Major league fan hits all the parks
Laurel Fant's tour of all 32 Major League Baseball stadiums began with a bus trip to Chicago's Wrigley Field in 1971 and ended at Baltimore's Camden Yards last Sept. 8.
Fant began the tour in earnest in 1992, and the quest started more by accident than on purpose.
"I realized I was hitting a lot of stadiums in the Midwest and a lot of them on the West Coast, depending on where friends or family lived," Fant said.
A relative got Fant pumped up enough to finish the entire stadium circuit.
"A cousin was officially collecting, and I said, 'Hey, I can do that,'" Fant said. "I started (collecting), and I beat him."
Fant, originally from DeKalb, Ill., lived in Arizona before moving to Edgerton after the death of her husband in 1992. Fant works for the Hedberg Public Library and the Rock County Historical Society.
A friend, Peggy McCormick, who lives in California, toured with Fant and handled travel logistics.
"Fortunately for me, my friend is very computer savvy and spends a lot of time looking things up," Fant said. "She flies a lot for her job, and she saves the miles so our hotels have been free the last four or five years.
"It makes a big difference," Fant said. "Then we spend our money on good tickets."
Even with a sharp eye on traveling options, team schedules and travel plans didn't always fit together.
"We tried last year to do Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia, which were my final three," Fant said. "They are all like a two-hour drive from each other, but to try to get to all three with home games in the same weekend happens maybe once a year."
Fant learned that no matter where she traveled, baseball fans are baseball fans.
"I think they are all the same," Fant said. "They are for their team. Some maybe a little more intense than others, but they seem the same."
Fant didn't play favorites.
"When the Cubs aren't playing, I'm kind of an equal opportunity fan," Fant said. "I clap for everybody if they make a good play."
Fant's worst seats were at Fenway.
"But they had a wonderful tribute to soldiers that day, so that made it fantastic."
Fant toured behind the scenes at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.
"We got to sit in the owner's seats and President and Mrs. Bush's seats right behind home plate." Fant said. "We went to the luxury boxes, in the dugout and out on the field."
Fant only has to look at programs she saved over the years to recall the players she watched at various ballparks.
"I pulled a lot of my programs out," said Fant, who kept score at each game. "I looked at a program for 1973, and it had Pete Rose and Johnny Bench and Ken Griffey and Bobby Bonds.
"I know the older players better than the newer players," Fant added. "The newer players are old enough to be my children."
Fant's memorabilia includes scorecards, tickets and the pencils she used to mark scores at each game.
"I keep the tickets," Fant said, adding that tickets bought online are not as personal. "Now they're printed out, and that's not nearly as fun."
A collection of team pencils is Fant's prize possession.
"I wanted something cheap and portable," Fant said with a laugh. "I have all the pencils."
Weather was a factor several times. A trip to Houston was washed out by a hurricane.
"I told my friend that Houston is an enclosed stadium, but she said, 'It's a hurricane!'"
Fant closed the book on her journey after she marked her last out in Baltimore.
"My friend was telling everybody in the area about it," Fant said. "One of the ushers, who was very excited, took pictures. It was fun, and I just thought, 'I did it, I did it."'
Fant likes to arrive early at the stadium and stay until the final out is marked in her scorecard.
"I generally keep score, and so I usually stay to the end of the game," she said. "I don't like to leave early unless there is a really good reason."
Fant's least favorite venue is the new Yankee Stadium in New York.
"It's so big and so commercial. It's not cozy," she said of the stadium that opened in 2009.
Her favorite? It's no surprise.
"Wrigley. That was my first stadium, and I've been there the most," Fant said.
Ken Veloskey is a sports writer for The Gazette.