EASTHAMPTON – Fifty-eight-year-old Gary Laprade of Easthampton is not your average baseball fan. The retired postal clerk has traveled to 96 ballparks throughout the United States—sometimes as a spectator and sometimes as a tour guide. He’s visited 45 major league fields and 51 minor league parks.
Laprade jokingly notes he loves all sports, and this passion has led others to call him an “indiscriminate sports idiot.” He keeps records of each and every sporting event he attends.
Laprade’s sports enthusiasm led him to become a tour guide for Sports Travel and Tours of Hatfield 20 years ago. This June, he will lead a Sports Travel and Tours baseball trip through America’s Heartland.
Called the Major/Minor: Heartland trip, the adventure will begin June 8 and end on June 14. It features seven major and minor league baseball games at seven different ballparks throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan. In addition, participants get to participate in a little something extra outside of the baseball theme; they’ll have the chance to tour three historical museums, including the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and the Phoenix Bat Company, in Columbus, Ohio.
Jay Smith, president of Sports Travel and Tours, said trip participants range in age from 8 to 80 years old, and a traditional welcome reception on the first day allows them all to socialize and connect through their shared interests.
“Everybody has one common bond, and it’s called a love of baseball,” Smith said. “That opening reception for all our trips is key. It gives people an opportunity to gather and meet one another.”
Smith came up with the idea to organize trips that combine major and minor league baseball games as an off-shoot of his firm’s Stadium Hall of Fame program, through which tour goers can earn induction into the S.T.A.T. Hall of Fame after visiting 30 stadiums with Sports Travel and Tours.
Smith found that once the Hall of Famers completed their tours visits of 30 parks, they wanted more; the major-minor trips fill the bill, he said.
“They live all over the place and still traditionally like to continue to travel with one another,” Smith said. “There’s a fraternity, a group of people who enjoy one another’s company and want to continue to travel.”
The first major/minor trip kicked off about five years ago, and the concept took right off. Smith said there are roughly 160 minor league teams across the country, and he generally sticks with AAA games for his trips as the AAA players are the best in the minor leagues.
Smith also said the minor league games are fun for participants because the atmosphere is less intense than that at major league games, not to mention less expensive.
Laprade is an official S.T.A.T. Stadium Hall of Famer, and he said if he weren’t leading the Heartland trip, he would be traveling as a participant.
“All the people who are Stadium Hall of Famers decided they wanted to see more stadiums,” Laprade said. “We’ve all become friends, and we’ve known each other for years and years, so we try to take these trips together so we can enjoy baseball together.”
Laprade said he enjoys getting to see a different group of people that he might not see anywhere else. He mentions that on a previous trip, he met a gentleman from England who he’ll be reunited with on the Heartland trip.
“For the most part, people really just bond on these trips,” Laprade said. “We’re all bonded together by baseball, even though we each have our own favorite teams. I’ve noticed over the years that everybody keeps an eye out for each other. We’ve become friends, and we even do things outside of Sports Travel and Tours trips.”
Laprade is also hopeful to see new faces on the trip.
A second major/minor trip will also be offered by Sports Travel and Tours this spring. Called Major/Minor T.O.C. it will take place from May 28 to June 4 and will feature six games at six different ballparks across Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado.
To learn more about the trips, call (800) 662-4424 or visit SportsTravelandTours.com