Updated: Mar 3
The eve of any great journey always brings about reflection. Just three years ago, I found out that my great grandpa's picture is in the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Much has happened since that discovery. New discoveries have been made and pride in my great grandpas has been reinvigorated again and again.
There is so much to discover on this journey I'm about ready to burst with exuberance as I watch the sunset on the planning stage of my journey. Now is the time for action.
At last, the day has finally arrived! Looking back on it, I've been looking forward to this trip for decades, where I could just throw caution to the wind, crack open my vast library of Adventures in Odyssey and set out on the open road, exploring America.
The day began with intent. Intent to see the Great Salt Lake at sunset. For 13 straight hours I drove and I drove and I drove some more, all the while seeing great mountains and incredible landscapes that no mere photograph can ever do justice. The rolling hills of Auburn, California were majestic as ever.
There came a point of time where I kept hearing this high-pitched noise coming from my car. Concerned, I pulled over and got out my car only to hear the same noise coming every time a car passed by. It turns out that it was the uniquely shaped stones on the mountain nearby. It was my first little adventure in the great state of Nevada.
As I went further still and drove my miles and miles of desert, I couldn't help but imagine Wile E. Coyote charging after the Road Runner in plains very much like the ones I was driving through. As Nevada changed to Utah, I saw plenty of small lakes by the mountains. It got to the point where I almost felt like the road I was traveling on was more of a natural bridge. The further I got into Utah, the more mountains I saw covered with snow at the very top. It made me crave Belgian waffles! Alas, I was unable to see the Great Salt Lake at sunset but was able to take a grainy picture from a distance.
No worries. The best is yet to come!
Today I learned that there will be no such thing as a mundane day on this trip. I passed by a lot of dessert and a lot of farms. I saw more roadkill of deer (two) than I've ever seen in my life. I've seen majestic mountains that were clearly molded by God and I've seen flat land. Lots of flat land.
While California battles a drought, Wyoming has nothing to worry about. As the first rain drops dripped away, I was hit with a huge case of nostalgia. While I was growing up, my family would venture up to Dorrington, California for some fun in the snow at my grandparent's cabin over the Christmas break. Going back home, it always seemed to be raining and while it rained we would be quietly listening to Adventures in Odyssey, a book on tape or some other form of family entertainment.
During those moments, I remember watching the raindrops fall on my window, my face often pressed against the cold plexiglass, all the while wishing that that moment could go on forever. Looking back on it, I think I was hoping to one day cross America by car, alone. For some reason, this suited me quite well.
Of course, after the nostalgia hit, a monsoon hit my car with a great deal of force. And to make matters worse, I was directly behind a large cement truck and we were both going through a construction sight with a lot of detours involved. Somehow, my life was spared for another adventure. And for good reason too! For tomorrow, I visit Chicago!
Phew! What a day! I began the day very much wanting to visit so many great, significant sights in Chicago. Unfortunately, it began to derail almost as soon as I woke up. On a day when I should have left at around 6 am, I ended up leaving Lincoln by 8:45. Now, some of that extra time was well spent as I visited the Germans from Russia Historical Society, a homage to my great-grandpa Jack who happened to be a German from Russia.
After that brief visit, I set of on my race to Chicago. On top of all that I wanted to see in the Windy City, I ultimately planned on attending my first Cubs game at historic Wrigley Field. All was mostly going to plan until I spotted an unplanned adventure while on the road. John Wayne's birthplace. The detour only lasted 28 miles, but it was worth every minute spent and every mile treaded. The quant little town of Winterset, Iowa symbolized everything good in America. The people were more than just friendly, they were warm and genteel, truly caring where you came from.
From there, my journey to Chicago continued. Mile after mile, brought about nothing but farmland and great fields of pasture. Finally, I reached the Mississippi River where I stopped for a couple of more-than-expected scenic pictures. For the first time in my life, I realized just how vast the great river is. From there, my sole focus was on just reaching Wrigley Field. I had run out of time for everything else. After another couple of hours I finally reached it: Chicago.
The traffic was unexpectedly brutal. Okay, I was naive, as usual! However, after wading through highly congested traffic for the longest time, I reached the game. I traveled by bus from a remote location and was dropped off just a couple of blocks from the stadium. The couch potato in me griped and moaned about walking those two blocks, but I'm a history buff and I've always been intrigued with older architecture. Despite being late for the game, it was a pretty special walk. Even the cemetery was beautiful and you could feel the character of the home owners in each and every front yard. In every sense of the phrase, it truly brought one back to a simpler time.
I've studied the history of the stadium on and off for some time now and didn't expect it to look and feel like it was 108 years old. I was not wrong. Though the structure was small, it was grand, fitting in well with the neighborhood. The game was excellent, with the Cubs winning in the 10th inning on a walk-off sacrifice fly.
After the game and a brief, unsuccessful attempt at seeing Soldier Field at night, I drove to South Bend, Indiana, home of the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It was there that my journey encountered its first significant roadblock. Apparently, the website that I had used to make my hotel reservation had yet to mention that the hotel did not, in fact, have 24-hour front desk service, a critical factor for my trip. With so many long drives, I never know for certain when I'm going to reach my destination. I desperately needed that cushion of security. Seeing that it was already 3 am and that I would have to wait four more hours before I could see anyone, I slept in my car.
After an extremely fitful night of sleep, I arose at 7 am sharp, not wanting to waste a precious minute in bed. The hotel manager told me that even though I had already made reservations for the night before as well as for that night, I could not check in until eight hours later. I left in a huff. It was in that moment that I had clarity about a situation which would have proved to be difficult, even with proper rest. I had previously made reservations for a tour of the Cleveland Guardians' Progressive Field on Friday at 10:30. If I had stayed in South Bend through Thursday night, I would have had to leave at 6 am just to have a chance at barely making the start of the tour. Thursday morning was more than just a little difficult, but it should prove to be bountiful in the days ahead.
To start off my day the right way, I headed over to Highland Cemetery, where the legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne was buried. After a considerable amount of time searching for his grave, I found it as well as the memorial located just across the path. While standing at the great coach's gravesite, I sang the Notre Dame fight song.
From there, I moved on to touring the University of Notre Dame. It was an incredible opportunity, seeing all the hard work that generations of workers had put into the campus. It seemed like every square inch of the university was meticulously planned, with not a strand of lawn out of place. The buildings were majestic and the people were friendly. What more could a tourist ask for? I then left for Cleveland where I wait for Friday to begin, with new adventures on the horizon.
The day began much more calmly than the previous four days. For once, I had the time to spend looking at emails and briefly meandering around the hotel room, resting for the day ahead. I left when I should have left but my lack of direction in unfamiliar territory proved to be my undoing time and time again throughout the day. As a result, I barely missed my scheduled tour of Progressive Field, the home of the newly christened Cleveland Guardians.
The staff was more than considerate and said that I could take the tour the next hour with no additional charge. So I spent some time wandering around Cleveland, visiting the Browns' team store and taking negative selfies in front of the Cavalier's arena while wearing my Golden State Warriors hat.
When the hour passed by, I went back to Progressive Field where I got my own private tour. Bob, my tour guide, was extremely knowledgeable of the building and the team's history while taking me through the press box and the visiting team's clubhouse. He even found some loopholes to get me into the visitor's and home team's dugouts as well as the Guardian's batting cages where Franmil Reyes was taking some swings.
After the tour, I took off for Buffalo. I first stopped in Highmark Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills. It was a lovely, quiet facility located in a fairly rural location outside of the main city, a rarity in an age where so many stadiums serve as the epicenters of major cities. I then made my way over to the founding location of buffalo wings, Anchor Bar. Even with blue cheese dressing, those wings were dynamite and the staff was all smiles as they witnessed me sweat through the mild wings.
After that scrumptious meal, I went over to where Buffalo's War Memorial Stadium once stood. Now a community park and youth sports facility, two stone walls still stand from the original structure, relics of a bygone era. I briefly tried to find President McKinley's assassination site but came across a site much more current.
A few weeks before my trip, a gunman opened fire in a Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo. In the midst of my struggle with my GPS, I stumbled upon the location. It caused me to pause and to think of what was truly important for this trip. As I saw the fence surrounding the sight and the hundreds of flowers spilling out on the corners of the block, I realized that what I was looking for is just a stone.
Life is so short. We need to as much as we can from this life. Is searching far and wide for a simple memorial in a nice neighborhood really that important? Or does seeing something as magnificent as Niagara Falls at sunset trump a brief moment in history? I chose the latter and struck out for the Canadian border.
From that moment on, I was in a race with the sun. I knew that it was going to be a close call, but it would be worth every ounce of effort that I could possibly give. Mile after mile, minute after minute I stressed over the time and the setting of the sun. The moment was stressful, but in the end, as I pulled into the parking lot and pounded the pavement, all of my fears washed away. In that moment, I saw Heaven and Earth meet like a sloppy wet kiss. Nothing else in the world mattered as I watched the sun shine its' last glimmer on the rushing water.
With that site off of my bucket list, I set out for Richmondville, New York, where I would reside for Saturday's big adventure and the entire reason why I am going on this trip in the first place: the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Three years ago, I had learned that my great grandpa Clifford Gottwals' picture was in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Over the years, I learned more about his athletic achievements, as well as his life. His mom left the family when he was about four years old and just five years later, his dad passed away from blood poisoning. Becoming an orphan at such a tender age was not easy and he turned to athletics as an outlet for his fury and rage over his predicament. While he excelled in multiple sports in high school, it was baseball that may have been his true calling.
As a pitcher, he must have pictured his mother's face on the catcher's mitt every time he threw. That drive to be the best that he could be gave him the opportunity to play for the Marysville Merchants. On August 9, 1921, he was a part of the very first ball club to fly to a game. While the trip itself was only 40 miles long, it took the team almost an hour and a half to reach Woodside, California where they promptly lost by an embarrassing score of 16-4.
My great grandpa didn't let that deter him from having a great high school career in the next three years. In time, he would become one of the best players in the state, twice nearly taking his team to the state championship game and once throwing a no-hitter, coming just two errors away from completing a perfect game.
From there he went to Santa Clara University where he had a decent career, once defeating Stanford. From what I can gather from family lore, he did play some minor league ball after college but his coach made him pitch too much and he walked away from the game before making the majors.
All of this history rushed through my head on the early afternoon of June 4, 2022 when I drove from my motel in the village of Richmondville, New York to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Weeks earlier, I had learned that the picture's location was not open to the public on the weekend but I had successfully emailed the archives center and they had someone waiting just for me on that cloudless early summer day.
I entered the Bart Giumatti Research Center and was greeted by Cassidy, the researcher who generously sacrificed a part of her Saturday for my journey. In the folder was a simple picture, one which I have a copy of in my own home, behind it was written a brief but informative description. I even held the photograph in my hands. It was a three-year journey resolved within just five minutes. Pictures were taken and smiles were shared. It was a marvelous moment worth the journey.
From there, I spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying my stay in Cooperstown. I took so many photos in the Baseball Hall of Fame and walked through so much history. As a history buff, it blew my mind. I took so many photos that by the time I reached Lake Otstego, my phone had run out of battery and died after a single picture of the magnificent lake.
While I was disappointed, I knew that sometimes it's best to put down your phone and embrace the moment. I took in the scenery as I sat down and read a book for the next half an hour with ducks paddling right in front of me and the slightly cool breeze blowing the pages around. After a brief stop at an ice cream shop (I'd already eaten at the Doubleday Cafe) I visited the famed Doubleday Field. The venue brought to mind the ballparks of old, with the roof over the single-story grandstand and the whole structure is made of brick.
I went back to my motel that evening, having lived a full day. Rest is crucial, for tomorrow, I visit Pennsylvania.
What is it about giants that makes us want to step in their footsteps? Do we somehow believe that if we followed their exact route of greatness that we would become great? Or are we just curious observers who simply want to feel a part of their hero's lives?
As I journeyed away from my Cooperstown, I knew that a new adventure awaited for me the following day. I spent that Sunday ping-ponging over all sorts of areas in Pennsylvania. I first stopped in Williamsport where I saw the site of the Little League World Series. After that I ventured over t o Penn State University for what I thought would be just a quick minute, but would turn into something much more significant.
At first, I noticed the sign stating that the museum in Beaver Stadium was closed until five minutes later. Already on a tight schedule, I very nearly walked away. However, I noticed a gentleman walking through the doors who didn't appear to be an employee. Curious, I too opened up the doors and inquired about the museum. Not only did they say that it was open, but that afterword they could take me to the field, for free. As a man on a fairly tight budget, this was a dream come true.
Towards the end of my tour of the museum, I noticed John Cappeleti's Heisman Trophy, standing amidst the numerous trophies that the university had won over the years. Interestingly, even though it was arguably the most valuable trophy that the university owned, it was the lone item in the room to not be behind plexiglass. I asked the museum curator the reason for that and she said that I could touch it. Like an enthusiastic five-year old on Christmas Day, I practically leaped out of my skin in glee as I pranced back to the room to touch the sacred trophy.
I then saw Beaver Stadium in all of its glory. Even with Top Golf taking center stage that day, absolutely nothing could take away the raw beauty of the stadium. After a quick ice cream cone at the campus creamery, I took off for Johnstown.
From the outside, Johnstown is not too impressive. It is a small, dwindling town in the heart of what once was a tremendous steel industry. However, in 1889, tragedy struck when the South Fork Dam broke, killing more than 2,200 people. The devastation nearly wiped out the town, but its citizens refused to quit and rebuilt their beloved town. Unfortunately, nothing would ever be the same again and the town has slowly dwindled away. Standing in the parking lot, I saw the disrepair immediately. I saw the crumbling and aging houses and the disheveled concrete, not to mention the abandoned train repair shop. However, the churches were beautiful and there were enough houses to suggest that a revival just might be around the corner.
After that brief trip down history, I went to Pittsburgh where my adventure took a lot of unfortunate turns. While I found Heinz Field just fine and had a delightful time there, I struggled mightily to find one of the city's famous pizza shops. I've never been a great navigator and it showed within the Steel City. The GPS tried and failed again and again until I finally found my bearings more than an hour and a half later and finally sat down to enjoy a couple of slices from Pizza Care.
From there, I went to Joe Montana Field where I had a blissful time on his high school field. No one else was at the school. It was just me and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, running around, hitting the sled and pumping up the imaginary crowd.
I went to Canton after that and made brief detours to Aliqquipa and Beaver Falls. A lot of great football players played in those towns and I just wanted to say that I had stepped foot in their home. Tomorrow's the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
At last, the day has arrived! Ever since I first fell in love with the game back in high school, I had dreamed of the day when I would step foot on football's most sacred ground: the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For the first time in a week, I was relaxed about my schedule. I didn't need to travel any great distances and I never had to worry about missing closing time for any of the places that I wished to visit.
As I entered the Hall of Fame, it almost didn't seem real. Here, before my very eyes was every ounce of history that the National Football League could muster. As a history buff and football nerd, I was in paradise.
As I viewed the countless artifacts displayed before me, I was in absolute awe. When I entered the actual Hall of Fame, where all the busts are located, I was blown away. Year after year was meticulously displayed. I've seen snippets of numerous Hall of Fame induction speeches through the years and now I was looking at the very busts that were presented on those memorable occasions.
Little did I know that the tour was far from over. As I looked at other artifacts of yesteryear, I noticed a theater and decided to see what all the fuss was about. There, Joe Namath was presented in holographic form as he introduced several Hall of Fame players who spoke about the lessons that football taught them. In the end, he told us to live life like a football game, with absolute gusto and perseverance.
It made me think hard about all the sacrifices that each of the Hall of Famers put in to be considered great in their profession. It also caused me to reflect on my own life. While I was never that good at the game, it still impacted my life in a significant way. After my dad passed away, I turned to football as an outlet for my grief. At the time, I had already graduated from high school and was no longer playing the game, but I followed it closely.
I followed it even closer after my dad's untimely passing, when I found out who my true friends were. Unfortunately, I wasn't hanging around a lot of my true friends at the time and those who I considered close, became distant very, very soon. It was in this critical moment in my life when I chose to look at football as more than just an outlet for my grief, but also as a guide for life. Ironically, many of those who turned out to be true friends were my former football teammates.
After that cold slap of reality, I finished the tour, snapped a couple pictures of the Tom Benson Memorial Stadium and left for my next venture: Heggy's Nut Shop. My nickname was "Heggy" throughout all of high school so this was a can't-miss destination for me. The hot fudge sundae was good but tasted strangely like caramel. It was still a good experience and I capped of my day with dinner at Coach's Burger Bar. Tomorrow brings more adventures as I plan on leaving the great state of Ohio and the Eastern Time Zone for the Field of Dreams.
The day started calmly enough. I started the day by visiting the sight of the NFL's founding and managed to sneak into the Massillon High School football stadium. That stadium is considered an Ohio landmark because it was built for the great coach and innovator Paul Brown when he coached at Massillon in the 1930's. The stadium was overwhelming and completely dwarfed anything that I had ever seen in California.
From there, the rest of the day was spent battling traffic from Ohio, through Indiana, through Illinois and up to the Iowa border. I had originally planned to see the Field of Dreams movie sight in Dyersville but was unable to do so on that day. No worries though, as I will reside in a hotel in neighboring Peosta for the night. The Field of Dreams can wait for tomorrow.
Even though the day was mostly boring, it did bring some significant time for reflection and sightseeing. While passing through Rockford, Illinois, I noticed that the sun and the clouds were dancing with each other. As a result, the sun was shining in gorgeous patterns. The sight caused me to reflect on my own feelings about the journey that had just been completed.
After three years, I had finally seen my great grandpa's picture in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Now what? What does this discovery and accomplishment mean for my life? Am I supposed to dig deeper into his amateur baseball career? Or am I supposed to just leave the story be, sitting idly by for the next generation? As I reside for the evening in the cornfield plains of Iowa, I ponder each of these questions with vigor as I anticipate tomorrow's day to begin with a Dream.
Today marked the last of the planned sightseeing days. I woke up in my hotel in Peosta, Iowa with the joy of a child on Christmas morning. This was the day that I was to finally see the sight of the Field of Dreams. To me, the sight is so much more than just a movie set. It is American ingenuity at its finest. At once, it shows a cleverly placed ballfield in a cornfield while telling a story of hopes and dreams. While the movie's main theme was that baseball is the only constant in an inconsistent world, the field signifies a simpler time where people would play the game just for fun.
After I visited that site, I headed off for Omaha, Nebraska, home of the College Baseball World Series. And with that, my major sightseeing excursions came to a close. After Omaha came nine hours of reflection on my drive to my motel in Laramie, Wyoming. As I crossed the hundreds of farms on the highway, I became in awe of the backbone of America, the farming community.
Going through tiny communities such as Duncan, Nebraska , I caught a glimpse of the purity of the farming industry. As a youth, I had wanted to be a farmer but backed away due to a still prevalent deep fear of snakes. On that nine hour drive, I witnessed what my life could have been and this caused me to reflect on other aspects of my life. Aspects which I can't reveal in this article. Maybe tomorrow...
The day was unremarkably remarkable from the start. I knew that I wasn't going to see any significant historical markers or anything else taht would get the general public interested. However, today was like spending an entire day looking at magnificent portraits of nature. Except in this case, the artist is God Himself. I saw giant mountains kissed by the sun in indescribable ways. I saw just a glimpse of the Great Salt Lake.
And I saw its neighbor, the Great Salt Lake Desert. I stopped my car to admire the vast desert before me and I bent down and touched the ground with my fingers, admiring the simplicity of salt and mud together in the palm of my hand. After that brief excursion, I took off for Elko, Nevada, a major gold mining town, where I would stay the night. I go home tomorrow.
The last day of my great adventure has arrived. When I woke up, I felt a sense of dread, knowing that it is going to be quite a while until I do something as grand as I've just done. While I drove home, I tried to take in as much scenery as I could, soaking it all in. I didn't want the adventure to end.
While I drove through the mountains that stood between California and Nevada, I realized that those mountains served as a curtain. Behind that curtain was a grand adventure. In front of that curtain was life as I had once known, only that life would never be the same. Great travels can have that sort of effect on an individual. When I parked in front of my grandparent's house to watch the second half of Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics, my adventure had come to a conclusion. Now what?