Baseball ‘stadium chasers’ have special kind of devotion to their bucket lists

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Rachael and Luke Parker, of Lawrence, are pictured at Citi Field in Queens, New York, where the Mets play.

Joe Cheesman still remembers his first Major League Baseball game.

“Vets Stadium, Philadelphia, August 10, 1996. I was 7, went with my dad, my grandpa and my little brother,” he says.

Cheesman, now a Kansas Citian, grew up in Harrisburg, South Dakota, but because his father was from South Jersey and was a die-hard Phillies fan, Cheesman was, too. The Phillies lost 3-1 that day, but that hardly turned him off to the experience.

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Stadium chaser Joe Cheesman is pictured at Petco Park in San Diego.

Today, at age 33, he makes a hobby of “stadium chasing,” and has attended games at 19 of the 30 active Major League Baseball stadiums, as well as seven former MLB ballparks. Among his favorites are two of the newest, San Diego Padres’ Petco Park (“weather is awesome, food is amazing”) and Coors Field in Denver (“It’s hard to beat mountains in the background”).

“My brother will fight you if say anything bad about Wrigley or Fenway,” Cheesman says. “But I don’t want to sit in wooden seats that are a hundred years old, with a pole in my way.”

While most baseball fans haven’t made it to as many stadiums as Cheesman, the quest is common enough on bucket lists that pilgrims can purchase commemorative charts, maps and travel guides written especially for them. Each stadium offers attendees a stamp to record their date of visit, which many collect in leather-bound passport books made for that purpose.

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Stadium chaser Joe Cheesman also maintains a collection of mini baseball helmets.

Rachael and Luke Parker, of Lawrence, began their quest more recently. The couple, natives of Ballarat, Australia, a town near Melbourne, say stadium chasing has been a great way to see the United States since their arrival in 2021, because, as Rachael puts it, “each stadium represents that city or that area so well.” To date they have been to 17.

In Ballarat, Australian rules football is king, baseball is rarely televised and live games are almost nonexistent. The baseball games the Parkers did manage to see growing up usually involved the New York Yankees, which is how they became Yankee fans.

Last summer they traveled to Dyersville, Iowa, to watch their favorite team take on the Chicago White Sox in the middle of a cornfield. The specially constructed Field of Dreams Stadium, located adjacent to the set where scenes from the iconic film were shot, has been host to one regular-season MLB game during the past two seasons. The Parkers attended the first, on Aug. 12, 2021, and although a walk-off home run beat the Yankees, they still left happy. Before heading back to Lawrence, they had a chance to meet one of their favorite MLB players, White Sox pitcher and fellow Aussie Liam Hendriks.

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Rachael and Luke Parker, of Lawrence, are pictured in summer 2021 at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa.

“We made a sign and he came over to the fence and gave us a signed game ball,” Luke says. “He hadn’t been back home for a while because of all the COVID restrictions and missed talking to Australians, so he was up for a good chat.”

Getting there is the hard part for most stadium chasers, but Jim Doepke can’t relax until after the “Star Spangled Banner” is performed, because on his stadium quest, he is the one who plays it. A 1974 University of Kansas graduate who currently lives in Estero, Florida, he is thought to be the only person to perform the national anthem in all 30 active MLB parks.

Doepke taught band to grades 5-12 in Wisconsin for 32 years before retiring in 2007, and began his journey in Milwaukee, where he brought his trumpet to Brewers games and played to energize the crowd.

“One day a guy in a coat and tie came down the aisle toward me and I thought for sure he was just gonna say, “You’re outta here,'” Doepke says. “Instead, he handed me his card and said, ‘Mr. Trumpet, come and play any time you want and we’ll give you and your friends free tickets.”

Doepke eventually made it onto the field at Miller Park to play his first MLB national anthem, and a letter of introduction from Bud Selig, former commissioner of baseball and Brewers owner, opened up more doors. Doepke even convinced the Anaheim Angels, whose strict policy allows only vocalists to perform the anthem, to let him play it in the stadium when the Angels were on the road.

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KU alumnus Jim Doepke plays the national anthem in June 2019 at Petco Park in San Diego.

This summer Doepke added a new park to his list when he performed before the Hall of Fame Classic, an annual game featuring former big leaguers at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York. And he doesn’t just play baseball games. Among his favorite venues is Allen Fieldhouse, located a stone’s throw from where he and his wife of 50 years, Liz, once lived in KU’s married student housing, during his student-teaching days at Pinckney Elementary and Lawrence High School. Doepke returns regularly to play the anthem and the KU alma mater, and was last in Lawrence in June for the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic. A chronicle of his adventures, including videos and a full schedule, is available at

Doepke, who sometimes receives free tickets but pays for most of his own travel and uses the same trumpet his parents gave him when he was a teen, urges those on the quest not to give up. As in any of life’s pursuits, he says, finding friends and contacts who will help you along the way is important. “You’re going to have some times when you don’t think you’re going to accomplish it, but you just got to keep going after it and doing it.”

Finishing is beside the point for Cheesman, though. “It’s the journey, more than anything else, that you should pursue. I love that it’s taken my whole life to do it, and I’m not even done yet.”


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