Outdoors

Lakewood couple using epic baseball road trip to raise awareness of poverty

Mission control is the passenger seat of Jodi Petrinovich’s loaded-down gray Honda Accord.

From here, Jodi Petrinovich writes blog posts, sizes pictures, makes phone calls and reads aloud from “The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip” while her husband, Jack, handles the driving.

The retired Lakewood couple are veteran road-trippers who are headed toward home on their latest adventure: a 3 1/2-month tour of all 30 Major League Baseball ballparks.

“We’ve learned so much about our country. I love hiking in the national parks, and we see so many things we wouldn’t if we weren’t driving,” Jodi said. “I think what I like most is just the freedom of it all.”

Freedom, in a way, is the theme of their trip. Not just enjoying it, but trying to bring a little bit more of it to a few dozen families.

Visiting all 30 ballparks is a pretty standard dream trip for diehard baseball fans, but the Petrinovichs have added a level of purpose to their adventure. They’re using it to raise awareness for Unbound, a nonprofit that assists impoverished people around the world.

Their goal: Find a person at each stop who will sponsor a child. Each of the 30 children shares a name with a pro player at that stop. For example, on June 21 they visited U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago to watch the White Sox and their all-star second baseman Alexei Ramirez play Texas. The Petrinovichs also looked for a sponsor for Alexi, a 5-year-old Guatemalan boy who lives in a small dirt-floor home with seven other family members.

“We aren’t being pushy about it,” Jodi said. “We’re just looking for opportunities to talk to people and tell them about Unbound and the kids and their families.”

And on the adventure of a lifetime there are plenty of these opportunities. There are the families they stay with along the way and the churches they visit every Sunday. They talked to the parents of Mariners pitcher J.A. Happ, a 93-year-old World War II veteran and basketball legend Bill Walton.

“We’ve met so many interesting people,” Jodi said. “It’s been an amazing experience.”

THE IDEA

The Petrinovich’s interest in Unbound started five years ago when a priest visited their parish, St. John Bosco, and talked about the organization.

After the service, Jodi grabbed a card with information about a child. “I said, ‘I guess we can do this.’ ”

The child she selected was named Yessica, a girl from Mexico. The Petrinovichs made their donations and started writing back and forth with Yessica and her family.

Last year, in November, they decided to visit.

“It was really an eye opening experience,” Jodi said. “We saw how the organization impacts the communities. Helping keep kids in school, empowering mothers and helping people with small business loans.

“They were really bettering their lives and making them more independent.”

By the time they left Mexico. They decided to sponsor another child, a Mexican girl named Kareli.

Jack is 60 and Jodi is 57 and the couple retired in 2012 after selling their physical therapy practice. Later that year, they took a four-month road trip that included a stop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they watched the LSU football team dismantle the University of Washington.

They loved the experience and hatched a plan to do it again, this time visiting baseball stadiums along the way.

When the 2015 baseball schedule was announced in September, 2014, they promptly set to work planning their route and acquiring tickets. And it was in the midst of preparations they took the trip with Unbound to Mexico.

Jodi said they were pondering what more they could do to help the kids, when the idea came to her.

“I thought maybe because the trip is associated with baseball it would be kind of be fun and maybe people will be more interested,” she said.

She contacted Unbound. “I said, ‘If you think this is a silly idea, tell me, and I’ll stop thinking about it.’ ”

They didn’t stop her.

MARINERS PRIDE

The Petrinovichs are diehard Mariners fans. Jack planned the trip to assure they’d see the M’s plays as many times as possible.

The trip started with a Mariners game in Oakland on April 12 and will end at Seattle’s Safeco Field on July 25. In total, they’ll see their favorite team play six times.

But regardless of who’s playing, the Petrinovichs almost always show up wearing Mariner blue. And, hundreds if not thousands of miles from Seattle, it’s almost always a good conversation starter.

Fans and even ushers ask about the road trip, making for easy opportunities to tell them about Unbound.

At night, they rarely stay in hotels. Jodi loves to camp; Jack isn’t a fan, but Jodi thinks he secretly loves it.

It probably didn’t help that, early in their trip, a raccoon tried to drag their small ice chest into the woods.

“We had food in there, but more importantly there were a couple of beers,” Jack said with a laugh.

Most nights, the Petrinovichs stay with strangers. They are members of the Gig Harbor-based Affordable Travel Club.

Club members must be at least 40 and pay annual membership dues of $65-$80. Then they can stay with fellow members for $20 per night. Breakfast is included.

Not only are these stays opportunities to meet new people and further spread their message, but it helps keep down travel cost.

Traveling to baseball stadiums can be pricey.

At Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles beers were $14.50 (Their tickets were $7). “And people are drinking them,” Jack said. “It’s crazy.”

They often eat away from the ballparks to preserve both their bottom line and their waistlines. They favor grocery stores where they can easily find healthy sandwiches and salads.

“But sometimes you’re kind of stuck at the ballpark and there is nothing around,” Jack said.

And sometimes ballpark food is part of the experience.

In Texas, at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, the Sausage Sundae was too interesting to pass up. In the style of a banana split, the meat sundae is a split sausage topped with scoops of brisket, mashed potatoes and mac and cheese.

It was worth indulging, Jack said. He said the sundae was one of their best ballpark food experiences of the trip.

REFUSE TO LOSE

The trip hasn’t always gone according to plan, but that’s part of what makes road trips so memorable.

There was epic traffic in places like Atlanta and Houston. There was a speeding ticket. And there was a planning error that nearly derailed the trip before the end of its second week.

They were leaving Joshua Tree National Park in California when they got an email. “How was your visit to Arizona’s Chase Field,” it read. It was a message from the ticket service they’d used while planning the trip.

“We hadn’t gone there yet,” Jack said. “I’m going, ‘Uh oh.’ ”

That’s where they were supposed to be the next night, but he’d purchased tickets for the wrong day. They scrambled to make sure the Diamondbacks were still in town. They were. They bought new tickets and were soon laughing about the mistake.

There have been pleasant surprises, too. Jack caught a foul ball at San Diego’s Petco Park. They got to peek inside the iconic basketball arenas at Duke and North Carolina. And friends in New York got the public address announcer at Yankee Stadium to give them a welcome complete with their names in two-story-tall letters on the stadium scoreboard.

When they return home, they’ll have driven more than 15,000 miles and told hundreds of people about their cause. But as the trip enters the late innings, they’re still 20 sponsors shy of their goal.

They refuse to let that discourage them. The organization is following up with priests they’ve spoken to along the way.

“Even if we only get 15, I’d be pretty happy,” Jodi said. “We’d love to get 30, but hopefully we are spreading little bread crumbs that will be picked up sometime later.”

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