Goss: Stokke sees it all – 32 games in 30 days
Minooka journalist accompanies veterans to professional events
Baseball fans grow up dreaming about seeing a game in every major league ballpark.
The month of April, 2014 is one 23-year-old Tommy Stokke of Minooka never will forget.
Stokke, a Minooka High School graduate and a former sports correspondent for The Herald-News, works for FanRag Sports as the lead writer on fanrag.com. FanRag representatives met in the preseason with a company in the Chicago area that arranges for veterans to attend professional sporting events, and the trip was on.
Stokke's mission was to write his impressions of the games he witnessed on fanrag.com. He saw 32 games in 30 days, including some important NBA and NHL games.
And with much of the travel confined to what he referred to as the Greyhound Hotel, he saw things outside the arenas, as well.
"You see all that stuff in bus stations ... I don't care if I don't see a bus station again," he said.
Stokke flew to Dallas, Boston, Seattle and Oakland at various junctures. Otherwise, it was the good ol' Greyhound.
Each stop included meeting with veterans and accompanying them to the events.
"Many of them have PTSD, some are amputees, some were burned, about 90 percent were wounded," Stokke said. "Some may not have been wounded but were longtime members of the military.
"There were over 100 veterans and Gold Star families that we accompanied to games. Hearing their stories puts everything in perspective. When someone tells you going to an Orioles game is the best day of his life, it gets you."
The itinerary began April 1 with a flight to Dallas for Rangers and Astros games and an Oklahoma City Thunder game. Then to Boston for a Celtics game, followed the next day by a doubleheader of Bruins and Red Sox contests.
New York offered a Mets game, a doubleheader day with the Yankees and Devils, and a Rangers game. The Nationals, Wizards and Capitals all played in Washington when Stokke was there.
Next, an Orioles game in Baltimore, 76ers, Flyers and Phillies games in Philadelphia, and then it was back to Boston for a highlight of the trip.
"It was the anniversary of Boston bombings," Stokke said. "It was the Celtics' last game, and they honored the victims of the bombings on the court.
"To actually hear them tell their stories was touching. The veterans said they signed up for the military and knew what they were getting into. But these people in Boston didn't sign up for anything."
Next up was a Pirates game in Pittsburgh, Indians in Cleveland, Tigers in Detroit and then to Chicago for the Cubs twice – Stokke is a huge Cubs fan – and the Bulls once.
Then it was a plane to Seattle for the Mariners, a flight to Oakland for two games, plus a Golden State vs. L.A. Clippers playoff game, the Giants in San Francisco and it was on to Los Angeles for two Dodgers games, an Angels game and the Clippers first home game following the ban of owner Donald Sterling.
A Diamondbacks game in Phoenix wrapped things up. On April 30, it was time to fly home.
Stokke said his favorite venue was Yankee Stadium.
"The tradition and history is right there," he said. "You can feel it. We toured Memorial Park and the museum at Yankee Stadium, and it was special. It's one of the only stadiums where you can look at all the greats."
As for NBA arenas, he said he especially enjoyed the Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs game.
"The atmosphere was the best there," he said. "The game had a playoff feel."
He returned home with a new appreciation for hockey.
"There may not be a better moment in sport than when a goal is scored and you see it live," he said. "The celebration after a goal may be the best, probably better than a home run or a big dunk."
Stokke is a regular on Steve Brandy's "Brando's Garage" show on WJOL Radio, which airs from 9 to 10 a.m. Wednesday. He is on to talk sports for the final 15 minutes.
And, he continues to write for fanrag.com. Yet the time was right for this type of experience.
"I'm 23," he said. "I feel it's the perfect age to do this. I was in a spot where I could afford to take out that month. Most people can't.
"We're talking about doing it again sometime, but there's nothing definite. Baseball games in April can be cold, not as many fans are there and it's hard to get the real good experience in the cold.
"So maybe if we did it later in the season..."
• Joliet Herald-News sports editor Dick Goss can be reached at email@example.com.