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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pursuing the pastime: Spokane’s John Renzi is on a quest to visit every MLB stadium this summer

By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

There are 30 Major League Baseball stadiums in 30 cities scattered across the country, with 23 of them east of the Rocky Mountains.

Avid – and maybe more properly – rabid fans close their eyes at night and dream of passing through the turnstiles of every MLB park.

With turnstiles being phased out of most modern stadiums, that dream might not be attainable, but the fanatical possibilities of stepping inside all 30 ballparks remain.

John Renzi was born in San Diego and grew up a Padres fan in the 1960s, though those teams were not the Padres of today.

In the 1960s – until 1969 – the Padres were a Triple-A team for the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies before debuting as an MLB team.

In 2004, Renzi paid to have his name inscribed on a brick at the Padres Petco Park’s Palm Court Plaza. It reads: “RENZI FAMILY … JOHN & DEBERA … MICHAEL & SHAWN.”

The replica sits in his office at home.

All his life, Renzi has appreciated the grandeur of professional sports stadiums, but the parks of America’s pastime is what specifically gripped his heart as a kid.

“That’s the cool thing with the baseball stadiums,” Renzi said. “There’s definitely more life and variety to baseball stadiums than any other sporting venue, I think.”

In the late 1970s, Renzi had an idea – he wanted to visit every MLB stadium.

Stadiums have changed a lot since then; in fact, 24 stadiums have been built since the idea popped into his mind.

MLB has had 83 stadiums in its history.

“The problem was, over the years, the ballparks have changed,” Renzi said. “They’ve torn them down, they’ve got new ones. So, I told myself I just have to do it.”

Renzi worked at Buck Knives for 45 years, including the final 14 years at the Post Falls branch after moving to Spokane from San Diego in 2005.

Over the years, he traveled the country on work trips, stopping to see a baseball stadium if he shared a city with it for the night.

“It’s kind of like anything, as you go on, your life changes, but what didn’t change was always going to baseball games,” Renzi said.

He rekindled his dream after retiring in 2019, but with a twist.

“My wife knew when we got married that I’ve always wanted to (visit every MLB stadium),” he said.

Since Renzi had been to many stadiums, his wife thought he would only have to hit a few more to complete his mission.

“And then I said, ‘Nah, we have to do it all in one season,’ ” he said. “That’s the thing I’ve always wanted to do. Because it’s a challenge.”

Renzi didn’t realize how big of a challenge it would be before even hitting the road.

A few fans from across the country have accomplished the feat of visiting every MLB stadium, but it’s rarer to do it in six months.

With his wife Debbie’s blessing, Renzi began to book flights, hotels, rental cars and tickets for the two of them.

He had even begun writing letters to every team, laying out who he is, and why he is embarking on this journey.

And then, the world shut down in 2020 and his dream fizzled .

Renzi spent the next month canceling every reservation, unsure of when he’d return to a ballpark.

After two pandemic-altered seasons, Renzi was ready to try the 2022 season. But the first MLB lockout and work stoppage in over 30 years between the MLB Players Association and the players squashed the idea, as the season was held in limbo.

Renzi’s golden year was 2023. He had the roadmap of how he wanted to attack the trip, but first, MLB had to release the schedule.

On Aug. 24, MLB announced its 2023 schedule and Renzi’s work began .

With six geographical trips scheduled for the summer, Renzi chose to check off San Diego’s Petco Park first on March 31 against the Colorado Rockies.

This Ballpark Travel Quest map hangs in John Renzi’s home on Wednesday. He is visiting every MLB stadium this summer.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
This Ballpark Travel Quest map hangs in John Renzi’s home on Wednesday. He is visiting every MLB stadium this summer. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

He hit the rest of the West Coast, minus Seattle, on that trip.

“When you live in Spokane, a lot of times I have to fly to Seattle when I want to go somewhere, so I knew I wasn’t going to have a problem,” Renzi said.

His second leg spanned the South, before the region became unbearably hot.

Trip three, his next leg, will begin in Seattle on Monday for the Mariners vs. the New York Yankees. It is technically his East Coast leg, but since his flight leaves Seattle for Boston on Tuesday, he decided to knock T-Mobile Park out while he was over there.

“I knew when I went to the East Coast, I didn’t want to rent a car. I’d just take a train and go from city to city by train. So that’s kind of exciting, doing it by train, because I’ve never done something like that,” Renzi said.

Trips four and five will center around the Great Lakes where nine teams (including Toronto) reside.

His voyage ends with a trip to the Midwest and culminates at Coors Field – home of the Rockies – who face the White Sox on Aug. 23.

The MLB regular season ends on Oct. 1, so why did Renzi cap his adventure before the calendar turned to September?

“I wanted to finish it in August, because if there are some rainouts, I have to find a way to go back to one of those cities, so I wanted all of September,” Renzi said.

One problem he recognized while designing the schedule was that MLB rarely has the two New York or Chicago teams playing at home in the same series. Even though they play in different ballparks, it’s just a scheduling quirk.

“You have to look at that on the schedule when you’re looking at it, that’s one of the things is see how that all falls in together,” Renzi said.

He has waited until the last minute to find tickets because they’re almost always available due to the 162-game season.

It also allows teams more time to respond to the letters he will send out – one to every team.

In the letter, Renzi explains who he is, his affinity with baseball, and how he has always hoped to complete this conquest.

But he never sent one to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Years ago, before Renzi was married, he and a couple of buddies coached Little League.

One of his players relied on Renzi through his high school years for advice and the two have kept in contact ever since.

That former player is a successful businessman in Arizona. When Renzi told him his plans, he said to not worry about anything, because he will handle it all.

“He has a lot of contacts and he told me that he had it covered,” Renzi said.

The Diamondbacks hooked him up.

They gave him a hat and a jersey with his name on the back, and a private tour guide who escorted the Renzis around the ballpark.

During batting practice, they were right next to the cage behind a rope, getting signatures from the players who walked over.

Then when it was game time, he watched from the owner’s personal seats by the Diamondbacks’ on-deck circle.

“The server comes down and says, ‘Listen, everything’s covered for you guys, just tell me what you want,’ so I ordered a hot dog,” Renzi said .

After the game, the Diamondbacks gifted Renzi the game-used first-base bag and promised him the official scorecard from the day.

The Yankees, Red Sox, Astros, Giants, Rangers and Orioles have all given him OKs. He expects a few more will follow suit with tickets at a minimum as the summer continues.

One team that he wasn’t expecting a yes from was the Cincinnati Reds because a buddy who lives in Cincinnati said the Reds won’t do anything because they are “a cheap organization.”

“I haven’t told him they are giving me tickets. I figured I would just let him know later,” Renzi said. “He’s definitely going to be shocked.”

Along their travels, he promised Debbie they would take the time outside of baseball to see family and explore the cities.

“We’re spending a couple of days at Niagara Falls and we’re staying extra time in Boston, Philadelphia and New York, just to see some things,” Renzi said.

Renzi will be building a baseball shrine from this trip in his basement that will include a hat from every team in the order he visits their stadium, but the centerpiece will be the Diamondbacks’ base with some old-fashioned gloves and bats accenting it.

He hoped to have paper tickets from each game, but with every stadium moving to the MLB app for ticketing, that wasn’t possible.

“That project will be for later this summer,” Renzi said. “I’m going to put all of that together.”