GOSHEN — Not only have Bryan Stephens and son Josh run into Kevin Costner at the Field of Dreams, they’ve completed their own dream of fields.
Bryan, a Goshen optometrist, and Josh, a Fairfield High School senior, recently made a West Coast trip to games in Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle — capping a quest to attend contests at the ballparks of all 30 Major League Baseball teams.
Josh calls himself “lucky” to have managed by age 17 what remains an ongoing pursuit for many an avid fan. He says some of his earlier ballpark memories are “kind of faint,” given that he and his father’s chase began in earnest when he was 7, but adds that he remembers each stop nonetheless.
"When we did the trip out to Southern California in ’05, that was three far-away ones ticked off right there,“ Bryan said of hitting parks in San Diego, Anaheim and Los Angeles one year after hitting four closer to home, “and that’s when I started thinking this would actually be pretty doable. And then you can tell we got pretty gung-ho the next year, when we knocked off five.”
Some of the trips have been just Bryan and Josh. Others have been as parts of family vacations. Some have included friends. Some have involved flying.
Bryan and wife Holly admit to having had differing priorities for their vacations over the years, but they’ve made it work.
“She’d be like, ‘Let’s go here this year,’ and I’d be like, ‘Hmm, it’s only a two-and-half hour drive over to this park, too,’ so she’s been a trooper,” Bryan said. “When we do have the women with us (daughter Jenna is 15), we stay at a little nicer hotel, whereas Josh and I will stay anywhere.”
One of the trips Holly says she wishes she had made is a 2006 Midwest swing that also included a stop at the iconic “Field of Dreams” movie set in Dyersville, Iowa.
That’s because Costner, the star of the 1989 movie, showed up unannounced the same day that Bryan and Josh were there, and played ball with some of the tourists. Josh, a baseball and basketball player at Fairfield, wound up batting against Costner and fielding throws from him at first base.
“Every single ballpark we’ve been to, there’s like one memory that always jumps out for me,” Josh said. “Either from the game or like when we were in Detroit and it was blistering hot and we dipped our hats in the fountain and put them on our heads. Just stuff like that.”
“I think for me it’s been about family memories and at the same time seeing different parts of the country, meeting different people,” Bryan said. “There are a lot of great parts of America I probably wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t been on this quest. But it’s about time together.”
Often, Bryan and Josh took in multiple games at the venues they visited.
“We’ll sit in really nice seats one game, and then the next night buy the cheap seats, and it’s sometimes surprising, but you have just as much fun up in the nosebleeds,” Bryan said.
“We sat up in the Rockpile for $4,” Stephens added of a Colorado Rockies game, “and that was fun.”
Josh and Bryan, both Cubs fans, each say it’s difficult to rank their favorite ballparks beyond their top couple, because they’ve enjoyed so many.
“It’s really hard to rate because sometimes the experience depends on random factors like when you go, the weather, the seats, the people around you,” Bryan said, “but for me, PNC was so beautiful, and I’ll admit I was surprised. I was thinking, ’Pittsburgh, Steel City,’ but the sight lines are gorgeous and it’s just a great place to watch a ballgame. And Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs) is still up there for me.”
“Wrigley and Fenway are the two oldest, and my favorites,” Josh said. “I just like the atmospheres, and the fans are always into it. After that, three through about 10 would be hard to put in order. Probably PNC, Kansas City, Milwaukee, San Fran, Seattle, in some order.”
Regarding ballpark food, some of Bryan’s recommendations include the barbecue in Kansas City, crab cakes in Baltimore, and cheesesteak in Philly. Josh is partial to those cheesesteaks, and to the Dodger Dogs in Los Angeles and Fenway Franks in Boston.
Given how frequently new ballparks are built these days, and that Bryan and Josh took more than a decade to complete their tour, there are already four current parks — Minnesota, Miami and both New York stops — that they have not visited.
In that regard, their quest may continue.