Joey Mellows likes to say his journey to 162 major league, minor league and independent league baseball games is an “authentic fan experience.” But most fans haven’t spent their life savings to traverse the United States while watching its national pastime.
Mellows, 34, from Portsmouth, England, grew up playing the usual European sports but fell in love with baseball while working abroad in South Korea.
He loves the game so much that he saved up enough money to make a cross-country American trek to see a season’s worth of baseball in the same year that the Red Sox and Yankees will visit London in June for Major League Baseball’s first games in Europe. We caught up with Mellows to hear more about his journey. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What exactly is your plan? And how did you get this idea?
The plan is to do 162 games, major league, minor league, independent league. The idea came from, I guess, I’m just an English guy who never thought about baseball until he was 29. I moved out to work for a London-based company in Seoul in South Korea and went on holiday to Japan with my parents and saw my first baseball game there almost by accident in April 2015.
For some reason or other, the whole combination of numbers and stats and the action on the field and the atmosphere and everything, I just fell in love with baseball. So I went back the next night to Seoul and started rooting for my local team, the LG Twins.
This whole trip is about, we’ve got MLB coming to Europe for the first time. The NFL is very well-established now. We have NBA games. We’ve never had a Major League Baseball game in Europe, and they’re bringing the big guns, the Red Sox and Yankees. So my goal this summer is to do a full season, but to also try to get more coverage, more interest and more enthusiasm in my own press back in the UK.
Where have you been so far?
I started in Tokyo for the start of the Major League Baseball season there. The Oakland Athletics had two home games officially against the Seattle Mariners. I was there for Ichiro’s last game. And then I flew from Japan to South Korea, where I used to live, for the start of the season there. And then I few from Seoul to Seattle. I saw the Mariners play the Red Sox.
Part of what I’m doing is I’m trying introduce the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees to people back home, so I wanted to be at the first Red Sox game of the season and I just happened to be in Seattle. Other places I’ve been: I’ve been to Philadelphia, to Baltimore, to Wilmington in Delaware and now Boston.
What has surprised you the most about your trip?
The biggest surprise to me is just the level of interest in the trip. I didn’t think people would care about one guy and what he’s choosing to do with his own money, but people seem to be interested in this strange journey that I’m going through. I’d say 99 percent of people have been incredibly supportive. I think lots of people sit at their desk and they stare out the window at their desk at work and they think: “What else could I be doing? I like baseball. How cool would it be to go to a whole season?” I’m just the idiot that is recklessly deciding to do that with my life savings.
It gives me the experience of the grind these players go through, the wives and their kids. It’s life on the road, this kind of transient lifestyle that professional baseball players have. Maybe at the end of the journey I’ll write a book or something if there’s interest. I’m recording my thoughts each day about what is happening, the highs and the lows of life on the road and the difficulty when you wake up in the morning and not knowing where you’re going to sleep the next night.
Have you spent a lot of time in the United States before this?
I think I holidayed in the United States when I was 11, and then when I was 17 we stayed in Pennsylvania with a family friend of my father. Other than that, I had a girlfriend in Kansas City for the last year, so I was flying from Seoul to Kansas City to see her. But that didn’t work out, and I think maybe the fact that ended pushed me into this fairly big decision to try to do 162 games and stop worrying about other people and things I can’t control like weddings and kids in the future.
I just want to enjoy life and have a bit of time out to reflect on what I want to be for the next 40 years of my life, so that’s what I’m doing. And if people think it’s self-indulgent, I just say, it’s my money, I’ve worked really hard for it, I’m not getting any help from anyone. No one is sponsoring me or doing anything like that. Let me choose to spend it how I will.
What do you make of the U.S. so far?
I’ve only been in the USA for a week and a half or two weeks now, so I’ve got all this traveling in front of me. I’m in North Carolina on Sunday. I’m in New York next Tuesday. I’m in Florida next Friday. The driving really sucks now, but it’s very exciting.
I mean, part of the trip is baseball. I watch a baseball game at the end of every day, but the other part of the trip I really like is just exploring your great country and seeing the differences between places like the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest. I’ve never been to the South; I’ve heard the cuisine is delicious and the way of life is a little slower. This is about baseball fundamentally, but it’s also about the USA and exploring and learning more about your country.
What games or trips are you most excited for coming up?
I’m at the Durham Bulls on Sunday. I saw the movie “Bull Durham” when I was getting into baseball, and that’s kind of cool because that’s like movie history. There’s Red Sox-Yankees next Tuesday, the rivalry. And then next Thursday, there’s this game in North Carolina.
I’ve never been to North Carolina in my life, but there’s this brand new team called the Fayetteville Woodpeckers and they’re an A-advanced affiliate of the Houston Astros and they’re playing their first game in this city in this brand new ballpark. It’s a complete sellout, but I’ve managed to get a ticket and I’m really excited about going into this smaller city and a minor league baseball stadium and experiencing the whole community coming together and celebrating this new baseball team they’ve got in their area.
Why do you think baseball has a chance to catch on in the UK?
It offers something completely different to our other sports. Rugby is very frenetic. It’s 80 minutes. Soccer is so entrenched in our society and it’s 90 minutes and it’s very tribal. It’s really fiery, passionate fans. Baseball, it’s a bit slower. It’s three hours. You can bring a family. You’ve got all the other stuff around the game. You’ve got activities for kids. You’ve got things in between innings on the big screen that you can watch. You’ve got the opportunity to talk to people that you go to the game with and think and reflect during all the action.
With rugby and with football back home, there isn’t that time to talk and think and reflect. There’s just constant frenetic action. And cricket is too long. Cricket takes five days, if you go to a test match. Baseball, I think, is the perfect amount of time. You get to go to a game and enjoy conversation with someone and enjoy the action as well.
You’re making this trip all on your own. What if people want to help you along the way?
At the moment, I'm waking up each day not really sure where I'm staying that night, jumping in the car and having the adventure of a lifetime.
I’ve been working without a break for the last 10 years. I went to university and I’ve lived this very sensible life. I saved up the money. I’ve worked weekends.
If people want to contribute, I have mixed feelings about that, but they can go on my Twitter page and message me. Accommodation is very gratefully received. That’s the one that kind of dictates whether I can go to a game or not, is whether I have somewhere safe to stay. But a hot dog at a game, that would be awesome.