Riding the rails to baseball memories: Johnstown native took train to games at 30 MLB ballparks

Nov. 24—When Johnstown native Kris Horoho counts his blessings this Thanksgiving, he almost certainly will reflect on a trip — actually, trips — of a lifetime.

"All 30 Major League Baseball ballparks in one season, traveling only by Amtrak train," Horoho said. "It had never been done before."

A recent retiree after 41 years at Dow Chemical Co., Horoho used an old-school approach to attend games while traveling exclusively by train — a throwback to when major league teams' only option was to traverse by rail during the first half of the 20th century.

The son of late Tribune-Democrat sportswriter Ken Horoho Sr. began his 115-day journey on June 12 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. The final stop on Oct. 4 in Miami included a Miami Marlins home game at LoanDepot Park.

'Father's love of baseball'

"The main reason I did this was my love of baseball and my father's love of baseball," said Kris Horoho, whose dad covered local sports for 36 years, from 1949 to 1985. "He was a minor league baseball umpire for a short time. He became a sports writer. He was one of the main focal points of the AAABA Tournament every year."

Kris Horoho's trek also was intended to make up for time lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. When travel restrictions initially were lifted, he and his wife Olga took a vacation while traveling by train.

"The two years of COVID, quarantine, stuck at home, I had a lot of family, friends and colleagues I hadn't seen in two years," said Horoho, a 1976 graduate of Bishop McCort Catholic High School. "My wife and I took the train across the country and we loved it.

"I loved the trains, and I knew the baseball trip was going to be a good experience."

Horoho, 63, traveled only by Amtrak throughout his three-month, 23-day journey. He painstakingly planned the trip from his home in Clinton, New Jersey.

He learned how to find the best deals on train fare, baseball game tickets, hotels and food.

Horoho took advantage of various vouchers and deals, often waiting close to game time in order to score tickets for around $20.

Because he traveled by train, Horoho noted, he had no fuel or parking expenses.

'Didn't have a blueprint'

"I did everything from hotels, trains and baseball tickets all by myself," Horoho said. "I didn't have any travel agency. I used Amtrak's app to purchase the tickets. I didn't have a blueprint. This was never done before."

Often, family or friends who resided in or near major league cities accommodated Horoho during his travels.

"Of all the ballparks, at 26 of the 30, there were friends, family, colleagues or ex-clients from work that I saw and visited," Horoho said. "That's really what kept me going.

"The train experience, a lot of people don't even have it on the radar," he added. "If you look at it purely on a budget, Amtrak actually saves you money in transportation."

Horoho said he took advantage of a USA Rail Pass that provided him 10 segments (stops) for under $500.

"I started on June 12. My ninth game was on June 24," Horoho said of the strategy to use the rail pass. "That's less than two weeks. I went to nine different ballparks in fewer than 14 days."

'The Top 5'

Horoho's top five ranked ballpark experiences include:

1. San Diego Padres' Petco Park; 2, Atlanta Braves' Truist Park; 3, Pittsburgh Pirates' PNC Park; 4, Boston Red Sox's Fenway Park; and 5, Toronto Blue Jays' Rogers Centre.

At each of the 30 ballparks, Horoho purchased the hometown team's jersey, a baseball cap and a team pin. He eventually placed each pin on one hat.

Horoho estimated it cost $6,000 for those three items after he repeated the purchase at all 30 ballparks.

"It was well worth it," he said.

Throughout his travels, Horoho had several memorable moments that occurred seemingly by random chance. Two of those involved meeting Miami Marlins broadcaster J.P. Arencibia.

Horoho first met Arencibia at a game in Philadelphia, and at a later date, the two reconnected after Horoho took the subway from a New York Yankees game back to Manhattan.

"I got out on Seventh Avenue and met JP, who was walking up Seventh Avenue because he was in New York City for the Marlins-Mets game," Horoho said.

The two had struck up a conversation. Horoho told the broadcaster about his 30-ballpark trip. Arencibia had a big surprise for Horoho when he capped his journey with a Marlins game last month.

"He gave us media passes. We were able to get on the field and watch batting practice," Horoho said. "He did a pregame interview, and he said, 'Be by your seats at the end of the sixth inning.' "

Horoho and his son Kenny were summoned to go on the field and sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" with the Marlins mascot during the seventh-inning stretch.

"At the Marlins games, they take people out on the field to sing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame,'" Horoho said. "They picked us to sing. We were right next to the dugout (while waiting for the seventh-inning stretch). It was neat watching the players. Once the third out was made in the top of the seventh, we went out and sang 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.' "

'AAABA ties'

Another unexpected encounter had ties to the AAABA Tournament, which annually is held in Johnstown. Horoho attended a Texas Rangers game at Globe Life Field on Sept. 9.

"John Blake, the executive vice president of public affairs for Texas Rangers, was a good friend of the late Joe Branzell," Horoho said of the former Washington, D.C., franchise manager and AAABA Hall of Famer. "Joe Branzell also was a good friend of my dad. Because of the ties to Joe Branzell, John Blake met me for three or four innings during the Texas Rangers game.

"We talked about my trip. We talked about Joe Branzell and his role as a main scout with the Rangers."

While attending a Cincinnati Reds game, Horoho happened to sit next to Tim Parks, creator of the MLB GameDay Pass-Port Program, a book modeled after passports. Horoho diligently filled out his own MLB GameDay Pass-Port throughout his trip.

At Camden Yards in Baltimore, he sat next to a couple visiting from Anaheim, California. When Horoho attended a Los Angeles Angels game in Anaheim on July 28, the same couple again sat next to him.

"A lot of stadiums give tours," Horoho said. "All of the donations go to a charity."

The train experience provided a true baseball fan such as Horoho with a link to baseball's early era, when stars such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Joe Jackson and Honus Wagner traveled by rail to the games.

"In 1901, most of the baseball teams were established. The next team was added in 1961," Horoho said. "Most of the people from 1901 to 1940 or 1950, they used trains. The roads weren't there.

"The train stations had to be very close to the ballparks," he continued. "Of the 30 baseball stadiums, 10 of them I just walked to the hotel, and from there I just walked to the stadium. That's how close some of these ballparks were to the train station."

The 2022 baseball season ended with the Houston Astros defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in six games, just about a month after Horoho's trip concluded.

The summer produced a lifetime of memories and helped him pay homage to his father's love of the game. It also helped Horoho prove a point.

"I wanted to do an experience that the average person could do to watch a baseball game," Horoho said, noting that other than splurging on the jersey-hat-pin combination at each park, he often found affordable options on tickets and travel.

"I'm not saying it's not expensive," he said, "but it's not as expensive as people think."

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.