Touch ‘em all, Paul Spyhalski

Published 3:13 pm Saturday, July 17, 2010

It may be an understatement to call Austin attorney Paul Spyhalski a baseball fan.

Paul has attended baseball games at 68 parks, 26 of them Major League parks, and he plans to travel to many more.

Paul and his wife, Vickie, who have lived in Austin since 1996, often dedicate a long holiday weekend or a vacation to a baseball trip visiting stadiums in the Major Leagues, minor leagues and independent league teams.

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“It’s gotten to the point where you go to (Washington) D.C., Baltimore, New York for a weekend you plan your vacations around it,” he said.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, Paul and Vickie traveled to New York to go to the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, home of the Mets.

Not only does Paul enjoy photographing each unique park, he also keeps a list of all the ballparks he’s been to, and he keeps score at most of the games he’s been to.

“I keep score when I go to a park because, for me, it’s kind of like having a scrapbook of what I see,” Paul said.

Paul keeps tickets, notes and newspaper clippings from games as mementod to look back on.

Paul said he loves baseball because each team truly has a chance to win because the pitchers are different each game. He also said he loves that each baseball stadium is unique. For example, Bringhurst Field in Alexandria, Ala., has dugouts dug about 5 feet into the ground.

“Every ballpark’s a little different, plays different,” he said. “They’re different from day-to-day depending on who the starting pitcher is.”

Forming a passion

When Paul was attending the Hamline University School of Law in the early to mid-1990s, he lived near the St. Paul Saints field, and he said it was at a time when the Minnesota Twins weren’t very good.

“The Saints were a lot of fun and that’s when the minor leagues were popping up all over the place,” he said, noting that former Major Leaguers like Daryl Strawberry and Jack Morris played for the Saints at one point.

At one point, he said there were about three minor league teams in Minneapolis, and he could easily go to three or four games in a weekend across the Twin Cites.

Despite traveling to many ballparks across the U.S., his favorite event was out of the country. He and Vickie traveled to Puerto Rico for the World Baseball Classic in 2009 for six games.

“The fans down there. It’s just crazy. It’s deafening,” he said. “When you have Puerto Rico playing or the Dominican, their fans are just second to none. That was a lot of fun.”

At one game, he even ended up sitting near the Netherlands team.

Paul also attended the last game at Milwaukee County Stadium before the Brewers moved to Miller Field. The event was a highlight because a number of former players attended the game.

After seeing so many different ballparks, Paul said he enjoys seeing how the field plays into the game.

“It’s neat to see how a game that’s really so simple changes from stadium to stadium,” he said.

For example, Paul said games at Fenway Park, home of the the Boston Red Sox, tend to be high scoring because of the green monster in left field. On the other hand, Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, is a big stadium and is said to favor pitchers.

Next on his list

While he’s already been to 26 Major League parks current and closed parks, Paul is aiming to make it to all of the Major League parks. Paul and Vickie try to stop at three parks a year, but he said it has become more difficult as there are fewer parks left on his list and those left are further away.

Some of the ballparks Paul and Vickie have left to see are newer parks like the Seattle Mariners’ Safeco Field and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ PNC Park. Paul said he’s excited to travel to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles because of the park’s history.

However, the real gem left on his wish list is Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., where Willie Mays first played when he was in the Negro Leagues. Paul hopes to travel to the Rickwood Classic, which is the only professional game played at the park each season.

Before traveling to a game, Paul said it’s important to research the park so you know ways to enhance the experience at that particular field. For example, tailgating is common at Miller Park in Milwaukee. He took the subway to Yankee Stadium and rode the 7 train when he went to Citi Field, which he said is commonly part of the fans’ experiences at those fields.

A fan of the game

Despite being an avid fan, Paul doesn’t typically cheer for one specific team.

“I’ll go see anybody play,” he said.

Paul had season tickets to the Austin Minnie Stars when they were in Austin, and he even had some of the players stay at his house during that span.

One of those players was Josh Willingham, who is now the starting left-fielder for the Washington Nationals.

Willingham stayed with Paul and Vickie around 1998, and the two got to know the young ball player.

“He’s a good young hitter,” Paul said.

Paul and Vicki currently follow the Nationals because Willingham plays there. When possible, the two try to plan trips around where Willingham is playing. They got to see Willingham play at Citi Field in New York over the Fourth of July weekend.

Paul lived in New Orleans for six months when he worked for the New Orleans Public Defenders office following Hurricane Katrina in 2007. Since he was staying there by himself, he’d take a calender from Baseball America of all the minor league teams and he’d often travel to ballparks on the weekends.

He even saw a snake delay at one minor league ballpark. A player refused to go back into the outfield due to a snake, and the announcer even announced it as the first snake delay in history.