Baseball saves relationship between father, son
Michael Pierce and son, Micah, about to complete 11-year, 50-park odyssey
CHICAGO -- On July 3, two men will fly to Oakland to see the Cubs play the Athletics and complete an 11-year, 50-ballpark odyssey that began as a father's attempt to connect with his rebellious son.
Baseball saved Michael Pierce, 60, and his son, Micah, 30.
"The phrase I use with my friends is that some people do things for the love of the game, and I did this for love of my son," Michael said.
When Micah was in junior high, he was hanging out with a rough group of kids, and in trouble, failing every class. He did not get along with his father.
"All my son wanted was sports," Michael said. "He loved the Cubs, he loved every kind of sport there is. I was Mr. Musician, theater guy, artist, brainy, read books, that kind of stuff. No connection at all. A friend said to me, 'Mike, if you ever want to connect with him, you have to go into his world. He's not going to come into yours.'"
Micah says he's been devoted to the Cubs since he was 8 years old, and remembers watching their games when he'd get home from school. His father?
"He did not like baseball at all," Micah said.
The father decided to home school his only son, and as part of the process, they set goals. The reward? Micah wanted to go to Major League stadiums.
At first, they went to road games that fit in their schedule, and not necessarily Cubs games. They went on a West Coast bus tour, and did a 10-game car trip to cover East Coast sites, such as Montreal, New York and Toronto. They covered all of the Major League parks in four years.
"It was a tremendously exciting experience," Michael said. "By the time we got to 2001, we'd been to all 30 parks. He was 17, 18. I thought, 'What are we going to do? This is such a good experience and I don't want to stop.'"
In 2002, they went to Seattle to see the Cubs play the Mariners in an Interleague series, spent three days together, and had a fantastic time.
"We said, 'We have to keep doing this,'" Micah said.
At that point, they focused their trips on Cubs road games, and made sure to see at least one game in the Interleague series. They covered them all, and if a team built a new ballpark, they had to go back.
Michael has kept a scrapbook of their journey, although he's fallen behind a little. The two live in the western Chicago suburbs, and Micah is moving to a new home at the end of the month. There are souvenirs stuffed in bags and boxes that need to be sorted.
The Cubs have played regular-season games in 113 different ballparks, and this year, they will play for the first time in Oakland from July 2-4. That will complete the Pierce's adventure. When they take their seats at O.co Coliseum, they will have been in every stadium twice, and seen at least one Cubs game at each one.
"We think we may be the only people in America who have done that," Michael said.
It's a matter of bragging rights now.
"Oakland kept getting skipped [in the schedule]," Micah said. "We had missed [the Cubs] in Kansas City, so we were concerned Oakland would come up before they went to Kansas City again, and somebody could've beat us to this point. We got lucky with them not going to Oakland for 10 years."
Because of work and family commitments, they can only attend one game, July 3. They'll fly to Oakland that morning, and return to Chicago the next day.
"If it's a rainout, we're in big trouble," Micah said.
In April 2003, they were in Cincinnati when Sammy Sosa hit his 500th home run. In 2007, they just missed seeing Sosa hit No. 600 by one day when he was with the Rangers, who were playing the Cubs in an Interleague series. The Pierces had gone to the June 19 game in Arlington, Texas; Sosa belted his historic homer the next day.
"We drove home and on the way, we listened to the game, and heard him hit 600," Michael said.
They've eaten garlic fries in San Francisco, enjoyed the view of downtown Pittsburgh from PNC Park, basked in the sea breezes in San Diego, and endured a chilly night in Boston to watch the Cubs.
Seattle will always be special. That's when they hatched their plan to watch the Cubs in the American League stadiums.
"It was pivotal," Michael said. "It was really the beginning of a mission and there was something about that, and it has stuck in my mind as a turning point for us. When we got there, we saw thousands and thousands of Cubs fans, and it reminded us of how Cubs fans go everywhere.
"It was exciting to see that and be part of that. Then, we determined to set the mission and see if we could do it."
How determined? Michael was a pastor before his current job in a law office as a mediator, and he officiated at his son's wedding.
"In the marriage vows, I made her promise to let him go to baseball games with his dad," Michael said.
Micah's wife, Jamie, agreed.
"I'm sure she's glad this is coming to an end," Michael said. "We'll still go to ballparks. We hit all of them in their inaugural seasons. We'll still go -- we have too good a time."
Micah has taken his love of sports to another level. He is a coach with All Star Sports Instruction of St. Charles, Ill., which is contracted by park districts in Illinois, Wisconsin and Florida to teach kids how to play games.
Early in their road trips, Michael, spent more time talking to the popcorn vendor or making friends with the ushers than watching the game. That has changed over the years.
"One of proudest moments in this was when we were at Yankee Stadium watching the Cubs, and we had four guys from the [United Kingdom] sitting next to us," Micah said. "I got to sit there and listen to my dad teach them the game of baseball from what I'd taught him. Baseball literally saved the relationship with my father."
"I was only doing it for my son," Michael said. "By the time it was done, my son did fine. He's married, has a child, and he has a job teaching kids sports in the Park District. He and I are very close, we've been extremely close. I attribute baseball to saving my relationship with my son."
How close are they? Micah named his 1 1/2-year-old son, Michael Colton Pierce, after his father.
"It's been an adventure, that's for sure," Micah said. "It's nice to finish the goal. When my son is older, it's something I can do with him."
And they can start the journey all over again.