They started planning two years ago, though the details began to be harvested in earnest last year. Two huge spreadsheets became their Bible: color-coded teams, schedules, cities, dates, mileage, and lists of friends they could stay with. They scrimped and saved, eventually socking away about $10,000. They downsized their Lakewood apartment and pinpointed a new lease to end near their departure date. Carolyn quit her job, and they stowed all their belongings in storage.
It was a logistical beast.
They dubbed the trip "A Minor League Season" and built a website by that name where they would report on their travels — a diary of sorts, natural since both are writers.
"The purpose isn't really to watch 120 baseball games," says Matt. "The purpose is to talk to the wonderful people in and around baseball all over the country and find their stories."
Just a few weeks into their journey, they already have.
There was Ed Attalla, seven-time Southern League groundskeeper of the year in Jacksonville. Attalla is from Northeast Ohio — they're bumping into more than a few Cleveland ex-pats along the way, all of whom have been predictably helpful. Turns out Attalla still orders his field paint from Pioneer Paint in Cleveland. One day he got a $3,000 bill from the company. He was a little flustered and half-joked that for all that money, they'd better be sending along some Stadium Mustard with his order. They did, and they still do to this day. He gave a bottle to Matt and Carolyn, which they bring along to every ballpark, doling out a little taste of Cleveland to anyone with a naked dog.
There was the GM of a Florida team who told them he had 10 minutes to talk. He ended up spending the better part of an hour chatting with them on his team's opening day.
And there are the folks they've only met online or by phone so far — strangers who have reached out to lend a hand because they think the trip is too freaking cool.
"Most people's reactions are jealousy, and that it's great," Carolyn says with a laugh. "There's a lawyer in Oklahoma City who e-mailed us to say that he wouldn't be in town when we were there, but that he wanted to buy us a hotel room for the night. Now he's telling us he's trying to find a way to get out of his work trip so he can hang out with us. We're helping people play hooky now."
The hotel will be a welcome break. Matt says about half the nights they have a friend or a friend of a friend lined up to house them, but that the other half of their sleeping lives will be spent in the recline position in the Honda. They signed up for the premium membership at ubiquitous Planet Fitness, so that they could have someplace to work out no matter where they are — and, more important, so that they have somewhere to shower.
It's all part of a meticulously planned schedule that, along with the website and near-daily ballgame obligations, makes A Minor League Season less like a vacation than you'd imagine.
"We're seeing a lot of stuff as we travel along, and there's stuff we'd like to see all over the place, but it's hard," says Matt. "We don't have much time to do anything but get to the site in the early afternoon, get our interviews done, write, watch some of the game — which is hard, because we've been talking to employees or have been asked up to the press box — and then take pictures, get on the computer after the game, sit for a few hours updating and sending e-mails. It's a really long day."
The far-flung geographic quirks of the minor-league system also put tight deadlines on the cross-country drive, leaving no room for improvisation. To see a game in Tacoma, Washington — there's no other team within hundreds of miles — it's a six-day commitment to get there and drive back to Salt Lake City for the next stop. Plenty of their sightseeing gets done through their car windows.
On July 25, the duo will return to Northeast Ohio to catch an Akron Aeros game. More than a month will remain on their odyssey, but the brief pit stop near home should be a welcome respite for the weary pair after thousands of miles of hot dogs and press boxes and nights in the car. They imagine it will be, but they're not worried about it yet. The baseball lovebirds are simply enjoying the ride.
"When we started telling people, some said that we're absolutely crazy. We get that," says Carolyn. "But it was the people who said How can you possibly spend that much time together? that I didn't understand. Well, of course we can."