KNOXVILLE – A former colleague took me on a great journey last week without either one of us leaving our homes.
He emptied out several bowls full of matchbooks that he had collected throughout his sportswriting career and wrote about the corresponding trips.
My best attempt at approximating this exercise was reaching for my dogeared atlas and plotting my own course. Turns out that I have filed byline stories from 43 of our 50 states.
The thought that I’m forgetting some deadline venture in either Wyoming or New Mexico nags at me.
This column will be the last chance for remembrance. Otherwise, I’ll get on with my life and be rightly satisfied with 43.
Most of my travelogue comes courtesy of covering the Tennessee women’s basketball team. Although I’ve worked for newspapers in three different time zones, my Lady Vols travels have retraced many of my steps while also blazing new trails.
My lone trip to Montana involved a UT game there. Took one of the team managers with me hiking on game day and we ended up knee deep in snow somewhere above Missoula. He was late for the pregame meal and coach Pat Summitt was not amused. Told her it was my fault and that defused the situation…or so it seemed.
Summitt got a lot credit for taking her teams to different places and helping grow the game. She also was serving another purpose, namely her love for travel. She literally called Vermont for an invitation to its tournament.
I also loved traveling and here’s some snapshots:
Most scenic places: Basketball afforded me trips to three different Hawaiian islands. Maui arguably was the prettiest. The big island and its contrasts were compelling as well.
Regarding venues, the Rose Bowl certainly lived up to its well-deserved reputation.
So did Wrigley Field. I enjoyed my working trip there as a San Francisco Giants beat writer. Giants pitcher Jeff Robinson did not, however. The California native was rattled by his first experience with a thunderstorm.
Quite the contrast: Took a dogsled ride on my lone trip to Alaska. The snow smoothed out any bumps in the terrain as we swished through the woods, barely making a sound.
By contrast, the gun used to catapult t-shirts into the crowd at the Northern Lights Invitational thundered like a field artillery piece. The Associated Press writer sitting next to me noticed by Robinson-like fright and said, “They do like their firearms up here.”
Strange place: The Houston Astrodome was nicknamed “the eighth wonder of the world.”
It was the smelliest place based on my visit. As I walked from the clubhouse to the dugout, I wondered about those eyes peering out at me from the shadows under the stands. Turned out the place was full of cats, presumably to manage the rat population.
After games, the cats took over the place, frolicking about the turf in their version of a seventh-inning stretch. One outlier curled up next to first base for a nap.
Great escape: My lone visit to Rhode Island reminded me of the power of both Mother Nature and Pat Summitt.
A blizzard dropped more than 15 inches of snow on Providence. The airport was chaotic – until Summitt took my plane ticket and walked up to the Delta counter. She returned with a fresh ticket and the directive: “Just get on the plane and don’t ask any questions.”
Heartland: I was born and raised in Michigan. You can take me out of the Midwest but you can’t take the Midwest out of me.
Therefore, I thoroughly enjoyed two trips to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. The locals make everyone feel at home there. The city always will be more to me than a Peyton Manning audible.
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.