Gaining enlightenment at America's ballparks

2014-07-21T00:15:00Z 2014-07-22T13:58:24Z Gaining enlightenment at America's ballparksBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

John Reimer, who calls himself the “Baseball Buddha” and has been seeking enlightenment by visiting every American ballpark he can this year, arrived at Dehler Park on Sunday to take in an American Legion doubleheader between the Medicine Hat Moose Monarchs and the Billings Scarlets.

“I love going out and getting a feel for the community and seeing how much people know about baseball,” said Reimer, who grew up along Lake Superior in Ashland, Wis. (“the home of the Oredockers,” he notes proudly) and formerly sold medical equipment and information technology before quitting his job and undertaking his long journey through America’s ballparks throughout the Lower 48.

The trip, chronicled at his website, www.baseballbuddha.com, has featured stories from games and Reimer’s impressions filed from hallowed baseball grounds, like Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago, down to the charming and even the less-than-sparkling diamonds in dozens of cities and towns across the nation.

Sunday’s twinbill marked Reimer’s 170th and 171st minor league, high school, collegiate, Major League, Little League or American Legion game since the journey began in his 2004 Lexus ES330 in February. He’s watched ballgames – and, even more interestingly, his fellow fans — at 20 Major League ballparks, including the 2014 All-Star game held last Tuesday at Target Field in Minneapolis. He plans to conclude his journey with the World Series in October. And after that?

“I have no idea,” he said, seated behind home plate during the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader. “I had no expectations going into this, and I don’t have any once it’s over. But I’d love to be involved in baseball somehow.”

He said he thought that because he grew up playing baseball and has been a fan all his life that he understood the sport. But the more games he’s taken in, the more he’s come to appreciate the subtleties of America’s pastime — and to realize how little he really knew about the game.

“Baseball is alive and well all over the U.S., although the food is the biggest disappointment. There’s the same crap everywhere, made by the same companies all over,” he said.

But there are regional exceptions, and Reimer has sampled — and raved about — many of them. At Albuquerque Isotopes games, fans can order Bananas Foster served up in the stands right behind home plate. The Dayton (Ohio) Dragons “serve up awesome food,” he said, as does Target Field.

“A lot of places have brought in local breweries, and that’s nice, but I’m not a beer drinker, so I don’t sample,” he said.

At each stop he does sample what he’s in town for — local characters, and he writes about them on his website and through Twitter, @_baseballbuddha. Through his blog, he has the opportunity to remind readers how baseball has influenced American culture, and vice-versa, he said.

“I assumed that people know the game, but many of them are there for the entertainment,” he said. “I think people need to be educated about the game, the beauty and the strategy. They need to know about Jackie Robinson, Curt Flood (who challenged Major League Baseball’s reserve clause and paved the way for free agency) and Larry Doby (the American League’s first black player and a former White Sox manager) and how they affected the game.”

Reimer said he feels much more comfortable in America’s cozier ballparks than he does in big league stadiums.

“We have let Major League Baseball dictate what our national pastime is,” he said. “The reality is that a majority of kids will never get there. The trip I am on is to see how baseball interacts with America’s lifestyle, and to see if people are still enjoying the game.”

Typically, Reimer sleeps in his car to save money, or with friends who live in a town with a ballpark he wants to see. He first considered the undertaking last year the day his father, who’s also named John, came out of triple bypass surgery.

“Life is short,” his father told him. “What do you want to do with your life?”

The truth was, the Baseball Buddha decided, he wanted to set out on the journey he’s now on.

“I was comfortable with my job, but I wasn’t happy,” said Reimer, who’s in his late 40s. “It took me 20 seconds of courage to go in and give them my notice.”

While he’d just rolled into town Sunday afternoon and thus didn’t have much to say about the charms of the Magic City, Reimer did say he appreciated Dehler Park’s generous sight lines; the statues honoring former coaches and players, including Billings’ Dave McNally, who also had a significant role establishing free agency for the big leaguers who followed him; and the park’s lush, thick turf. One of Reimer’s favorite things to do before a game, he said, is to chat with members of the grounds crew.

Reimer is divorced and has a daughter, Sami, who’s a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His endeavor to learn about baseball and about America has, he said, inspired her to undertake something comparable once she’s done with her studies – say, backpacking throughout Europe.

“With my example, she’ll do it,” he said. “She now has the courage to do it because this was important to me.”

He said he hopes his journey will also inspire others to undertake a difficult but meaningful task. Sometimes fans mistake him for something he’s not — a Major League scout, for example — and Reimer has a good time telling people why he’s really at the ballpark — namely, to enjoy a uniquely American game with people who love the sport as much as you do.

“If you have the passion,” he said, “go for it.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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