New York Mets fan on unique baseball pilgrimage

Over the last nine years, Tom McDonald has sprinkled the ashes of his longtime friend, an avid New York Mets fan, into ballpark toilets across the country.

For many passionate baseball fans, visiting as many baseball stadiums as possible is on their “bucket list.” You start off with the stadium closest to where you grew up, then hit other stadiums at different points in your life. If you live in certain parts of the country, you can drive to a handful of ballparks. If you have a job that involves traveling around the country, you can check off more ballparks on your business trips. Eventually, you have a list of all the ballparks you’ve visited.

When you get together with baseball-loving friends, you compare the ballparks you’ve been to. You can tell your friends about the time you saw the Green Monster and joined the crowd in singing “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway Park or had a Dodger Dog in Los Angeles. If you’re old enough, like I am, perhaps you’ve sung “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with Harry Caray during the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field.

One longtime New York Mets fan is on a baseball pilgrimage with a unique twist. Roy Riegel died nine years ago, which happened to be on the same day as the New York Mets’ home opener that year. After he was cremated, his longtime friend Tom McDonald acquired some ashes from the family. The two had been friends since they were in the Cub Scouts many years ago and had attended numerous Mets games together. Opening Day was always a time they would renew their long friendship at the start of another baseball season.

After Riegel’s death, McDonald kept his remaining ashes in a Planters peanuts can with other baseball memorabilia. At the time, he thought it would be a nice gesture to scatter the ashes at different ballparks around the country. After a couple of frustrating attempts, the gesture morphed into a different method of remembering his friend that would honor Riegel and his occupation when he was alive.

Riegel was a plumber, you see, so McDonald has spent the last nine years taking Riegel’s ashes around the country and sprinkling them into toilets at various MLB stadiums. He always does it while the game is in progress and with as much grace as the setting allows. It may seem odd to some, but McDonald says it’s a fitting tribute to his friend.

“I know people might think it’s weird, and if it were anyone else’s ashes, I’d agree. But for Roy, this is the perfect tribute to a plumber and a baseball fan and just a brilliant, wild guy.” (New York Times)

The count is up to 16 stadiums so far, as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland because Riegel was a big music fan and McDonald thought it would be appropriate. He has enough ashes for one last tribute. The final setting will be at the ballpark where the movie Bull Durham was filmed—Durham Athletic Park in North Carolina. It’s a gesture Crash Davis and Annie Savoy would surely approve of.

The baseball pilgrimage is a dream of many fans. Roy Riegel’s pilgrimage comes after his death, but it’s been quite a journey for Tom McDonald. It’s also a good reminder to the rest of us that we shouldn’t wait. We should get out there and see the ballparks we’ve always wanted to see.

There’s even a website dedicated to the baseball pilgrimage, where you can look up every professional ballpark in the country. For the 2017 season, the complete pro ballpark list has 261 entries, from Alabama to Wisconsin (Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming are the only states without any pro ballparks listed). If you get the chance, maybe you can check off a few this year.

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