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Darren O'Donnell bikes on path to all 30 major-league ballparks, including Tropicana Field this week

Darren O’Donnell has traveled about 4,500 miles by bicycle for tonight’s game on a trip that will cover about 10,500.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Darren O’Donnell has traveled about 4,500 miles by bicycle for tonight’s game on a trip that will cover about 10,500.

For fans who fret at driving across a bridge for a baseball game, consider Darren O'Donnell's commute to attend tonight's Rays-Red Sox game: about 4,500 miles.

On a bike.

The 24-year-old from Bellingham, Wash., is not a Rays fan, but he's in the midst of cycling about 10,500 miles across the country to visit all 30 major-league ballparks in 170 days.

"It's all been pretty memorable," O'Donnell said by phone Tuesday during a rare off day from biking. "Memorable in good ways and bad ways for certain stretches."

For 68 days, he has toted 82 pounds of gear plus water and food on a custom-made steel-frame bike, hitting 10 ballparks since his start in Seattle on April 8. The idea came last year, as he and two former roommates made a 1,000-mile trek from Washington state to Chico, Calif., and he told his friends how cool it would be to see all 30 stadiums in one season. Their response: What's holding you back?

So he took 30 schedules and "connected the dots," mapping out a course that would take him on a winding, counterclockwise trek around the country, starting in Seattle and finishing in St. Louis, nearly six months later. He conservatively estimated 65 miles per day but has found he can average 100 miles without much trouble. All this from a guy who hadn't ever biked more than 40 miles in a day until his trip last year.

The trip has its share of logistical challenges. He lost 15 pounds from his 175-pound frame by the time he got to Los Angeles before conceding that a largely fast-food diet would allow him to consume enough calories to match what he burns in eight hours of biking.

"It's good to eat healthy, but you're out there every day. You have to get the calories," he said. "You've got to stop at McDonald's and Burger King and cram, cram those calories. You're just going to burn them up anyway. I do try to mix it up, but McDonald's is the most common one out there, and they have the cheapest drink at $1."

He shipped his cold-weather gear home while in Colorado, and he has endured rude motorists and "more flat tires than I care to count."

With the help of social media and the kindness of friends and their families, he's budgeting just $10,000 for the six-month trip, allowing for $20 a day for food. He has found friends in cities along his path; one of his Tampa homes is the apartment of Peter and Katy Privon, two relocated friends from grade school whom he reached out to through Facebook. He has camped out in tents and stayed in cheap hotels, experiencing a little of everything along the way.

"I think it's awesome, anybody that can take on a challenge," said Peter, who hadn't seen O'Donnell in five years until this week. "What I enjoy myself is setting a goal and making it happen, whether it be easy or hard, whether other people say it's crazy or not."

His path started down the West Coast, going a full 11 days between his first Mariners game and his next stop in Oakland. He has had stretches with four ballparks in nine days in southern California and Arizona, but tonight's game will be his first major-league action in 17 days, a long trek around the Gulf of Mexico from Houston. By coincidence, he was able to catch some NCAA Region baseball in Gainesville on his way down. After catching the Marlins on Monday, he'll go another 11 days before he gets to the Braves in Atlanta.

O'Donnell hasn't been received with much fanfare at his major-league destinations. The Diamondbacks gave him a hat, T-shirt and autographed ball, but most teams haven't responded to e-mails. Through Twitter, he has made contact with Rays stars Evan Longoria and David Price, and he said the chance to meet them today would be a highlight of his trip.

His favorite team is the Reds — he gets to Cincinnati on July 15 — but all he's asking for are good ballgames. In Arizona, the Diamondbacks hit two solo home runs in the bottom of the ninth, then beat the Rockies in the 11th. He has found the joys of nature, like an "absolutely incredible" 7-mile downhill in Santa Barbara with a great view of the Pacific Ocean at more than 40 mph.

O'Donnell hopes his trip will encourage public interest in volunteering and donating to public food banks. He worked as a meat department manager at a community food cooperative before starting his trip.

If one thing has struck him on his trip, it's empty seats and overall lack of interest from fans who surely have easier transportation to the stadium than he does.

"I wish more people would come out to the ballpark and support their teams," he said.

He hopes to find people as passionate about baseball and bicycles as he is. He has talked to two people who made similar trips and hopes they can meet him in Kansas City in late September and ride the final leg with him to St. Louis.

Follow O'Donnell's journey at Twitter.com/Baseball_Biking or search for "Baseball Biking Tour" at Facebook.com.

Darren O'Donnell bikes on path to all 30 major-league ballparks, including Tropicana Field this week 06/14/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 10:38pm]
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