I've saved up my vacation time for a couple of years, and my boss was so excited that I was doing this. —Erik Sandstrom
Take a couple big buckets of Major League baseball, throw in an ample helping of United States history, toss in equal parts of LDS Church history and modern-day American spirit, sprinkle it all with plenty of proud patriotism, mix well and what've you got?
A wonderful two-month journey called "Erik and Tanner's Excellent Baseball Adventure," that's what.
And as for those two time-traveling teens named "Bill and Ted" who once (or twice) had their own "Excellent Adventure"? Well, they don't have anything over on this baseball-loving, father-son duo of Erik and Tanner Sandstrom from Riverton, Utah.
Indeed, what began as a quest to see all 30 Major League ballparks in 60 days grew into something much bigger — and much better.
Sure, a love for the grand old game of baseball is the first and foremost reason that Erik, a firefighter for the Unified Fire Authority in Salt Lake County, came up with the idea for this memorable two-month trip to what would become their "Fields of Dreams."
But it has become much more than that. It's been a tremendous bonding experience between a loving dad and his teenage son, as well as a great U.S. geography and history lesson, a wonderful opportunity to see — really see — America and learn more about our country, its culture, its people and the Mormon faith.
Erik Sandstrom, 46, started toying with the idea of someday taking this trip as long as 10 years ago, thinking about how much fun it would be to see all the MLB ballparks in one summer. Four years ago, he started getting more serious about it, and over the past couple of years, he starting putting his plan in motion.
"I've saved up my vacation time for a couple of years," the 22-year firefighting veteran said, "and my boss was so excited that I was doing this."
Eventually Erik began mapping out his route and itinerary when the 2013 Major League schedules came out. But there was one missing ingredient that was essential to making it all happen.
"I knew that if I was going to pull it off, I was going to need a motor home, so I started watching the want ads for used motor homes," Erik said, knowing that the cost of airfare to fly all over the country would be "Astros"-nomical. "In January, I came up with one and I got it fixed up a little bit."
It's a good thing, too, because since leaving Utah on June 17, they've logged close to 11,000 miles on that baseball-binging buggy.
"We'll probably put around 15,000 miles on it by the time we get back home," Erik said.
More than baseball
Today will be Day 46 of their grand slam adventure, which has also taken them to places like Biloxi, Miss. — where Erik spent a week in 2005 helping victims of Hurricane Katrina — to historical sites such as Gettysburg, Pa.; to LDS Church historical sites like Palmyra, N.Y., and Kirtland, Ohio; to the monuments, memorials and museums of Washington, D.C.; and to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, too.
And so far, nobody's getting too tired or cranky yet.
"It's been the trip of a lifetime. I'll probably never get a chance to do something like this again with my son, so we're going to get to do all of these things on the same trip," Erik said.
"We haven't killed each other yet. We're still friends, we're still talking to each other, and we don't sit in different parts of the ballpark," he added with a laugh.
Tanner Sandstrom, 16, will be a junior at Riverton High this fall. Like his dad, who inherited a love of baseball from his grandfather and father, Tanner has grown up loving the game, too — especially the New York Yankees, a long-held family tradition that Erik says is "a requirement."
So what's been the best part of this trip for the teenager?
"Watching the Yankees and being with my dad," he said without hesitation. "In our family, we really love the Yankees.
"All the history that I've been able to see, it's been amazing. Places like Gettysburg, all the monuments in Washington, D.C., the Holocaust Museum, Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, it's just been amazing.
"Fenway Park wasn't a bad place, either," Tanner said. "It would've been pretty awesome if not for the fact that the Red Sox play there."
Ah, yes, spoken like a true Yankee fan.
"The (guest services) guy that we met at Fenway, he's been working there 46 years," Tanner said. "He's seen so many great players, and he has this World Series ring from the most recent one they (the Red Sox) won.
"In Miami, they put the first responders (like his firefighting father) right behind home plate, so that was really cool, too. Lots of stadiums do things like that, and it was something else sitting there.
"But this whole trip has been hot and humid — that's been the story of this trip," he said.
When they return back home in mid-August, Erik said he will work around his wife's schedule and plan a trip for the entire family to see their 30th and last ballpark — Dodger Stadium — sometime later this fall.
The people you meet
So what's been the best part about this experience for the decades-long baseball fan?
"Just all the great people we've met, the baseball people, the ballpark employees and fans," Erik said. "It's been awesome. I mean, we're Yankee fans to the marrow of our bones, but every ballpark we go to, we always find an usher or a guest services person and tell them what we're doing. We ask them what's their favorite thing, their favorite food and their favorite memory at the park.
"Some of the stories we've heard have been absolutely amazing," he said. "A lady at Yankee Stadium said her favorite memory at the old stadium didn't have anything to do with baseball — it was the time the pope was there — and she was still waiting for her favorite memory at the new stadium."
Their trip took them first to Arizona, then to the West Coast from San Diego north to Seattle, then eastward to Colorado and on to Texas, over to Florida and Georgia, and all the way up the East Coast. They've since started heading homeward through the Midwest and, at this juncture, have seven more ballparks to visit before they begin the last leg of their long drive back to Utah, which will also include a stop in Mount Rushmore.
Erik wisely didn't buy game tickets in advance, instead preferring to purchase them at each ballpark on gameday along the way. That way, it allowed him to make any desired changes to their itinerary as needed, relax a bit and not worry about a possible rainout that might foul up their schedule.
"I keep score at every game," he said, "and when the fans around us see me, one of the first questions they ask is, 'Are you a scout?' And I tell 'em, 'A scout wouldn't be sitting up here in the nosebleed section,' and then I tell them about our trip. They always say, 'That's so cool,' or, 'I'd love to be able to do that.' And then they want to know, 'What's your favorite park? What's your favorite team?' and so on.
"We were surrounded by Boston fans at Fenway Park, and when the Yankees started the game off strong, I started jumping up and down and the people around us said, 'You're all right here, but if you were out in the bleachers, they'd probably shoot you.' But when they saw the scorebook and saw what I was doing, they thought it was pretty cool and cut us a little slack."
Each stadium has provided something different and memorable, according to Erik.
"Every park has something unique as far as food goes, and we have found something awesome at every park," he said. "At Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay, we ate some barbecue at the ballpark — it was called Everglades Barbeque — and it was amazing. They were actually pulling the pork shoulders apart right in front of you. I love barbecue, and that's my other bucket list thing: to go around the country and eat barbecue everywhere I go.
"There are different things about each park. Each of them have something unique and cool that you won't see somewhere else. The new ballparks have gone back to the way a ballpark should be — they're not playing football or having monster truck rallies at these new ballparks. The way they're being built nowadays, it makes you feel like you're part of the game and part of the field itself."
And, of course, being diehard Yankees fans, their visit to "Mecca" — Yankee Stadium — last Friday night will stand as one of the trip's biggest and most memorable highlights.
"That was awesome, but the bums lost big-time, though," Erik said. "(New York starting pitcher) C.C. (Sabathia) had a crappy second inning — he gave up six runs in the second — and it's pretty tough to come back from that. But the stadium was awesome.
"When I went to the old (Yankee) stadium, you came in and came out of the concourse right behind home plate, and it was sort of a concrete jungle and then suddenly there's the stadium — the field, the seats, the fences and the green, green grass — and it brought tears to my eyes. It was so cool to see all of that and think about all the history that was there.
"The new stadium is awesome, too, but you don't get surprises like that because it's so open," he said. "All the concourses open around to the field, with the food vendors on the outside wall, so you can walk around and never miss the game. It's very open and spacious, and you don't have that shock and awe of seeing the green grass like you did in the old stadium.
"At the old stadium, if you took out the mystique of Yankee Stadium — the fact that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford and all the other legends who played there, heck even the pope was there — if you took all that other stuff away, it was really a dump, an old dump. The new one is just beautiful. It's so nice and the seats are awesome, and the people were so friendly and helpful. ... It was just way, way cool. What a good time."
Yes, no doubt about it, this has been one Excellent Adventure indeed.
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