So a Guy Visits Every Professional Sports Stadium in America …

It took Rich O'Malley 25 years to see a game at the home of all 123 pro U.S. sports teams

Rich O'Malley at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Post Hill Press)
Rich O'Malley at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Post Hill Press)
By Evan Bleier / August 12, 2019 6:00 am

There may be other people who have seen a game at the homes of all 123 professional American sports teams, but Rich O’Malley is the first person to write an actual book about the experience.

Completed over the course of more than 25 years, O’Malley’s pilgrimage to all the MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA viewing venues across the country began in college when he started visiting pro baseball stadiums with some friends.

“We took a couple of road trips, first locally and then out to the Midwest and then finally we took a big trip where we went all the way across the country,” O’Malley tells InsideHook. “From this birth of loving to go see baseball stadiums, we would also see football here and there, then basketball depending on the season. Hockey started sprinkling in too. So I started to think it would be great to someday get everywhere and see everything. Wouldn’t that be amazing?”

After college, O’Malley continued visiting stadiums, ballparks and arenas as time permitted and estimates he had made it to about 80 by 2017 when he left his job working as an executive editor at the New York Daily News. With fewer than 45 locations left on his list, O’Malley decided it would be a good idea to finish the 123-stop odyssey and write the book, One Lucky Fan, he’d been thinking about for the better part of the last two decades.

Rich O'Malley seeing the Lions in Detroit. (Post Hill Press)
Rich O’Malley seeing the Lions in Detroit. (Post Hill Press)

“Every time I would tell somebody, ‘I’ve been to every baseball stadium’ or ‘I’ve been to 80 of the professional teams,” their jaw would drop and they would ask me a million questions,” O’Malley says. “I realized there must be a market for a book like this. There must be interest in living vicariously through someone who’s lucky enough, the word in the title’s not an accident, to be able to do such a thing. I finally convinced myself this was a good idea. Then I convinced my wife that it was a good idea — or at least not a completely insane idea.”

To have the material to be able to finish the book, O’Malley, a Yankees and Jets fan, hit the road and was able to see his final 42 games over a grueling 53-day stretch. “It was a breakneck pace,” he says. “It was not the best way to appreciate your environment or appreciate the game and the beauty of the sport that you were watching in front of you.”

But, that’s not to say O’Malley, 43, didn’t find anything to enjoy during his trip as, in addition to the games themselves, he grew to relish seeing fan loyalty on display in cities that aren’t necessarily known for it.

“I started to appreciate more the feeling of tradition and membership when you invest in a team,” O’Malley says. “Everyone picks a team for a different reason. We don’t choose the how or why of it with a lot of our fandoms because they happen at such a young age. It’s going to mean you’re a different person because of the team you chose. I have to imagine the mindset of a Cleveland Indians fan or a Cubs fan is way different than that of a Yankees or a Patriots fan. It puts you in a different spot in life and it sticks with you. It changes over time too.”

Rich O'Malley at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. (Post Hill Press)
Rich O’Malley at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. (Post Hill Press)

While you likely don’t have the time to visit all, or even a quarter of, the venues O’Malley has gone to over the past two-plus decades, now is the time when for planning a summer road trip to see your MLB team or a winter weekend to watch your NFL, NHL or NBA squad in action in another city.

To help you pick where to consider, we asked O’Malley about the best, and worst, places to take in a game. Here are 15 of his stadium superlatives.

Best Tailgate Scene

“Tailgating, I think I would point to Buffalo. I really liked the way the whole town felt like a Bills parking lot. It felt like you were outside the stadium all over town on the morning of the game. You could see people in their gear getting ready to head out to the stadium. Then, when you get near the stadium, there’s a lot of homes that let you park on their lawn for five or 10 bucks and people set up chairs and set up barbecues. You feel like you’re walking through someone’s barbecue basically. It’s usually bitter cold up there and they’re all huddled together and they’ve all got their woolens on. It’s a pretty cool scene.”

Most Obnoxious Fans

I found Chiefs fans obnoxious if I’m being honest. Theirs [Arrowhead] is the loudest stadium in the world, according to the decibel meter. But I found a lot of them just to be sort of loudmouth jerks with the stuff that they were yelling. Those fans were just too much for me. I was like, ‘All right, guys, just bring it down a notch here, this is overkill.’ So that was kind of annoying.”

Best Food and Drink

“I’ll give you a few. I live in Philly now and I’d say Citizens Bank Park has the best food and drink options in baseball. It’s not the healthiest of fare, but it certainly is a wide variety of stuff like crab fries and a sandwich they used to have called the Schmitter. They don’t have it anymore so that kind of dings them a little bit, but the craft beer selection is all local and very good stuff. I appreciate when I go to a stadium and they’re offering me something different than just a Bud or Miller Lite. I’ve had Indian food in Minneapolis at the Twins stadium, sushi out on the West Coast at the Padres stadium and even a salad down in the Astros stadium. You never think you’re going to have a salad at a baseball game, but it was Texas-sized and it was pretty good.”

Best Hot Dog

“I’ll go with Miller Park in Milwaukee because they have a bunch of different options. They have all the brats and all the different kind of sausages. The selection there is great. They know what they’re doing up there with hot dogs and sausages. Speaking of hot dogs, I actually wasn’t a huge fan of the Dodger Dog which was kind of disappointing because you hear so much about them.”

Best Returnability

“I will always want to go back to Lambeau Field. It’s probably my favorite sports venue in America. I think it’s the preeminent sports experience in America and has a feel that you can’t replicate anywhere else and is not replicated anywhere else. It extends out of the stadium too into the town. The stadium is plopped down right in the middle of this tiny little town with all these cute little houses. You’re living the experience of seeing a Packers game even before you walk in the stadium because everyone’s out on their lawn and all the garages are open and there are man caves of giant TVs on. It’s a very communal atmosphere and you don’t see that anywhere else.”

Worst Returnability

“My own team’s [Jets] stadium of MetLife. I’m praying I don’t ever have to go back there because there’s a big game I don’t want to miss. I just hate that place so much. Aside from my own venue there, I’d say the Atlanta Hawks arena. It’s such a dump. I mean it’s beaten up and they were doing renovations, but I don’t think they’re going to fix much. It’s a place way past it’s prime and I’m sure it’ll be replaced soon enough.”

Best Bang for Your Buck

“Coors Field has center field seats that I think are still only four bucks. I can’t think of any other tickets in sports that are still that cheap. You don’t get tickets for under five dollars unless you’re on StubHub getting a last-second steal. So I appreciate when teams do that. Offer dollar days.”

Funniest Fans

“In Vancouver, the hockey fans there were just hilarious. They were almost berating their own team. It was kind of a funny give and take. It wasn’t yay, my team. Boo, the other team. It was kind of like, ‘God, my team stinks. Why do you guys stink? Stop stinking so much.’ So that was pretty neat. Also, Winnipeg. I guess hockey is the sort of winner here. Those fans were really, really into their team and they should be. They were robbed of their team back in the ’90s. So I feel great that they’re now selling that place out every night. It shows they never should’ve left.”

Best Accent

“Anytime you head up to Minnesota, you get that accent. It’s kind of funny. Funny to me, but I’m a New Yorker, so people could say whatever they want about my accent. I would say go to the two extremes. Go up to Minnesota for a good accent. But then also come to New York because, man, you’re going to hear some stuff at Yankee Stadium that is just going to amuse the hell out of you if you’re not from New York.”

Best Sightlines

“My favorite baseball stadium is PNC Park in Pittsburgh. I don’t think they have a bad seat in the house the way they have it laid out. I think the new Yankee Stadium also has terrific sightlines. Especially because you don’t have to be in a seat necessarily to see the game because they have 360- degree viewing from the hallway on the first floor and main level. That’s super whenever a stadium figures out how to do that.”

Frightening Fans

“I would say the scariest place I went to was Oakland as a Jets fan. I certainly was intimidated enough not to put on Jets gear for that game but instead throw on my old Raiders jersey to blend in and quietly root for my team. But I got some good ribbing from Chargers fans when I went out there for a playoff game. Couple of friends and I went out and we wore our green proudly. The give and take we had with Chargers fans in the parking lot in San Diego before and after the game was pretty good. Although after the game they were pretty depressed and rightfully so with the overtime loss. But they gave as good as they got.”

Best In-Game Experience

“I really liked what the new Sacramento arena did. Their scoreboard tricks were a lot fresher than a lot of the stale kiss-cam kind of stuff that you see everywhere. Then also the Vegas Knights … what they’re doing out there is game-changing. I think a lot of places are going to try to start to copy that model. They’ve completely broken the mold. Every song I heard that night was a song I don’t think I’d ever heard in an arena before. They’re really mixing it up. It’s amazing. I mean you’re in Vegas, you should be seeing a Vegas show, and they really got that and they did it right. The fans are eating it up. Visitors are going to eat it up too.”

Worst Facilities

“Fenway and Wrigley with their old bones. Heading to the bathroom in either of those places is usually an experience. They’ve definitely made it better in the last couple of decades, but I remember going to Cubs games back in the ’90s and you’d pee in a trough The places with the older bones I think lend themselves to sort of crappy, if you will, pun intended, bathrooms.”

Most Underrated

“I really enjoy the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. I think it’s unique. It doesn’t look like all the other parks that were built around the same time. It sort of went and did the Jacob’s Field model, where it’s sort of modern but with a retro feel. Where you have the white pipes and it’s not the brick-and-green seat model that you see so many places now. It’s on the river and they’ve got these nods to their riverboat history. Big steam stacks in the outfield. It’s super red, everywhere you look is red. It’s really striking. I like that about it. Also, good beer and food options there too.”

Most Overrated

“I’ve gotten in trouble with a lot of people for saying it, but I’m just not the world’s biggest Camden Yards fan. I know why people like it. I see it. It’s beautiful. It’s historic. It broke the mold on stadiums across the country and ushered in a new era. But for my tastes, I just don’t get into it as much as other people do.”