Paul Barnes is clear about when his baseball traveling obsession revved up.
Barnes, baseball fan extraordinaire, was home in Toronto one day in 2008 contemplating a quick trip to New York to see the Yankees and Mets play during their final seasons in the old Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, respectively. Then he glanced at a map, and possibilities started popping up like brightly lit signs on an interstate highway.
I-95, in this case. All the way down to Atlanta.
But let’s let him tell it.
“I’d thought about a trip of 4-5 days because the Yankees were in town on the weekend, and the Mets were starting a home series on the following Monday,” he said. “But then I looked at the map and realized that Philadelphia was only 90 miles south, so I decided to stretch the trip to a week.
“Then I thought, well, Baltimore and Washington were only a couple of hours south of Philly, so I added them. Then I thought about Atlanta and said, ‘It’s my 30th birthday, so why not?’” he said with a laugh. “That short trip turned into two weeks. I saw several American cities I hadn’t seen before, and that really increased my desire to travel for baseball.”
And he didn’t stop until Covid-19 ground everything to a halt.
Barnes decided to see games at each of the 30 major-league parks and accomplished that over several years. He then set a goal of visiting all 12 ballparks in Japan and did that through multiple tours with JapanBall, earning induction into the JapanBall Hall of Fame. All told, he’s seen games in approximately 60 major and minor league ballparks.
And he plans to resume whenever Covid loosens its grip on Japan and the world.
“I’m hoping to go on the [JapanBall] Dominican Republic trip later this year,” he said, “and next year I’d like to see the new stadiums in Atlanta and Texas,” he said. “And, of course, I’d love to go to Japan again.”
Barnes’ enthusiasm for baseball is not a recent phenomenon. It germinated early on, largely because of his father, who had been a big fan of the minor league Vancouver Mounties as a youngster and passed his love of the game along to Paul. The family moved to Nova Scotia soon after he was born, and Barnes grew up following the Toronto Blue Jays and, to a lesser extent, the Montreal Expos.
“When I was little, the Jays were just starting to get good,” he said. “The Expos were there, but they didn’t get as much play as the Jays did. I watched the Jays on TV and really enjoyed the games.
“I’m actually one of the relatively few Canadians who don’t give a crap about hockey,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ll go to a hockey game, but I’d rather watch baseball. I’ve split season tickets for the Jays’ games since 2007. I’m also a big Canadian Football League fan – as opposed to the NFL – which is also fairly uncommon for [Canadians] my age or a little younger. I have season tickets for the (Toronto) Argonauts, although we couldn’t go last year because of Covid and probably won’t be able to this year, either. ”
Barnes, an attorney for a large insurance company, further fed his baseball habit while attending law school in Windsor, Ontario, which is just across the border from Detroit. He became a customs officer at the Windsor Tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge and attended as many Detroit Tiger games as possible. In addition, he got to games of the Toledo Mud Hens and those of several other minor-league teams in eastern and central Michigan and northwestern Ohio.
“That kind started me into traveling for baseball, and I was making decent money, which expanded my travel options,” he said.
Since then, he’s taken road trips as often as possible. He attended many games of the former New York-Pennsylvania League and has made several trips to see major league teams play. His wife of three years, Natalie Wiley, is also a fan of baseball and travel, and the couple has been to Chicago, Phoenix (for spring training), and Las Vegas.
Barnes says San Francisco’s Oracle Park “has the best backdrop,” and he’s a big fan of Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, as well. Dodger Stadium is another favorite, although he “hates the traffic and the parking lot.”
On the spur of the moment, he traveled to Los Angeles for the 2018 World Series – “I had some free time and had never seen a World Series game, so I jumped on a plane and went.”
Yep, that simple. Just do it.
Kris Barnier understands. A long-time friend of Barnes, he’s been a traveling companion on multiple baseball-related trips to the U.S.
The first was 15 years ago, beginning in Las Vegas and continuing by car to Anaheim, San Diego, and Arizona. Another trip was to Minnesota and Colorado. The third was to Kansas City, where Barnes got a taste of that infamous Midwest heat.
“It was really hot that day,” he said. “I got up once to go to the concession stand, came back, and the seat was too hot for me to sit down.”
Barnier particularly recalls the fourth trip, which was to Arlington, TX, home of the Texas Rangers, in May 2016. The Rangers were hosting the Blue Jays, their first matchup since the previous season’s playoffs in which Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista hit a three-run home run and made an epic bat flip that the Rangers did not appreciate.
“That’s the best [trip] of the bunch,” Barnier said. “We all were wearing Blue Jays jerseys, and the Texas fans were getting on us good-naturedly. We went to a couple of games, and then a friend offered us tickets to the next one. We were sitting a few rows above the Jays’ dugout and kept expecting Bautista to get popped with a pitch in retaliation for the bat flip.
“Finally, he got hit on his last at-bat of the game and later was forced out at second base, and that’s when the fight with Rougned Odor started, and Bautista got punched in the face. That was exciting, to say the least.”
Barnes’ Japan travels began when he decided to see all the ballparks there.
“I found JapanBall while doing a web search,” he said “[Founder] Bob [Bavasi] said he was just starting that year’s tour but would love to have me the following year (2010). I was going to do the See-It-All (in which you attend games at all 12 NPB stadiums), but a good friend was getting married during that time, so I just did the Main Tour. I had a great time, met a lot of fun people, and Bob made the whole thing seamless. I hadn’t been to Asia before and, at the time, couldn’t fathom doing all that on my own.”
That was then. Now Barnes is a true veteran, one who participates in all aspects of a tour, including non-baseball activities.
“He’s the guy who initiated the “Don Robbs Invitational,” a party that we end the trip with (and is named in honor of JapanBaller and Hawaii baseball legend Don Robbs),” Bavasi said. “And he’ll sit up at all hours talking. Several years ago, several of us were sitting in the lobby talking around 2:00 AM – something that dumbfounds the Japanese – and he went out to a convenience store, brought back some beer and snacks, and we kept talking. The hotel employees couldn’t believe it.
“Paul is also the person who had the idea of doing a Tokyo-only tour, which we later added to our set of offerings.”
But Barnes is not solely focused on baseball.
“He likes to see everything a city has to offer,” Barnier said. “He researches beforehand and puts together great trips every time. He’s a history buff and really appreciates the culture of any place he visits.”
“He really knows his restaurants, too,” Bavasi recalled. Whenever fellow tour guests need a recommendation on where to eat, Barnes is the guy to ask.
Of course, that’s not to say that baseball isn’t a central focus. It is.
“He knows all about the teams,” Barnier said, “and it doesn’t have to be his team – as long as he’s watching baseball, he’s as happy as can be.”
Bavasi recalls a time when the group was going to the Osaka Dome for a game. He mentioned to Barnes that Trevor Raichura – a blogger (and now a JapanBall contributor) who lives in Japan – would be joining the group, and found that Barnes knew of Raichura.
“Paul knew about Trevor, even though his blog wasn’t that prominent at the time,” Bavasi said. “I was surprised that he had that level of baseball knowledge.”
Leon DeHaven, another JapanBall veteran, has known Barnes since the latter’s first JapanBall tour in 2010.
“We happened to be sitting next to each other, and I asked what he did for a living. He said he was a barrister, so I bought him a beer and said he was now my personal barrister. I renew the contract every year,” DeHaven said wryly. “Bob even named him the official barrister for JapanBall.”
The following year, DeHaven traveled to Vancouver for the Grey Cup – the Canadian Football League championship game – and ran into a Canadian whom he knew from a JapanBall tour.
“He said he had a friend he wanted me to meet, and it turned out to be Paul,” DeHaven said with a laugh. “Paul is a big CFL fan, and I meet with him every year at the Grey Cup.”
A year after that first Grey Cup meeting, DeHaven was invited to join a minor-league tour hosted by Barnes that included the New York-Penn League all-star game in Ohio.
“The most unusual thing about that was that the stadium was in a shopping mall,” DeHaven said with wonderment.
All told, Barnes has been on six JapanBall tours since 2010, including the Seattle Mariners vs. Oakland Athletics season-opening tour in Tokyo in 2019.
Once at a game in Hiroshima – “my favorite Japanese park by far . . . not a cookie-cutter dome” – he even got singled out on the large video screen. Wearing a jersey of Munenori Kawasaki – a Japanese star who played parts of five seasons in the major leagues – he stood up between innings and started dancing at his seat.
“They caught it on the big screen and named him Fan of the Game,” DeHaven said. “They brought him onto the field afterward, let him meet the Star of the Game, and get photos taken with him. We got to go with him, too, which was pretty cool.”
Bavasi adds, “He’s just pretty loose generally and really funny. A couple of times, he’s made me laugh so hard, my sides hurt, and no one else has done that. If Paul Barnes invites you even to just walk across the street, do it. It will be fun.”