Several months ago, Matt and Carolyn LaWell, both 28 and both writers, decided to take an adventure to find out what minor-league baseball means today. It’s a large undertaking considering the 120 fully affiliated minor-league ballclubs in America reach into every small town and back road imaginable.
Still, when the lease on their apartment ran out, they put most of their belongings into storage and took to the road. Four months, more than 23,000 miles and 90 different ballparks later, they’re in the home stretch of their effort to capture the culture of minor-league baseball.
At every stop, the LaWells conduct interviews with players, coaches and fans, take pictures and videos to document as much of the culture of wherever they are that night, then post it on the website (www.AMinorLeagueSeason.com) with the eventual goal of turning it all into a book.
But the trip was never really about baseball. It’s about people, and meaning.
“This is much more about the storytelling side of baseball and understanding that as opposed to understanding the game itself,” Carolyn said. “It’s about understanding a place more than the game, in other words. Our goal isn’t to go to every stadium and just watch nine innings. It’s about the atmosphere in the stadium, the game is kind of second nature.”
Both say they are too entrenched in this trip to evaluate it yet — that will take time. But what’s been learned is that people from all over can open up. You just have to ask the questions.
“The one overarching truth is that people everywhere are incredibly generous,” Matt said. “Generous with their time, with their spare bedrooms, with their stories. It’s one small sliver of life in America, but I think it’s indicative of a wider range of things.”
The LaWells, Matt from Hudson and Carolyn from Canton, had a homecoming of sorts in Akron on Wednesday night. Canal Park is No. 90, giving the couple 30 more stadiums to visit in 35 days, most of them in the Northeast.
Ninety ballparks in 112 days so far, and they’ve done it on a budget of only $8,000, saving money by spending about 60 nights with friends and roughly another 40 sleeping in their 2004 Honda Element SUV. Only 10 nights have been spent in a hotel.
“Now, it feels normal,” Matt said after explaining the procedure for sleeping in the Element with sleeping bags, noting you have to open the sun roof when it’s hot. “You get used to it. It’s a little tight, but it’s cushioned with our sleeping bags.”
Sacrifices have had to be made, though. Phone and laptop chargers have been lost. Carolyn says she’s on her fourth or fifth pair of headphones. Socks have come up missing, and phones have been broken.
And for Matt, who has qualified for the Boston Marathon and normally runs about 65-70 miles a week, fitness had to be kicked to the curb.
“We don’t look like it now because we’ve gained a bunch of weight over this trip, but most days I run,” Matt said, holding his stomach. “I haven’t been able to run more than three days in a row out here.”
This trip is about people, and that includes the two in the car for all of those 23,000 miles. Matt says they’ve been perfectly happy.
“If you can’t have a disagreement every now and then with the person you love, you’re probably doing something wrong,” Matt said. “It’s probably stronger now, actually. On the road, you learn what you can and can’t do, what you shouldn’t do, and if we’re lucky we’ll get another 40 or 50 or 60 years.”
The LaWells conducted interviews, took pictures and met with family and fans Wednesday night at Canal Park. Then it’s on to No. 91.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.