike

IMG_2021
Mike, the King of Ballparks, and his good friend Ralph, at the Port Authority Bus Station on their way to game number 8670 for Mike. 

The onset of Day Eight of my Ten Stadiums Ten Days 2019 tour found me on the Long Island Railroad one last time, headed into Penn Station and then eventually to the Port Authority to get on a bus for Baltimore. More on Camden Yards itself in the next post; before we get there, I have to talk about my amazing morning.

y7XCyM7uT1qVRGRc5bgxdg

It started with a solid bacon and eggs breakfast at a stop along my route, the name of which escapes me right now. It was good and greasy, though; just look at it. I felt energized for the impending four-hour bus trip.

And then, I encountered an energy source even stronger than bacon and eggs.

His name is Mike. And he’s been to nearly 9,000 baseball games. I’m not joking.

Part of what I love about doing a baseball tour as opposed to say, I don’t know, an architecture tour or something, is that there’s a fairly obvious way to spot others on that same journey. In this case, I was immediately drawn to a guy in a Brooks Robinson Orioles’ jersey sitting near our Greyhound gate. There didn’t seem to be any doubt that he was headed the same place I was.

It seemed like an easy in, so I of course asked Ralph if they were also headed into the game.

“What gave it away?” Ralph asked.

I mentioned the trip, as I always do, and Ralph immediately pointed to Mike. “This is the guy you need to talk to, right here,” he said. This was the truest statement ever uttered.

Starting in 1963, Mike has attended, and meticulously cataloged, 8,669 baseball games. He’s seen every park multiple times, including 2,477 trips to Shea Stadium. He saw 21 games at both Tiger Stadium and Cleveland Municipal. He hates the Yankees but has seen 2,244 games in the Bronx, between the old park and the new one. He’s seen eight parks more than a hundred times each, including Fenway (215), Citizens Bank (196) and his favorite of them all, Wrigley (127). Actually, I’m pretty most all of these numbers are higher because this was just through the end of 2018. I caught him on the morning of his current trip, his 200th visit to Camden Yards.

Mike saw the Mets play at the Polo Grounds four times in 1963. He was at four games at Candlestick and three at Mile High Stadium. Five wild card games, 77 division series games, 85 league championship games, and 48 World Series games.

My little ten ballparks in ten days trip all-of-a-sudden felt like child’s play.

I tried to cram as much as I could into the five minutes we had before the bus would board. You can hear the full interview with Mike by clicking here. If you listen to the end, he isn’t able to answer my last question about the craziest ballpark sights he’s seen because we were getting ready to get in line for the bus. Maybe next time.

“I’ve been to 60 different ballparks for major league baseball games; every current Major League venue I’ve been to,” Mike told me. “I’m sorry I never got to Connie Mack stadium, I never got to Forbes Field, I never got to Crossley Field, and I never got to Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota.”

The Met was one for which there’s a bit of a feeling of missed opportunity.

“I made a trip in 1981 with a friend and part of our plan was to go to Metropolitan Stadium but he changed the plan on us and we went to Atlanta instead,” he said. “And of course, the network changed the game to an early game and we got to the hotel room, turned the TV on and the game we’re supposed to be at was on TV. So I didn’t get to see a game that day.”

Missing a game is not a good thing.

“When I don’t see a game on a particular day, I’m not a happy camper,” Mike said. “I need my daily fix. I have no life and I have no wife but some guys think I have THE life. It’s all in how you look at it.”

Ralph chimed in.

“He’s MY idol,” he said with a smile.

While Mike still goes to more games each year than 99 percent of people get to in a lifetime, he’s seen fewer games the last few years. Granted, he’s still at more than 200 of them a year, but still.

“My games have gone down every year,” he said. “The most games was in 2013; I saw 266 that year but it’s gone down since. My mother has dementia, and having to look after her and has cut my numbers down a little bit. And the way they schedule everything now makes it more difficult.”

It probably goes without saying that Mike’s seen a number of memorable games over the years. The Mets’ World Series title over the Red Sox tops the list.

“Game six and game seven of the 1986 World Series; that will never go away,” he said.

Perhaps the craziest of the statistics is the fact that he’s been witness to a dozen no-hitters.

“Yeah, I got my 12 no-hitters,” Mike said. “Unfortunately I also saw two Yankee perfect games; I can’t stand them. One was David Cone, who was a really good pitcher for the Mets. It sucked to see Dwight Gooden and David both throw no hitters for the Yankees and not for the Mets. I was at Doc Halladay’s no-hitter in the playoffs. I was at Max Scherzer’s second no-hitter and we were supposed to go to his first no-hitter too, but the weather forecast wasn’t so good so my friend canceled our car reservation. Instead, we went to Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees kill somebody and I was not in a good mood because I missed the Scherzer no-hitter. And work cost me a no-hitter by Jon Lester in Boston. That was a Monday and nobody was home so I wanted to go to Boston. But the guy I was working with was on vacation that week, so I couldn’t possibly ask for that day off. And then I turned the TV on. I put the game on in Boston and I see it’s the fifth inning I see Lester’s given up no hits and I thought ‘this bastard’s gonna throw a no- hitter today because I’m not there’ and sure enough he sure did.”

We were a bit delayed, in part because the original bus was in need of repair. The attendant announced that the replacement bus smelled bad so they were waiting to see what to do. I was hoping that we weren’t going to get on the smelly bus either, but after about 15 minutes it all worked out. I have no idea which bus we eventually got on, but it smelled just fine, thankfully.

I was lucky enough to be granted access to the Holy Grail of binders after asking Mike if I could flip through it during a bus rest stop somewhere in Delaware. “I don’t see why not,” he said. I wanted to make sure that it was OK to take a few photos of it. “I’m not gonna say no!” he told me. This was pure gold. This was the work of an amazing person.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mike later tweeted at me to tell me which section he was in and I stopped by to say hello. Like so many others have over the years, I had a chance to see him in his natural habitat.

The ballpark.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s