June 3, 2016, published in the Orange County Register
“Anyone who wants to run the bases, come on down and line up!” an announcer howled during the seventh inning of a Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds game.
Bill Hyde, who had traveled from Yorba Linda to Cincinnati for the June 1998 game, rushed from his seat and shuffled into line with 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds near first base.
Hyde didn’t care that he was 54. Or that most of the 150 kids lapped him. The crowd roared. The bases shined.
He had made it.
“That was so cool,” remembered Hyde, now 71, rocking back and forth in a maroon chair in his Yorba Linda home, his feet tapping the carpet as if craving another run. “I was just a big kid out there.”
Hyde, raised in Flint, Mich., said he has visited all 30 active Major League Baseball stadiums as well as 13 retired ballparks – living a lifelong passion that began when his father took him to a doubleheader in 1961 at Tiger Stadium. Atlanta’s new stadium will be added to his scorecard when it opens in 2017.
Hyde can tell you where to snag the best garlic fries. How architecture makes each ballpark unique. Who was traded, who might get traded and who should get traded.
“It’s his passion,” said his wife, Pat, who accompanies him to many games. “It’s really his love.”
Maize soufflé and no-hitters
“Can I show you my room?” Hyde asked, stepping into his baseball shrine.
Mini replicas of old ballparks crowd shelves with Hall of Fame mugs, stadium snow globes and baseball books. A photo of Wrigley Field shares wall space with other iconic entrances.
The pattern on the curtains is MLB logo hats, the light switch is a baseball and the throw pillows are Angels colors.
Cases hold dozens of baseballs documenting ballpark visits, a tin canister advertises Cracker Jacks and a favorite sign warns “Fans who attempt to interfere with balls in play will be ejected.”
Hyde retired in 1993 as a vice president manager from Bank of America in Ontario after 25 years with the company. He began to visit ballparks more frequently when his second career selling computer hardware and software to law enforcement agencies took him on trips east.
He documents his travels in a scrapbook, filled with box scores and mementos such as an $8.25 ticket stub from a Yankees-Red Sox game in 1985, a photo of a sausage sandwich at Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium in 2005, and even a note indicating it was 35 degrees with light snow flurries at Cleveland’s former Jacobs Field in 1997.
He quickly jots notes when he gets home to remember the games.
Like in 1997, when vendors paced the aisles at Olympic Stadium in Montreal for an Expos-Reds game, yelling: “GET YOUR MAAAAIIIIIIZZEEE SOUFFLEEEEEEÉ!” Hyde hadn’t a clue what they were hawking until bags of popcorn flew past his head.
He dodged mustard while at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park in 2003, when employees shot hot dogs into the stands instead of the usual T-shirts.
Hyde, who sometimes visits five stadiums a season, takes whatever seat is available online, at the box office or from the guy on the street outside the ballpark.
Once, in 1995, he wound up in the owner’s box behind home plate at Oriole Park in Baltimore next to a Catholic priest in clerical clothing. In 2003, he sat in the scouts box at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. A sports writer befriended him. “Meet my new friend Bill,” the writer announced. “We’ve been to 75 ballparks between us.”
A foul tip by the Seattle Mariners’ Edgar Martinez bounced into the stands and landed in the row in front of Hyde at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium in 2002. Hyde boxed out a husky man in his 20s, snatching his first-ever game ball. “All I heard was, ‘UGH!’” Hyde said, laughing.
He witnessed the Angels’ Jered Weaver’s no-hitter against the Twins in 2012 and saw legends such as the Tigers’ Norm Cash and 13-time All Star Ken Griffey Jr. smack homers.
“He can get emotional about something that happens, a home run, somebody that makes an error,” said Hyde’s friend Rod Bissell, 75, who has attended games with Hyde. “He keeps his calm pretty good, but he can also get fired up about it too.”
The Hyde Boys
Four gloves hang high on one wall of Hyde’s shrine. Three are from his own playing days and one belonged to his father, Joe, who pitched in semipro leagues in Flint.
Hyde slips on his father’s 1937 Genuine-Cowhide glove. Its worn brown, black and copper tone still sparkles (Hyde regularly oils it).
“If you had a glove, you were something else,” said Hyde, whose father told him not every player in the 1930s owned a glove. Players would leave their gloves on the field for an opponent to use.
As a young boy, Hyde learned from his father to love baseball, even if he couldn’t catch Dad’s curveballs. He watched his father fall asleep listening to Tigers’ games, clutching a transistor radio. By junior high, Hyde fell asleep to the same melody.
The real treat was going to Tiger Stadium together, about an hour from home. Hyde said he remembers sitting in left field on Aug. 20, 1961, for a doubleheader between the Tigers and Red Sox. The sun glimmered. Cash racked up six hits while Charlie “Paw Paw” Maxwell hit a homer.
“It was a great day at the ballpark,” Hyde said.
Hyde is passing that passion on to his own son, Jason, and Jason’s two boys, Benjamin, 7, and Jeremy, 5. Calling themselves the Hyde Boys, the group regularly attends Angels games.
Hyde continues to fill scrapbook pages, hoping his son and grandchildren will continue visiting ballparks with the same fervor.
“He makes it a point to make it a tradition, that no matter what happens, we’re always going to go to a game, with everybody, with my boys. The Hyde Boys,” Jason said. “It’s more than just a game for us. It’s part of our family.”