Bill Craib has lived every baseball fans dream…twice.
It started in 1991, as Craib and his then-girlfriend, Sue Easler, took in a baseball game at Oakland on April 9. That was the start of a 209-day trip to 199 baseball games in 178 professional stadiums in 44 of 50 states.
Twenty-nine years ago today, “Bill and Sue’s Excellent Adventure” – as it became known – made a two-city Appalachian League stop at Bristol’s DeVault Stadium and J.Fred Johnson Stadium in Kingsport.
He has the video to prove it, and you can check it out tonight on his YouTube channel.
Craib also visited all the minor league stadiums on his own again in 2003.
“I think I am the only person who has done it twice,” said Craib, who is managing director of Project to Find America, “and maybe only one or two people that have done what we did overall.”
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Craib, who videoed each of those stops in 1991, has been putting those videos with his original commentary on his YouTube channel, along with additional comments on the dates that coincide with their visits nearly three decades ago.
“I am filling up my time getting out all the old baseball videos and actually having a lot of fun doing it,” said Craib, who has been quarantined from a consultant’s position due to the coronavirus since March. “The first set of videos I produced I thought were a little amateurish, but I think they are getting better. It has been interesting to go back and look at some these old parks again…
“I am trying to get into a little bit more into stuff either we didn’t know about or for whatever reason didn’t mention on the [original] tapes. I am trying to incorporate some of that in addition to utilizing the original video tapes.”
His visit to Bristol was on June 25, 1991. He was there again in 2003, and very little had changed. That is still the case to this day.
“Part of the charm of our trip was these places were all pretty unique,” Craib said. “If you think about Bristol for instance, it was in essence a glorified high school field and had some interesting quirks like the building that was the team office was also the press box and also the concession stand downstairs.
“That kind of thing is and was pretty unusual for people to see in other parks of the country that sort of didn’t know that was even the way that baseball could exist.”
He encourages folks to check out what was a truly memorable baseball adventure that covered 54,000 miles at an estimated cost of $12,000. He will continue to add a stop each day until each stadium visit has been seen.
The details can be found at findamerica.org/lmt2020/ or by visiting Low Mileage Tour on YouTube.
“I would love for people to subscribe. The more that subscribe, the easier it will be for other people to find it,” he said. “I do think there is value here. My hope is it will be something that people can see and have the opportunity to see an era in baseball that really no longer exists.”
A native of New Jersey who now resides in Hartland, Vermont, Craib filled his idle time during quarantine by retrieving those videos out of his basement and began transferring them from VHS tapes to digital and putting them on YouTube for all to see.
He started on April 6 with the game in Oakland. He had to stop for a while, but will catch up on the 1991 stadium visits he missed in September.
The quest to visit all 178 stadiums – 152 minor league and 26 major league – ended on Oct. 6, 1991 at Yankee Stadium. By then they had become mini-celebrities, even appearing on “Good Morning America” the next day.
That didn’t end the fun. They also attended the final six of seven World Series games, won by the Minnesota Twins over the Atlanta Braves. Along the way, they were in Arlington, Texas to witness Nolan Ryan’s seventh and final career no-hitter.
Yet, it was this particular week, 29 years ago, that has long stood out to Craib, a seven-day period in the Appalachian League that he called a baseball vacation within a vacation.
Find out why on Craib’s YouTube channel. He has already put up videos from stops to Pulaski (Monday), Martinsville (Tuesday)- which is no longer in the league – and Burlington (Wednesday).
He will add Bristol and Kingsport today, followed by Princeton and Bluefield (Friday), Elizabethton and Johnson City (Saturday) and Huntington (Sunday), another city no longer in the league.
“More than any other league really, the connection between the community and the teams in the Appy League is pretty unique,” he said. “I didn’t see it anywhere else and don’t know if it exist anywhere today, maybe to some extent in the Appy League, which means it is doubly ironic that a lot of the teams in the league are being considered for contraction.”
What stood out most to Craib was that it was still about baseball, unlike many minor league stadiums where the promotions between innings seem to dominate the evening.
“The promotions that have sort of taken over minor league baseball in other parts of the country really hadn’t started yet so there wasn’t this constant sort of set of activities between innings, mascot races and dizzy bat races and lucky number contests and all that stuff,” he said.
With media obligations not as prevalent in the Appalachian League nearly 30 years ago, Craib said the duo was able to sit back and enjoy baseball.
“I don’t think there are a ton of television stations and newspapers in your area. We didn’t get a lot of media coverage so we didn’t have interviews to do, which we did in other parts of the country so baseball was it,” he said. “Every night we sit down and we would watch the game and we would keep score.
“Both Sue and I loved baseball, obviously, so it felt like we were on this week-long camping vacation where we got to go to baseball games every night.”
He still has fond memories of the league’s stadiums, in addition to spending nights often under the stars.
“It is a beautiful part of the country as you know and so we are camping out in the Blue Ridge Mountains every night. Sometimes it rained and sometimes it didn’t, but it felt like a like a baseball vacation,” Craib said.
He especially loved the ball parks in the Appalachian League.
“In particular, Pulaski has some magic to it. I just think it is a really interesting place. The little park, at the time anyway, in Elizabethton, was so interesting,” he said. “I remember vividly, even without video tape to remind me, of sitting there and the fog is coming in over the river that runs down the foul line. Looking up and seeing the fog and the hills sort of all around in this hollow and thinking ‘This is just an amazing place to be watching baseball.’
We really didn’t see that again.
What will long stand out is simply how baseball and the Appalachian League to belong together.
“Those were the things that really seemed special to me in that league and it is a beautiful setting. It really is still about baseball, at least it was in 2003 when I went back,” he said. “That connection to the community, being able to walk up the middle of town and go to the ball game and walk back to your house, there are very few places in the country where that happens, at least in a professional baseball setting.”
It’s an experience he will never forget.
“It was a very special time for us and we said so afterwards,” he said.
Editor’s note: Much more on Craib’s adventures later this week in the Bristol Herald Courier