For Matt Stoltz, the 700-mile ride from Houston to Kansas City is treacherous. It is the middle of June, which means heat and humidity, and Stoltz is making the trip alone. On a bicycle.
"You pitch a tent, bundle up, crawl in and wake up in the morning and do it all again,” he says.
After eight days, Stoltz could see his final destination, Kauffman Stadium, on the horizon as he rode toward the outskirts of town. The nights alone, the heat, even that one night the tent flooded -- it all felt worth it now.
He had made it to ballpark No. 11.
“Biking to the stadium is always one of my favorite days," Stoltz says. "Once you see it on the skyline, the adrenaline kind of takes over and you realize ballpark No. 11 is right there and you cruise on in and take the ballpark in."
Kansas City was just another stop on Stoltz’s 11,000-mile, six-month journey from Seattle to Milwaukee, where he will attend a game in all 30 Major League Baseball parks. He's doing it for Biking for Baseball, a non-profit organization that helps youth mentoring programs across the country.
Stoltz said his goal is to raise $100,000 for Biking for Baseball and he's determined to reach that number.
"If I tell someone I'm going to do something, I'm going to find a way to make it happen," Stoltz says. "I don't like to go back on my word."
Stoltz, 22, graduated Wisconsin with a degree in community and nonprofit leadership in the winter, a semester early, to begin training for the trip. He also wasn’t ready for the work force, so he decided to chase his dreams instead.
"When I thought of this idea of biking to all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums, as a baseball fan, it was on my bucket list to make it to all 30," he says. "So doing it by bike was a challenge that I just couldn’t pass up."
Growing up in Wisconsin Rapids, a small town in the center of the state, Stoltz and his family fell in love with the game of baseball and the Milwaukee Brewers.
He began playing soccer and baseball as a child and realized the value of his mentors, including coaches and teachers. He wanted to help those in need, so he'd bike to the Boys & Girls Club every day of his summer, trying to be a mentor to children in his hometown.
"The relationships that he formed working with kids kind of just set up a positive environment and he enjoyed it so much he kept coming back for more," Stoltz's brother, Dan, says. "… He found something he really loved and kept up with it and kept going with it."
By 2012, Stoltz was ready to do something bigger for children. He completed a bike ride from his home to Florida that year, helping to raise money to buy sports equipment for children in developing countries.
At the same time, a group of four men, led by Rex Roberts and Adam Kremers rode across the country, watching games in all 30 MLB parks along the way. The ride was the first in the history of Biking for Baseball, which Roberts and Kremers helped established in 2011.
"We started having the conversation of how to combine the things that we love and the seed of an idea got started," Roberts said. "Over the next couple years, we started talking about it enough and it grew to the point where it was carrying enough momentum where people were afraid to say no and back out of it."
Roberts, now executive director of Biking for Baseball, and his team’s ride caught the attention of Stoltz and the idea remained in his head through the spring of 2014, while he was studying abroad in Kenya. He was in the midst of one journey and already thinking about another.
"I definitely have that adventurous personality," Stoltz says. "I have my bucket list and I kind of get to it and I don’t want it to get too dusty. I keep crossing things off.”
He was trying to plan his trip when he tweeted at Biking for Baseball to ask for advice. The more questions Stoltz had for Roberts and his team, the more they were interested in sponsoring his run.
By October 2014, Roberts told Stoltz that Biking for Baseball wanted to sponsor him and they began mapping the journey. It was set to start April 6 and end October 3, and Stoltz began training immediately.
Stoltz’s trip started in Seattle with more 900 miles separating him from his next stop in San Francisco. He made it to the first checkpoint and relief set in.
"You get to San Francisco and you look at a map and think, ‘Man, I just rode all of that,'" Stoltz says. "I had all of this pain, but I overcame it. When you look back and see how far you've ridden, it's kind of rewarding in that sense, but at the same time, you have so many miles left."
Then it was on to Oakland, then San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas and Houston. He'd take days off only to watch the game, and bike out of town the next morning.
Stoltz says he is enjoying his trip, which has spanned more than 5,000 miles to this point. The trek from St. Louis to Miami, where he’ll have to bike an average of 100 miles per day for almost a month, is his toughest test, but one for which he is prepared.
"It's definitely in the back of my mind," Stoltz says. "That stretch has been circled on my calendar. It’s going to challenging, but the support of people who I’ve met and people who I haven’t even met who are really backing the trip, it really helps. This month is going to be the one that pushes me to my limits, but I’m up for the challenge."
-- To follow the rest of Stoltz's trip across the country, visit Biking for Baseball's website.