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'Ballpark chaser' making his fourth tour of all MLB stadiums

ST. PETERSBURG — The life Chuck Booth leads — a blur of Econo Lodge stays and bus stops and weekly Subway dinners — is not the life he saw for himself two decades ago.

It's a far stretch from the baseball career he envisioned before it all came to a halt. Repeated trauma over the years — the sports accidents, the time he fell out of a tree, the fights as a child, the man who beat him in the back of his skull with a bat during a break-in — amounted to at least nine concussions.

It's almost a weird poetic justice, Booth said, to think that the swing of a bat ended his baseball career. The worst of his concussion symptoms, married with depression, followed in the years afterward.

But now, through a series of cross-country ventures to visit each of the 30 Major League Baseball parks, the 38-year-old Vancouver native found baseball again.

"I've always wanted to do something to show my love for the game," he said. "I've always turned to (baseball) as a kick-starter to get my life back on track."

He has made the rounds of visiting all venues three times before, twice setting a world record for doing so in the least amount of time. And now he's doing it again. His plan: Up to 220 games, doubleheaders included, in 183 consecutive days. After 70 days on the road, Booth's travels brought him to Tropicana Field on Saturday. The Trop was Booth's 26th venue.

"It's funny, right?" Booth said. "A Canadian going to all these ballparks for years and years and years."

He has the support of most of his friends and family, but not all.

Your depression will relapse, some told him.

This will only add strain to your life, others said.

Even still, Booth remained steadfast in his pursuits. Those who understood why this mattered to him knew it was an opportunity.

Booth sells T-shirts in these major-league cities to raise money and awareness for the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston. Funds will benefit concussion research at the institute.

Before he left, he spent a third of the year mapping and planning and scheduling for the coast-to-coast trips. Without an income while away from his work as a courier, Booth has relied on an insurance settlement to sustain him financially during the trip.

Even so, his budget is meager at best, so he has become a seasoned veteran when it comes to securing travel and lodging. Megabus rides for $1, sleeping on strangers' couches and cheap airfare make his trip manageable.

"Shake, rattle, roll," Booth said. "It's all about problem-solving."

For the better part of the past four years, he has slept in waiting areas and on trains, in cheap hotels and outside of bus stops. He can go two days without showering, he said, but no more.

Inside Tropicana Field, Booth eyes the game, his 86th of his journey, from about 20 rows behind home plate. Eight more strikeouts, and Booth wins a free Subway sandwich from a game promotion — a nice reprieve from using gift cards to score dinner.

Scott Bultman, Booth's travel companion, finds a seat nearby.

"Nice seats, 'ay, buddy?" Booth says to Bultman. "Come on," he continues as Bultman takes his seat. "We really need to see a no-hitter here tonight. Something special."

Bultman will join him for 60 games and attend another 90 by himself — still visiting all 30 parks.

"To some, it's kind of unfathomable," Bultman said. "Most people just give me a blank stare."

Bultman will have attended 150 ball games, if successful, compared with Booth's 219. The two, who call themselves "ballpark chasers," met through a website that connects this niche of fanatics.

Both chasers established an extensive network of acquaintances in MLB cities across the country, many of whom offer housing when they travel.

There is no formula for what makes a ballpark chaser, Booth said, because they come from everywhere. Some of the chasers Booth knows are train operators, travel assistants, pet food suppliers and government workers.

"I think it's more a thrill, breaking the day-to-day stuff," Bultman said. "You want to do it over and over again."

Contact Michael Majchrowicz at mmajchrowicz@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. Follow @mjmajchrowicz.

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