Mel Bowen’s story begins on July 18, 1997, at Wrigley Field in Chicago — in a downpour.
Bowen, who lives in Ipswich, had made the trip with his father, brother and a friend because they always wanted to see a National League game. They arrived at historic Wrigley Field on a beautiful sunny day that soon turned into a thunder-and-lightning storm.
“I remember them saying it was the most rain they ever had,” he said.
The game between the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies ended up being rained out, but the slow start did not deter Bowen from a quest that has lasted more than two decades and is finally about to be fulfilled.
The 67-year-old Bowen said he has visited every major league baseball park except one. On Aug. 27 and 28, he plans to attend games at Coors Field in Colorado, the only park remaining on his baseball bucket list.
The game — Bowen already has the tickets in hand — will mark his 35th major league park, which includes ones that no longer exist, such as Tiger Stadium in Detroit.
Asked about his accomplishment, Bowen said simply, “I’m pretty excited.” Sensing that Bowen’s reaction might not capture the magnitude of the feat, his friend Billy Perkins added, “It’s like climbing Mount Everest, right?”
Bowen is a retired Verizon technician who has worked as a car salesman and bartender. He grew up in Ipswich and lives across the street from the park where he played baseball as a kid.
After that first trip to Wrigley, which included his father, brother and Perkins, Bowen said they came up with the idea of visiting every major league park to watch the Red Sox play.
“We try to have a rooting interest,” Bowen said. “We want to see the Red Sox.”
Bowen has made trips with his father, brothers, sisters, sons, daughter, uncles and cousins, as well as friends like Perkins. He has gone with as many as a dozen people at a time and as few as one — a solo trip to San Francisco in 2010.
Along the way he has met the famous — Muhammad Ali in Chicago, David Ortiz in St. Petersburg — and the not-so-famous — a fan in Tampa known as the “gentleman heckler” for the polite way he yells at opposing players.
Bowen was there when Cal Ripkin played his last game (Baltimore, 1998). He was there when Trot Nixon hit three home runs (Detroit, 1999). He was there when Manny Ramirez hit his 500th home run (Baltimore, 2008).
In 2001, Bowen and his group paid to have a message posted on the scoreboard at Comiskey Park in Chicago wishing Mel Sr. a happy 80th birthday — even though he was only 73. Bowen said his father, who died in 2006, was a passionate Red Sox fan.
“I remember my father jumping up and down after a three-game sweep in Anaheim in 1998,” Bowen said. “I thought we were going to get the crap beat out of us. I wish he was still here.”
Bowen’s photos of his trips are piled into several boxes in the basement of his home. But it doesn’t take much to spark his memory. Speaking about a trip to Minnesota in 2004, he recalled shortstop Omar Cabrera hitting a home run on the day after he was traded to the Red Sox. When Perkins asked if Cabrera was batting lead-off that day, Bowen said no, he was batting third. A check of the box score proved him right.
Bowen took a few years off from his baseball excursions when he got married, but otherwise has gone on several trips per year. He said he’s been to Camden Yards in Baltimore at least 40 times and to Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay about 30 times.
So far this year he’s been to Citi Field in New York and Target Field in Minnesota. This weekend he’ll be in Detroit to see the Sox play. On the way to Colorado next month, he’s going to games in San Diego.
Perkins, who has known Bowen since they were kids, said Bowen does most of the planning, from lining up airline tickets and hotels to ordering the game tickets.
“He’s the driving force,” Perkins said.
Bowen has no plans to stop going to games once he achieves his goal in Colorado. He would like to bring his girlfriend to Wrigley Field, and he’s also started traveling to Patriots games.
“I might continue to do that,” he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.