It got him thinking about how much he digs minor- league ball. It was around that time when he was struck with wild but wonderful inspiration: He would take six months off - from work, from his family, from everything - and hit the road this season to see as many minor-league games in as many states and venues as possible.
"I got the bug really bad," he said. "I was determined to make it happen."
There were problems with the plan.
To begin, he was a committed blogger for TheFightins.com and he wasn't sure about stepping away from it for such an extended period. That issue was rectified - in a sad development for the many dedicated readers - when Mike Meech, the owner/creator, shut down the site this season to spend more time with his family and lead a life of leisure and excess. (From what we understand, Meech is rich and will often distribute thick wads of cash to greedy beggars who approach him at random. Maybe try sticking your hand out next time you run into him at a bar.)
The other issue was his job and his boss.
As it turns out, his job is tending to the family cranberry farm, and his boss is his father.
"I had to convince him that I wasn't just trying to blow off work," Haines said. "I told him I wanted to write about the experience. He was pretty supportive about it once I explained what I wanted to do and why."
And off he went. Haines has a degree in creative writing from Denison University. He's putting that to use with Casualfan.org - a site that chronicles his solo adventures as he winds his way through minor- league America. He also hopes to write and publish a book about his travels.
He left his girlfriend's apartment in Northeast Philly in mid-March and pushed south toward Florida in a gold 2006 Honda Accord he bought from his sister Becca. The car had 163,000 miles on it before he got going. The odometer will be far more bloated by the time he returns home. Haines put 2,000 miles on the car in the first week alone. When the trip is over, he will have seen at least 113 games in 27 states, culminating with the triple-A championship in New Mexico later this year. (He'll fly to that one to give himself and the car a quick and much-needed break.)
Becca - she's the one who planned the logistics-heavy excursion on his behalf - estimates that he'll drive well over 20,000 miles this summer.
That's his life right now. He drives. He parks. He watches games. He blogs. He drives some more. He blogs some more. He drives again. He retires to a motel or a hotel and checks for the occasional and meddlesome bedbug. And, when the opportunity presents itself, he eats.
There are all sorts of updates on the blog - about his odometer and random fans and weird goings-on. And, also, about his meals. Those posts are mainly for his mother, who, as moms do, worried about his diet during the ordeal. One update assured her that "yes, Ma, I'm eating right" and featured a picture of broccoli and whole-grain bread and portobello mushrooms, which Haines said he "eats like popcorn."
On his few "off days," he's budgeted time to see his girlfriend (she plans to fly to meet him once a month) and take in a few major- league games if there's a park in the area - because he evidently won't see enough baseball this summer.
"I'm pretty sick that way," he said. "My family has been Phillie fans for four generations. My dad tells about my great grandfather, his father's father, yelling that certain players swung like a rusty gate and things like that. My dad gave me his baseball card collection when I was 5 or 6, which is probably too young to give it to someone. But that's how much I love baseball. That's how much we all love it. This is something I really wanted to do. It's an experience."
Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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