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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Father and son in 2006.
Father and son in 2006.
Dad and the West Virginia Power mascot in 2005.
Dad and the West Virginia Power mascot in 2005.

A father, a son and lots of baseball

It all began in the summer of 2003.

That summer, my dad and I starting planning out our first baseball trip. The first year, we journeyed to Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati to see some major league baseball.

Along the trip, we ate some legendary local foods and rode some of the country's most terrifying rollercoasters. Or at least we tried; in a twist pulled straight out of "National Lampoon's Vacation," we arrived at Cincinnati's King's Island only to discover it was closed.

Besides that unexpected snafu, the trip was a wild success and jam-packed full of cherished memories. We knew we would have to do it again.

And we did. We've only missed one year since our inaugural journey (a 2008 high school trip to Europe took up much of the money and time that would normally go toward the baseball trip). Besides that strange summer, the baseball trip has become an integral part of my summer.

Over the course of our eight trips – which have grown out from the Midwest to California, Florida and Washington D.C. – some things have changed. We dropped the amusement parks and roller coasters, but began adding minor league teams to our list of baseball teams to see. This is also the first year that I can legally enjoy a beer with the ballpark hot dogs that make up most of my diet during the trip.

Thankfully, several other elements have stayed the same. For instance, no matter where we go, we see terrific baseball and gorgeous stadiums filled with personality. Most of the best baseball experiences have actually come in minor league stadiums. In Buffalo, for instance, we witnessed a 10-run comeback. In 2005, my dad and I got to see a young up-and-comer named Ryan Braun hit a game-winning home run for the West Virginia Power.

Despite being called baseball trips, however, the moments that truly live on from these expeditions are the memories that I have with my father. There are the outrageous ones, such as getting lost in Pittsburgh or meeting a large portion of the cast of "Twilight" in L.A. There have also been a lot of small moments that still live in my mind, like the small conversations about life that have only become more honest and thoughtful as we both have grown and matured (not too mature, though; farts are still a common source of humor).

One of my favorite memories involves no baseball whatsoever. One lazy night in Cincinnati, we walked from our motel over to a nearby White Castle to snag a bag of burgers and then over to a hole-in-the-wall liquor store for a case of beer for dad and some soda for myself. We then walked home, carrying two mysterious brown bags and looking like the goofiest rednecks this side of the Mississippi River, to gleefully watch Zach Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" remake.

No, it's not a crazy memory, but it exemplifies why the trips mean so much to me. It's just two guys, hanging out, not caring about the world and enjoying one another's company.

This year, our trip is taking us down to Chicago to see the Cubs, the White Sox and a couple of minor league teams in Illinois and Indiana. It's not quite as glamorous as a trip to Los Angeles or Florida, but it's not where you're going that makes the trip great. It's the journey itself. I know that's a pretty trite phrase, but after nine years, hundreds of innings, thousands of miles and millions of laughs, I find it to be pretty accurate.

Next summer, unless something terribly embarrassing happens, I will graduate from Marquette University and become an adult living in the real world with real obligations. I can tell that my dad is worried that this summer, and this trip, will be the last of its kind. I can't promise much about the future, but I can assure him next year, when summer rolls around, I'll be packed and ready to go just like I was in 2003.

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