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Baseball Biking Tour Cruises Through Buffalo

All 30 MLB ballparks - by bicycle

Imagine, if you will, traversing the continent and attending a baseball game at all 30 Major League Baseball parks in one season. It’s been attempted, and accomplished, by many. But something like that takes a real commitment of time, of planning, of money and resources.

Now imagine taking on this challenge by bike. That is the story of Darren O’Donnell, a young man born in Boise, Idaho, now based in Bellingham, Washngton, who is in the final legs of his attempt to reach all 30 venues by the end of the season. He will have logged almost 11,000 miles on his bicycle when all is said and done.

O’Donnell stopped in Buffalo last week, a two-day respite in his journey between his 22nd ballpark in Boston and his 23rd in Toronto. He got to traverse the Erie Canal trailway across the state, and his visit here gave him a chance to take a break, do laundry, catch up on his writings, touch base with family and friends, and gear up for the stretch run of the journey.

“I came up with the idea over a year ago,” said O’Donnell. “Some friends and I made a bike trek down the west coast to California and back to Bellingham, and it was so much fun I thought it would be great to just go the distance and see all the ballparks. It took a lot of planning, not only the baseball schedules, but devoting enough time to make the trek from city to city, what provisions to carry, dealing with unforeseen circumstances such as bike repair, weather issues, and big bridge crossings. I have a great support network helping me pull all this off.”

O’Donnell travels lightly: just a couple changes of clothes, a sleeping bag, electronic equipment, and light food provisions, in addition to tools and a flat tire kit. He has slept on roadsides and at economy lodging, and where possible has crashed at the homes of old friends and new-found supporters of his journey. (We provided the Buffalo accommodations on the living room couch at Avant.)

Unfortunately, the Buffalo Bisons were out of town during O’Donnell’s visit, but the team was kind enough to welcome him with a tour of Coca Cola Field. Mike Simoncelli of the Bisons’ game-day operations crew took O’Donnell to see the press box facilities, service level concourse, and the field for a few photos. O’Donnell was impressed with Buffalo’s ballpark. “I can see how Buffalo’s design elements were copied in some of the new ‘retro’ ballparks built these past 20 years,” he said. “Impressive. The place is intimate yet has a real big league feel to it.”

While in Buffalo, O’Donnell also checked out some of the other downtown attractions, including Canalside, its boardwalk, and the historical markers. “Very nice, it’s just a shame there isn’t more to draw people and keep them down there for a while,” he said. “Such a nice waterfront. What are you people waiting for?”

O’Donnell also made note of the plethora of parks and bike trails abutting Lake Erie and the Niagara River, including the Erie Basin Marina.

While most of us battle the bulge and attempt diets, O’Donnell’s problem is the opposite. He needs to cram food and consume calories in order to maintain weight, and admitted that he has lost 20 pounds since hitting the road. We were more than glad to oblige, introducing him to some of Buffalo’s heartiest cuisine, including a heaping plate of wings at Bada Bings on Chippewa, and the following night a visit to Jim’s Steakout for a steak sub and a side of poutine.

A number of the major league teams have welcomed and feted O’Donnell on his official stops. He got a chance to meet Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Madden and a few of the players, including Evan Longoria, on his visit to Tropicana Field. Other teams have provided game tickets or field passes for batting practice. O’Donnell even managed a brush with celebrity on his visit to Buffalo. Sitting on a patio at a Chippewa Street bistro and enjoying cocktails were none other than Sabres alumnus Andrew Peters and Sabre Nathan Gerbe. Peters waved us over and the guys were more than happy to welcome our visitor to the city. O’Donnell was impressed, writing on his site, “This is very cool to me, makes it feel like a small city randomly running into professional athletes on the street.”

O’Donnell’s biggest remaining challenge will be the five-day ride between Minneapolis and Kansas City, and he was already dreading possible headwinds coming from the south. He plans to hit the finish line at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium on September 25.

What is the biggest thing he will take from this once in a lifetime experience? “The sense that I can accomplish just about anything,” O’Donnell replied. “I never doubted that I could pull this off. It will be a great feeling to make it to the finish and look back and reflect on this adventure.”

Darren O’Donnell’s complete report on his journey can be found on Facebook at “Baseball Biking Tour.”

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