Man Passes Through Chicago on Baseball Biking Tour
Darren O'Donnell at Wrigley Field
- By Ryan Glasspiegel
It’s Labor Day in Chicago and the city is showing its first signs of autumn. Darren O’Donnell wears nylon cargo shorts and a long-sleeve red button down shirt with brown patches on the elbows. The shirt was borrowed from a friend with whom he was staying.
Five months ago O’Donnell, a Boise, ID native and Western Washington graduate, began a trek that few of us could ever dream of, setting out to bike to all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums this season. The 24-year old is chronicling his adventure on Facebook and Twitter. His 12,000 mile journey has been featured in the USA Today, ESPN.com, the Seattle Times, Baseball Tonight, and dozens of blogs and local radio stations. I caught a game with him earlier this week at his 25th stop, Wrigley Field.
The only garments O’Donnell carries on this journey are his biking clothes, one set of street clothes, an extra pair of flip flops, and a rain coat. O’Donnell travels with a tent, rain fly, sleeping bag, some bicycle pumps, extra tubes, patch kits, a first aid kit, water, a minimal supply of food, a towel, a hammock, and a charger and battery kit for his iPhone.
Traveling on a very strict budget of $7,000, which includes the upfront cost of his tent and other equipment during his adventure, O’Donnell has subsisted primarily on a fast food diet. enabling him to eat inexpensively and know what he’s going to order. Biking an average of 100 miles a day, burning calories isn’t a huge issue.
O’Donnell only does laundry at stops in cities. This presented an interesting dynamic on long legs between Denver and Dallas (1.5 weeks) and a two-week run from Houston to Tampa. “I’m wearing the same thing every day. I’m not going out trying to impress anybody,” O Donnell said. “Sometimes I do feel bad for people standing in line behind me at the fast food restaurants I go to though.” O’Donnell said he sometimes washed his clothes with soap and water some nights in motel room sinks.
While some nights were spent in motels or crashing with family and friends in various cities, most were spent in a tent wherever O’Donnell felt he would be least likely to be bothered. Many nights, this meant sleeping on concrete without a mattress pad. “It’s not that bad,” he said.
O’Donnell saved for the trip managing a food co-op in Bellingham, WA. He has never owned a car and cited a statistic he heard from a Department of Transportation employee that he crashed with in Pittsburgh that not owning a car enables one to save about $8,000 per year.
O’Donnell was very impressed with Wrigley Field. He loved that ramps, as opposed to escalators, lead to the upper decks, the beauty of the ivy, and that the stadium is not oversaturated with advertisements compared to other ballparks. He enjoyed the lack of a jumbotron - “You actually have to pay attention to the game when there is no replay.” He admired that Wrigley is mostly full despite the Cubs being long out of contention but took exception with many fans’ arriving late and leaving early:
“It’s like Dodger Stadium,” he lamented disapprovingly.
In its purest form, with simple but endless intricacies, the game of baseball appeals greatly to O’Donnell. He loves watching players hustle from first to third and thinks that a hard fought game should end with dirty jerseys. He strongly prefers the National League to the American League because all players have to play both sides of the field and the strategy extends far deeper. “A third grader could manage an American League team,” he said. He has no tolerance for lackadaisical play on the field. On a play where Reed Johnson pulled up on a foul fly ball instead of laying his body out against the right field wall, O’Donnell was visibly disgusted at the lack of effort.
“Show that you want to be the everyday right fielder,” he grumbled, unable to hide his disappointment. O’Donnell is a rare combination of soft-spoken but highly opinionated; he is extremely confident but not arrogant.
O’Donnell planned to attend all three Reds games at Wrigley (the Reds are his favorite team) before heading to U’S’ Cellular Field today to catch the White Sox and Cleveland Indians. From there, he’ll make stops in Milwaukee, Minnesota, Kansas City, and finally St. Louis.
O’Donnell has enjoyed the tour immensely but is excited to get back to a normal daily routine where he can wean off his fast food diet, and wake up and fall asleep every night in the same place.
O’Donnell has saved the ticket stubs from every game he attended on this trip. At its conclusion, he is going to buy a map of the United States where he will trace his route and pin the ticket stubs. He hasn’t figured out how he’ll chronicle his accomplishment to the public but has kicked around the idea of a coffee table book about his journey.
Ryan Glasspiegel is a freelance writer in Chicago. Please follow him on Twitter @Rgspiegel. You can read more of his work here..