DAVID J. PHILLIP/Associated Press
DAVID J. PHILLIP/Associated Press
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It started off as the kind of audacious idea that a couple of buddies having a quarter-life crisis bandy about over a beer at a ballgame.
Adam Kremers and Chase Higgins, a pair of 20-something baseball fans, had been watching their beloved Kansas City Royals play the Minnesota Twins when the conversation drifted toward cycling, another one of their passions. Then they thought of pairing them together.
They would ride their bikes across the country, hitting every big league stadium along the way, and make it worthwhile by putting on free clinics for kids wherever they stopped.
Eleven-thousand miles. Thirty ballparks. One memorable summer.
“Biking for Baseball, this idea is combining everything I love,” said Kremers, who quit his job as an engineer to embark on an ambitious odyssey. “I believe in being a positive influence in a kid’s life. It’s a simple thing, but it’s something you can use to impact the world.”
Higgins gave up his job, too. The whole team did: Steve Lunn and Rex Roberts, who also are logging miles on their bikes, and Tim Sherman, who is providing the support.
“When I reflect back on it, it’s kind of growing into its own monster now,” said Roberts, who signed on to the project about six months after its initial ballpark brainstorming.
“I was excited about the bike aspect and seeing the parks, and the kid stuff was a big part of it,” Roberts said, “but that’s been a much bigger aspect than I expected.”
The band of cyclists started in Seattle on April 13, taking in the Mariners’ game against the A’s. Then they hopped on their two-wheeled rides and headed down the coast.
They had worked out most of the winter, riding on stationary trainers when they couldn’t get on the road, but there was no real way to prepare for the mileage. They pedaled 900 miles in nine days to reach Oakland, the second stop on their trip, and felt just about every one of them.
“Our bodies weren’t used to 100 miles a day and not recuperating, so we definitely had some serious knee pain,” Kremers said. “We just had to go really slow. Slower than you ever bike. I talked to somebody who had done a trip, this other guy and his wife, and he said, ‘You know, I had knee pain at the beginning and it went away,’ and I thought, ‘My gosh, that’s reassuring.’”
After catching games at Oakland Coliseum and AT&T Park in the Bay Area, the team shot south to see the Dodgers and Angels in Los Angeles. They picked off San Diego, cut through the desert to hit up Arizona, and headed north to Colorado, where they have friends and family.
Then an 850-mile haul to suburban Dallas for a Rangers game, and a relatively quick trip to Houston, where they watched the Astros beat the Reds 5-3 on Sunday.
They left Monday for perhaps the most grueling stretch: 1,100 miles in nine days through the muggy southeast, catching games over the next few weeks in Tampa, Miami and Atlanta.
Their route will take them back through St. Louis to Kansas City, just in time for the All-Star break – and their own much-needed reprieve. Then they’ll head off toward Minnesota and begin making their way east, finishing up at Fenway Park on Sept. 21.
“Maybe we were having a quarter-life crisis at the time, but we were thinking, ‘What can we do with our lives and have a positive impact?” Higgins said. “At first it was maybe a pipe dream, but the more we thought about it, the more we thought, ‘Hey, this could be feasible.’”
Several members of the team had been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and that gave them the idea of adding a mentorship component to the ride of their lives.
At every city, they join up with local organizations to put on a baseball clinic. Dozens of kids have shown up along with numerous volunteers at each of the stops, and in many cases, the “Biking for Baseball” guys have provided kids with their introduction to the game.
“That’s pretty awesome, what they’re doing,” said Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, who has been active with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Kansas City. “It’s pretty amazing.”
It’s pretty costly, too.
The riders spend hundreds of dollars per week on food. There are supplies to purchase, gas for the support vehicle, the occasional camping fee, and then everything necessary to keep their bikes on the road – they had changed 71 flat tires as of Sunday night.
They started off by paying for the journey out of their own pockets, using a fundraiser for seed money before they started. They’ve picked up a few sponsors along the way, but for the most part, they’ve been relying on their own cash and the generosity of others.
They were at a gas station recently and got to chatting with a random guy who gave them $100. Others have bought T-shirts and donated through their website, www.bikingforbaseball.org.
“The more people that are seeing that we’re really doing this, and we’re making an impact with the kids, and we’re riding the miles and sleeping in the tents, they realize we’re doing this because we want to,” Kremers said. “So people have been really supportive.”
Some teams have been, too, offering free tickets and getting out their message.
They eventually would like to turn their summer on the road into a sustainable business that somehow combines their loves for cycling and baseball with mentoring kids.
They aren’t sure what that might look like, but they’ve got 11,000 miles to figure it out.
“I haven’t traveled a ton. I’d never been to Texas,” Roberts said, “and everything anybody ever said has been true. The Northwest was incredibly rainy, California was beautiful, Arizona was hot, and Texas was definitely humid. To reinforce all those things has been really fascinating.
“We’re doing this all out of pocket now, and it’s definitely been a leap of faith,” he added, “but if we do it right, we can make a huge impact, and continue to make a huge impact.”