Craig Wieczorkiewicz is having a summer he won’t soon forget.
Wieczorkiewicz took in LumberKings’ home games Wednesday and Friday, making Clinton his 12th different stop on the Midwest League trail. He is planning on seeing home games at each of the 16 stadiums in the league this summer.
“It’s a great experience,” Wieczorkiewicz said. “I wouldn’t trade this for the world.”
His chance to do this came about in large part because of a professional setback.
“It was a perfect storm of opportunity for me,” Wieczorkiewicz said. “I worked in newspapers for many years before this. As has happened at a lot of newspapers, there were layoffs, so I found myself without a job this summer. I was eager to keep writing, of course. I’m a big baseball fan, a big fan of roadtrips. It came to me one night, going to all the Midwest League ballparks. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do.”
“It would make a good book and I could blog along the way. Here I am, 12 ballparks later.”
He is documenting his journey at mwltraveler.com.
Wieczorkiewicz lives in north-central Illinois. He describes the area as “north of the Peoria Chiefs, west of the Kane County Cougars, east of the Quad Cities River Bandits and south of the Beloit Snappers,” which are his usual Midwest League destinations. A self-professed Peoria Chiefs fan — because it’s the Chicago Cubs’ affiliate — Wieczorkiewicz started his summerlong trip around the League with planning.
“The first step was buying one of those big calendars and looking up all of the schedules online and figuring out how to make the puzzle pieces fit,” Wieczorkiewicz said. “The first thing I did was check out if there were any special dates I wanted to go to — say a bobblehead night. Then fill in the blanks from there.”
Friday was Neftali Feliz bobblehead night at the LumbeKings’ game.
Wieczorkiewicz weighed in on Alliant Energy Field before the game.
“It’s a nice field,” Wieczorkiewicz said. “Obviously it’s one of the fields that is more of an old-school ballpark. It doesn’t necessarily have all of the amenities of a lot of the newer ones. I like these older fields, too. They have a lot of history to them. You feel like you’re there because of the baseball, not because of all the bells and whistles.”
“I love that the Midwest League has a mixture of these types of ballparks.”
He said of the 12 parks he’s visited, Fort Wayne was the best overall, but the most interesting food item was at Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps: the Fifth Third burger.
“I don’t even know how many hamburger patties they put on it,” Wieczorkiewicz said. “It’s on a giant bun and they load it with burgers and a bunch of slices of cheese and nachos, sour cream, basically anything you can imagine is piled on top of it.”
The cost of that monstrosity is $20, but if someone eats the entire burger during the game, the person gets a commemorative.
He said the response from people had been very favorable during his trip.
“A lot of people really like what I’m doing,” Wieczorkiewicz said. “They like that they get to see different pictures of the different ballparks that I’ve gone to. They like that I’m spending a lot of time at these ballparks and really getting to know them. They feel like they’re getting a good sense of the ballpark.”
He said talking to the various fans was one of the best parts of the summer.
“One of the really neat things about this summer has been meeting some of these people, too,” Wieczorkiewicz said. “Somebody will send me a tweet (@MWLtraveler) and say, ‘Hey, I’m at this game, too. Can I meet you?’ So we will and we’ll talk for an inning or whatever. Just meeting some of the really hardcore baseball lovers that are out here going to minor league baseball, just like I like to do, that’s been a really cool element of this summer.”
Wieczorkiewicz’s trip will last until the end of the season. He will make his farthest trip from home over Labor Day weekend, when he goes to visit the Lake County Captains.
After that, all that’s left for Wieczorkiewicz to do is write his book.