In the security line at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport on Friday night, I witnessed one of the finest finesses in recent memory.
A haggard passenger urgently was snaking through the line, asking those ahead of him if he could bypass us to hopefully catch a flight for which he was late. He showed us his boarding pass, which indicated 6:30 p.m. was the time to start getting on his plane. At that moment, it was 6:45 – meaning he likely had a matter of minutes to make it.
I said sure, as the rest of the people behind me had done. My flight to North Carolina wasn't until 8:15, and it felt good for once to neither be late nor in a hurry.
The passenger in front of me, however, was skeptical. And then he quickly turned that skepticism into opportunity. He said the late passenger could pass him, with a catch:
"Only if you take me with you," he said.
And so it was that two, not one, made the journey through another 20 or 30 travelers and hustled through security.
I have no idea if the first passenger made his flight, but I'm certain the second passenger made my night. We weren't even on the plane yet, and already there was a story to tell.
Stories are the hallmark of the Great Baseball Road Trip, the name a group of friends and I gave to an annual summer journey where we hit the road to see games at far-flung places. You might think baseball is the point, but I think we've all come to understand that sports are the mere framework and impetus.
The real point is to get out, to reconnect, to remember and to add onto the legend of the trip – something I tried to convey, along with members of the group, on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast.
The original four-person trip was in 2000 out to the East Coast for games at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. For 20 consecutive years, a crew of usually three to five of us made a commitment to baseball every summer. As we got older and started having families, a sprawling seven-to-10 day odyssey shrank to a three-to-four day sprint.
The trip endured until 2020 when Covid shut down just about everything. We weren't ready to resume in 2021. There was talk of a trip in 2022, but nothing materialized. In retrospect, it feels like enough of us were in a sort of Covid haze: Ready to move on, to a degree, but still unpacking the baggage of what had happened in life over the last two years.
By this year, it felt like time. And still nothing was on the calendar from the spring into the early summer, for a trip that used to have at least a tentative (and sometimes hotly debated) itinerary soon after baseball schedules were released.
I never really thought the trip was in danger of being gone for good, but patterns have a way of being sticky. We had done it for 20 consecutive years, each year feeding and sustaining the next. Then we had missed three.
A couple months ago, though, our friend and core GBRT member who lives in North Carolina had a proposal: Come down for a weekend in September for the Gophers football game and a Durham Bulls game.
Another core member who now lives in Virginia had already committed to going. I was the next to take the plunge and book a flight. Numbers gradually grew to the point that all six of the participants who have become regulars on the trip over the last 10 to 15 years made it to the football game, the first time all six of us were on the same trip.
Only if you take me with you was already an unofficial theme even before the security line.
Not everything was perfect, which is another hallmark of the trip.
We endured a rental car mess – arriving around midnight Friday, we were told after a long wait in line that despite having a reservation they were "out of cars" and that we would need to return in the morning. We rolled with it.
The Gophers did not exactly bring their best game with them to North Carolina, a topic that was also much discussed on the podcast but which did little to detract from the overall experience.
And a golf tee time miscommunication Sunday pushed us into a very questionable pivot to disc golf — even though none of us have discs, or are disc golfers, or knew where there was a disc golf course. We made it happen because the road trip will not be deterred when it comes to outright silliness bordering on stupidity.
We began Saturday very early so we could get to a youth soccer game, and we ended it very late Sunday so we could be the only spectators in attendance to shout alternating encouragement and harassment while our North Carolina friend played in a 10 p.m. adult league hockey game.
(He had a goal celebration all prepared for us, but he didn't score. We thought about telling him that his expected goals were off the charts and that he would be an analytics darling despite not getting one of a dozen shots past the goalie, but instead that one stayed with the off-ice group until now).
Youth soccer. Adult hockey. College football. Extremely amateur disc golf. All road trip firsts.
And yes, the Baseball Road Trip included baseball. Despite a persistent threat of rain and occasional light showers, the Class AAA Durham Bulls concluded their home season Sunday with five members of the group in attendance.
Billy Hamilton, a former MLB regular who has just 196 major league plate appearances in the last four seasons for five different organizations (including eight PAs with the Twins last year), batted seventh and played center field for Durham.
Hamilton's spot in the order was due up next when Alan Busenitz retired the final batter to secure a 10-7 win for Louisville. Busenitz played a strong supporting role for the 2017 wild card Twins, posting a 1.99 ERA in 28 relief appearances. The next season, that ERA swelled to 7.82. By 2019, he began a four-year tour pitching in Japan.
But Busenitz returned this year, spending most of his time with Louisville and getting into five games with the Reds about five years after he last pitched in the majors for the Twins.
I couldn't help but think of Busenitz and Hamilton, both 33, as I reflected on the trip early Monday on the plane back to Minneapolis after just a few hours of sleep.
Either of them could have stopped trying a few years ago and hung it up. But there they were grinding away, and there we were to bear witness.
You keep moving forward because you hope that someday you might make it back.