For the love of the game
RED WING - John Schlegelmilch totes around a box full of memories -- a cache of treasured moments, including a case filled with evidence that one dream can be crossed off his bucket list.
Schlegelmilch, 65, visited Marlins Park in Miami, and Tropicana Field June 29-July 2 to complete the sweep. He has now attended every baseball stadium in America and he has the team pins to prove it.
"I've been really blessed to be able to do that," Schlegelmilch said. "My wife is a supporter of it, an enabler, I guess. It's so fun watching baseball on TV because they show the park and I've been to everyone. You kind of visualize the entire stadium. Watching the games on TV is a little more interesting having been there. It's really something special to be able to say you've done it."
The feat was years in the making as Schlegelmilch, a retired school teacher, picked up his first Jay Buckley's Baseball Tours packet in 1999 after attending TwinsFest. Schlegelmilch, who moved to Red Wing in 1972 to teach elementary school, told wife Renee, "When I retire, this is what I really would like to do."
She told him it wasn't worth waiting to start.
"I thought it sounded really interesting, if possible, that'd be really great," he said. "She encouraged me to live my dream."
That first trip in 1999 sent him to Wrigley Field in Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, Baltimore and New York while also including the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
The oldest of two daughters, Sara, created a scrapbook from that first tour for his birthday. Sara is now 35 and Erin is 32.
"It was fun sharing the stories," Schlegelmilch said.
A lifelong baseball fan and a Minnesota Twins season ticket holder since 1999, Schlegelmilch is a storybook. And he's proud of it, knowing that he can find a connection with even the best baseball aficionados.
"I think it's the history," he said. "I met all these people who had been to all the stadiums. I'd probably been on two or three trips before I decided that would be neat to see them all. I've been on trips where people have been to all the current parks and 30 others, like the Polo Grounds. Some people go really back into the history of the game. It's a good conversation starter. Sharing experiences at the different parks.
"For me, I can remember listening to Dizzy Dean on the Saturday game of the week, it seems like all these parks have retired numbers. It reminds me of the people I used to watch way back when."
The first game Schlegelmilch saw was in 1957, as the Milwaukee Braves took on the New York Yankees at County Stadium in Milwaukee. Hank Aaron is his all-time favorite player.
Schlegelmilch, who helps at the Red Wing Area Food Shelf, also got an opportunity of a lifetime growing up in Crosby, Minn., next to the town baseball field. There were always enough kids to play baseball almost non-stop during the summer, he recalled, but while he was in fifth grade, former Negro Leagues and National Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige came to play against the town team.
Schlegelmilch was a bat boy for Crosby, but the coach told him to go help Paige's team. What happened next helped fuel his love for baseball.
"The first thing the catcher did was throw me his glove and told me to warm (Paige) up," Schlegelmilch said. "I caught Satchel Paige for the three innings that he played."
Schlegelmilch has since visited the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City and he has more than 200 books on baseball. During almost all of his trips with Jay Buckley's tours, he was able to experience museums, landmarks and other tourist attractions.
Schlegelmilch, who retired from teaching in 2005 and is an avid runner, said he rarely skips a day from running and he would wake up before the games to run. It provided him with more ways to experience the major cities.
"It's more than just baseball even though that's primarily what it is," he said. "You get to see a lot of neat cities. You get to see all those major landmarks."
When asked to name his favorite parks, John paused to think of the history behind each stadium.
"It's really hard to say which are my favorite ones because of the history in the places and the people that you meet," he said. "Each park has different things going for it."
Upon further questioning, San Francisco's AT&T Park and Pittsburgh's PNC Park rise to the top.
"That's my favorite park, San Francisco," John said. "It's just special. You can see the bridge and McCovey Cove. Those two, San Francisco and Pittsburg are my favorite two."
Now, the Schlegelmilch family will need to start the next item on the bucket list. It includes plenty more travel but this time Renee might get a little more say. John said the two want to travel to China, go on an African safari and make it to the Galapagos Islands.
"We want to do it before we get too old," he said.
John also wants to run another marathon. He still competes in 10-12 5 kilometer races per summer, but those trips and competitions will need to come before he and his wife vacation in Florida. For what, you ask? Spring training baseball.