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Friday, July 23, 2004 - Page updated at 10:53 A.M.

Couple's 55,600-mile tour takes in nation's ballparks

By Diane Brooks
Times Snohomish County bureau

GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Jim and Andrea Siscel sit in the seats they once occupied in the Kingdome, bought when the stadium was demolished. The Siscels have since seen baseball games in every major- and minor-league ballpark.
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Jim and Andrea Siscel's baseball road trip
The best mascot? Thunder, a purple-nosed, plush green dog who wields a Super Soaker to drench uncooperative fans of the Lake Elsinore Storm, a minor-league team in Southern California.

The worst stadium? Jim Siscel, normally quite free-spoken, hesitated. "They'll hate this," muttered the Lynnwood man. Then he confessed. Charming history aside, the cramped seating and poor sightlines at Boston's 1912 Fenway Park and Chicago's 1914 Wrigley Field just don't cut it from a fan's perspective, he said.

"But don't throw any stones (or baseballs; he already has plenty of those) until you hear him out. He and his wife, Andrea, just wrapped up a 55,604-mile tour of every major- and minor-league ballpark in the United States and Canada, a project that took nearly three seasons to complete.

"It was to see baseball, but mostly it was to see America," said Siscel, 62, who retired from his Shoreline teaching job two years ago. "It reaffirmed for me, personally, what a great country we live in."

The Siscels plan to celebrate tonight at an AquaSox game at Everett Memorial Stadium, where they began their trek June 23, 2002. And for the record: That local ballpark, home to an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, makes the Siscels' top-five list for stadiums in its class — short-season class A.

Longtime Mariners fans — their Section 205 season-ticket seats from the old Kingdome now rest in their back yard — they claim joint responsibility for their baseball-trek brainstorm.

Highlights


Best major-league park: Seattle Mariners, Safeco Field.

Best minor-league park: Altoona Curve, Blair County Ballpark, Altoona, Pa. The park is sunk into a hillside, and an active wooden roller coaster — The Curve — looms above the outfield.

Best atmosphere: Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park, Boston.

Best view from stadium: San Francisco Giants, SBC Park, San Francisco.

Best seats they sat in: Oklahoma RedHawks, SBC Bricktown Ballpark, Oklahoma City; first row behind home plate.

Best sandwich: Kansas City T-Bones, CommunityAmerica Ballpark, Kansas City, Kan., T-Boneless T-Bone Sandwich.

Best promotion: Clunker Night with the Arkansas Travelers, Ray Winder Field, Little Rock, Ark. All ticket holders are placed in a drawing for a donated clunker car; it's guaranteed to run, but everything else may not work.

Biggest warning: They were told not to wear their Mariners jerseys at Philadelphia Phillies games, because the fans might get ugly. They didn't wear them in Yankee Stadium, either.

Best snapshot: The Flower Boy, dressed in a pink nightie, pink satin shorts, hot pink socks and a matching lei, presenting Andrea Siscel with a free bouquet at the Hudson Valley, N.Y., Renegades game.

Worst experience: None. They say it was all good.

Only place they didn't cheer for the home team: Yankee Stadium.

Most unexpected (and now former) Mariner sighting: Ben Davis, playing with the Tacoma Rainiers in Memphis, Tenn. They made a quick call home to learn about Davis' demotion.

Andrea Siscel, a retired medical technician, first suggested they visit all 30 major-league ballparks. Her husband suggested throwing in the 140 minor-league parks.

"It seemed pretty fruity at first. But then it grew on me," she said.

They divided their journey into three parts, starting with a 10-week swing through ballparks west of the Rockies. Last year was their biggest undertaking, a 27-week East Coast marathon, and now they've finished their final round, a 10-week circuit through the Midwest.

Two extra minor-league parks made the list when teams relocated during the Siscels' project. They first saw the Calgary Cannons in 2002, then saw them again last year as the Albuquerque Isotopes. The Orlando Rays, whom they visited last year, became the Montgomery, Ala., Biscuits on this year's itinerary.

The Siscels wound up spending about $27,000 on food, lodging, tickets, souvenirs, gas and sightseeing. They averaged about $100 per day, unless they scored free lodging with friends or at military properties through Jim Siscel's status as a retired Air Force colonel.

But that doesn't include a few basics they picked up in 2002 to launch their trip: a new silver Dodge Caravan, an Apple iBook laptop to maintain their trip Web site and a digital camera to chronicle each ballpark's charms.

Jim Siscel estimates a couple hundred people kept regular virtual tabs on their progress, with up to 5,000 hits per day on his photos and journal entries.

They have just one bit of advice for other rabid fans itching to follow their example.

"Do it!" exuded Jim Siscel. "It's fun. Pardon the pun — but it's been a ball."

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or dbrooks@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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