AF father and son complete quest to take in a ballgame in every major league city - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Sports

AF father and son complete quest to take in a ballgame in every major league city

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Posted: Sunday, June 19, 2011 9:00 am | Updated: 12:26 pm, Tue Jun 21, 2011.

It started with a trip to Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore 11 years ago and ended Wednesday night in Atlanta despite two rain delays at Turner Field when the New York Mets' Francisco Rodriguez struck out the Braves' Chipper Jones on a 90 mph-called strike.

In between, Zig Bircz watched his son, Robert, grow into a man, learned to like techno music, ate more ballpark food together than probably should be allowed and took in a ballgame in every major league city.

By the time the tandem returns home sometime this weekend - with hopes of celebrating Father's Day at the ballpark - they will have traveled more than 26,000 miles on baseball road trips.

While they collected baseballs from each game, took plenty of pictures, stretched in the seventh inning 30 times and saw a good portion of the nation one mile at a time, the best thing to come out of it was the strengthening of their relationship.

"We both love baseball and going to the stadiums, but more importantly we spent all of that time together," said the 54-year-old Zig Bircz, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident since 1988. "We talk about baseball and sports, but we mostly fill the time talking about life in general. He is very open with me and shares most of his experiences with me and I do the same.

"When I grew up, and when I was his age, it was a different world. We have an open communication that I don't think would be there otherwise."

Robert, 22, said he cherishes the time away from the ballparks just as much as his father and wasn't sure he could do it with anyone else.

"When you spend more than 26,000 miles in the car with someone you have to really enjoy being with them," the 2006 Desert Vista graduate said. "It's funny that he has become a fan of techno music, house music. He says it keeps him up while he is driving.

"Getting this trip done means everything to me. It's a goal we set over 10 years ago and because of it we became best friends."

That's the thing about baseball.

There are no quarters or halftimes. No game clock on the scoreboard. Generally 54 outs have to be recorded and there is a lot of down time, allowing for a laid back atmosphere for most fans that produces plenty of time to talk and share ideas.

"We've had some great talks while the game is going on, too," Zig said. "That's the romance of the game. It is played at a pace that can let you really get into a conversation."

One of those, until recently, didn't center on the ballparks, but now that they have been to nearly every existing stadium the Birczs have varying opinions about the ballparks they've seen over the years.

They call Chase Field, where they have season tickets in section 143, their favorite but when taking away the home ballpark Robert enjoyed the history and atmosphere of Fenway Park in Boston the most and Zig settled on the newness and beautiful setting of PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

"We never really thought about ranking them until people started asking us when they found out what we were doing," Robert said. "We were going to just see the stadiums, some baseball and enjoy our time together."

The other thing they tend to get asked about is which ballpark has the best food.

For the record, Robert really enjoyed the selection at Houston's Minute Maid Park and Zig focused on Rogers Centre in Toronto because it was the first place his son bought him a beer because the legal drinking age is 19.

The fact that Robert can buy alcohol now is an indication of how long it took to complete the feat.

It started when the whole family vacationed to North Carolina and Maggi, Zig's wife and Robert's mom, surprised them with the tickets to Camden Yards.

By the time the game was over and they were heading back south on Interstate 85 they hatched the plan to go to all 30 ballparks and put a pin on each location on a map.

Robert was 11 at the start. They went on a trip every two years or so and knocked off as many as they could. They don't make hotel reservation or get tickets in advance. They just make their way and see how it plays out. They never saw a no-hitter or anyone hit for the cycle, but that didn't matter.

"We went to Fenway a couple days after Jon Lester threw his no-hitter but that was as close as we got to anything," the younger Bircz said. "I think Manny Ramirez hit his 500th home run right around then too, but we saw a lot of good baseball."

It came to an end over the last two weeks when they hit The Ballpark at Arlington in Arlington, Texas, Minute Maid in Houston, LandShark Stadium in Miami (where they caught three Diamondback games and had a TV interview on Fox Sports Arizona), Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay and Turner Field.

"When we first started this I wanted to make sure I brought him home in one piece because he was so young," said Zig, who fell in love with the game growing up in Brooklyn. "Now he can wander off, check out each corner of the stadium by himself and get different views or whatever. It's amazing to think about all that we have seen and done."

Of course with several new ballparks being built in recent years, there is always a chance the trips can continue.

"They have new ones in New York, Minnesota and Florida gets one next year," Zig said. "I don't know if we are going to drive back East for those again, but we will get to them some time. After all, this has been an incredible experience with my son and if there is a chance to get back out there I don't see why we wouldn't.

"It is what we love to do."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com

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Jason P. Skoda
  • Jason P. Skoda
  • Sports writer
  • Resident sports writer at the Ahwatukee Foothills News

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