Record-Setting Baseball Fan Travels on a Minor League Budget

·Associate Travel Editor
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Chuck Booth, left, at Game 101 of his world-record baseball journey, with Oakland A’s season-ticket holders Brian, center, and Tike. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)

I’m watching baseball on a sun-soaked day in Oakland with arguably the most dedicated fan in America, but here in the bleachers, Chuck Booth is playing a fast-paced game of travel planning that not even the major leaguers on the field can compete with.

This late-June tilt between the A’s and Kansas City Royals marked Game 101 in Booth’s world-record bid to attend 219 major league games in 183 days – he’s attending a game every day of the regular season, including 40 doubleheaders. Booth is no stranger to extreme baseball adventures: he set the Guinness world record for being the fastest to see games in all 30 major league ballparks, and he did it twice – in 2009 (24 days), then 2012 (23 days).

The sheer endurance required for this latest odyssey is impressive – I love watching baseball and once drove to seven ballparks in eight days, but that’s a pittance next to this. But when Booth says people call him the Rainman of baseball fans, it’s because of his meticulous attention to keeping a modest budget and knowing all the ins and outs of traveling through America.

Booth, a 38-year-old courier from Vancouver, Canada, who has spent his life on the road, is financing this trip with an insurance-settlement payout from a 2010 car accident, and taking six months’ leave because of a recurrence of concussion symptoms that have dogged him since he had to quit baseball after high school. He’s limited to spending about $100 per baseball game – that includes transportation, lodgings, tickets, and meals – which amounts to $22,500 for the entire journey from April to October.

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Booth at Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. (Courtesy: Chuck Booth)

For those keeping score: Booth must attend at least five innings of a game (the same number as an official baseball game) for it to count. And while there’s no official record for number of games attended in a year, he’s shooting for at least 215 because it’s more than any baseball player or writer could see in a year, including playoffs. You can follow his planned itinerary all the way through the end of the season from his blog (he plans to finish the season at Tropicana Field in Tampa, because it’s a domed stadium and thus rainout-proof).

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In case you’re wondering, Booth who is single, does get the occasional hazing from strangers for his lifestyle.

“My friends know I’ve done these baseball trips for a long time, I get nothing but support from them,” he said. “It’s other people around who think I’m crazy. ‘Why are you spending all your money at that? Why aren’t you staying home trying to recover?’

“I tried that before. Every time I wasn’t at work and had a few days off, sitting around moping and watching TV made me feel even worse. I had to take six months off and I wasn’t going to sit around and do nothing. I wanted to go out and do something every day, and this is the best way I know how. Being able to plan for this since last June has kept my brain activity going every day. … Even now I’m thinking about what I’m going to do tomorrow and making maneuvers.”

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Booth already set the world record for fastest to all 30 major league ballparks (23 days). (Courtesy: Chuck Booth)

I saw this firsthand at the A’s game from our seats in the first row of Section 148 in the bleachers – it’s reserved for die-hard fans pounding drums and roasting opposing players with taunts. With Booth was his friend and local host Tike Narry, a fellow ballpark chaser who was acting as his real-time travel agent that day.

“There’s a doubleheader in Baltimore tomorrow!” was Narry’s update when we arrived, to which Booth shouted “Yes!” and high-fived him. Translation: Booth was to fly to Washington this evening and drive to a game in Philadelphia the next day, but he also owned a ticket to the next day’s Baltimore Orioles game because of the cancellation from April’s riots. Because there was now a doubleheader at Camden Yards, Booth could watch two games in a day and sell his game ticket and parking pass for the Phillies game on Stubhub.com.

But that equation changed midway through the A’s game, when Narry learned that the Phillies just scheduled a doubleheader the next day as well. Now it made more sense for Booth to sell his Orioles ticket because he could watch both Philadelphia games with one ticket and he already owned a parking pass, plus it was closer to his brother’s home in New Jersey, where he spends most of his nights in the Northeast.

If you think that’s getting nerdy with travel, there’s a lot more. Booth learned from his mother, Nancy, who was a budget administrator for Canadian Airlines, and he says, “You have to fight for every inch out there when you’re traveling.” Here are some more tricks of the trade Booth is employing:

Transportation: Booth says he couldn’t have afforded this journey without Megabus: in February, when the budget bus operator released $1 fares through Labor Day, he scooped up 150 trips for $250, covering much of his East Coast travel. Megabus is also partially sponsoring his voyage.

Booth’s rental-car expertise as a courier –  he says he’s driven 350 cars in eight years – has also been invaluable. As a member of Nationwide Car Rental’s Emerald Club Executive program, he says he’s earned 20 free rental car days and is averaging just $14 a day on rentals. He estimates he’s saved $4,500 this way. He also makes sure not to rent cars from airports because of their extra fees.

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(Courtesy: Chuck Booth)

Booth says he’s mostly flying Southwest, which allows free flight changes, and he’s getting two or three flights free with its Rapid Rewards program.

Itinerary: While Booth has a basic game schedule in mind for the season, he keeps a depth chart of games for each day based on where he’s located, “like a Sudoku puzzle,” in case of new doubleheaders he can exploit, rainouts, or other emergencies. For instance, his second game of the year at Chicago’s Wrigley Field was canceled because of weather.

To ease the travel burden, Booth says he’s scheduled 65 percent of his games at five stadiums that are within 100 miles of his brother’s home:  Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia); Nationals Park (Washington); Orioles Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore); and Yankee Stadium and Citi Field in New York. (His two favorite teams are also the Yankees and Nationals.)

Game tickets: Booth said he’ll often buy the cheapest tickets possible off Stubhub and roam the concourse to areas with the least light exposure, because of his concussion symptoms. He’s likeliest to splurge on a good seat at his least favorite parks, such as Tropicana Field.

Lodgings: When he’s not crashing with his brother in Sicklerville, N.J., for games in the northeast, Booth keeps to a budget of never spending more than $60 on a room. He’s spending 20 nights at Hosteling International properties.

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Food: Booth says he once gained a pound a day eating ballpark hot dogs, so he avoids them when possible – he counted 37 dogs eaten so far this year. He saves wherever he can with Subway gift certificates, shopping for groceries, and eating at his brother’s house. He also found a loophole around the “free sandwich on your birthday” promotion at Firehouse Subs: since he was road-tripping that day, he got free sandwiches in four cities.

Parking: In some cities booth uses Parking Panda, where parking lots compete against each other on price, which puts him farther away from stadiums but can cut his costs by more than half.

Income generation: Booth will use eBay to sell promotional items he gets at games, such as bobblehead dolls.

Booth isn’t taking the entire journey alone. He’s splitting costs for 60 games with his friend Scott Bultman Jr. He gripes about some of his money-saving tactics being ruined, such as Amtrak’s price increases on luggage storage, but he says he’s undeterred: “I treat it like a challenge … I like to rise to it.”

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