ATHLETICS: A journey of gratitude
Joe “Mr. Sports Travel” Connor visits Irish Yard in Milroy as part of lifelong adventure that combines sports and spreading message of gratitude for service members
MILROY – Showing pride in our country and appreciation of the many freedoms that are enjoyed here in the United States can be expressed in many different ways. San Diego’s Joe “Mr. Sports Travel” Connor has taken an approach few, if any, can say they’ve attempted or even thought of.
Because over the span of the last year and half, Connor has been on the road non-stop covering 140,000 miles worth of U.S. territory in his 2004 American Flag-wrapped Oldsmobile Alero taking in at least one sporting event per day at some of the most unique venues this nation has to offer.
Upon hearing of a ballpark nestled right in the middle of a cornfield in rural Milroy, Minnesota, Connor knew exactly where stop No. 509 would be.
“Somewhere along the line last summer somebody mentioned to me that I have to come to this place, and I’m 100% Irish,” said Connor. “I’m glad I came, it’s beautiful and I’m looking forward to meeting some people here. I had to check this one off my list.”
Friday’s trip to Milroy for a junior legion baseball game was only the first stop on Connor’s long day of travel that began in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The tour continued with games in Green Isle, Hamburg and Union Hill before returning to LaCrosse, Wisconsin in the evening to rest up before doing it all over again the next day.
“Tomorrow (Saturday) I’m going to see some ballparks in Racine, Wisconsin that were used in the movie “A League of Their Own,” the all girls professional league,” said Connor. “And I’m going to also go to Rockford, Illinois. En route there I’m going to go to a Little Cubs Park which is a miniature Wrigley Field, and it’s in Freeport, Illinois.
Connor’s journey began as a tribute to his late father who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Prior to his passing, the father-son bond between Connor and his dad centered around their love of sports, with fond memories of trips to Hartford Whalers hockey games in their home of Connecticut.
In an effort to commemorate not only his father’s service but the service of countless others, Connor came up with the idea to thank them by turning his car into a moving billboard taking in one of the freedoms enjoyed by Americans as a result of their sacrifice, sports. The mission is even stated on the back of his car: “Thanked a veteran, service member, First Responder or their Families today?”
“What I want is to have a moving billboard to symbolize what’s great about being in America and that is the freedom that we have to live the lives that we want and live the way we want to live,” said Connor. “It’s people like my dad and people that are firefighters, cops, veterans, service members, first responders, EMT’s. They protect our way of life.”
In addition to his main motivation of showing gratitude to service members, Mr. Sports Travel wants to follow in his father’s footsteps of living life to the fullest.
“I’m at this stage of my life where I’m 47 years old. I want to meet someone but I’m unattached right now. I’ve put all my money in rental properties,” said Connor. “I want to do this now and my dad’s passing in my late 20’s reinforces the message that life is short and life is temporary, and the one destination that we all share regrettably is we’re all going to die at some point. I’ve tried to live my life as a symbol of my father, who even though he was only on the planet for 57 years, he had 57 very full years.”
So far on his journey, Connor has checked off every major professional sports venue across the four major sports and has made it to 351 different D1 basketball venues. Before he turns 50, he plans to visit every D1 football, basketball, hockey and baseball venue.
Many of the venues he has his sights set on will have to be saved for another trip, however, as the end of his cross-country journey is rapidly approaching. According to Connor, he would like to continue taking in at least one sporting event per day until the final regular season Saturday of D1 college football in late November. By then, Connor’s streak will have eclipsed 600 at 664.
If for whatever reason the journey is cut short prior to that end date, Connor will still be satisfied with the trip.
“It’s one of those things in life where you always want to try to end things on your own terms. So if I can get to November 30th, which is the last regular season Saturday in College football, I’ll be shocked. I’ll be amazed and I’ll be happy,” said Connor. “If I don’t, if the trip ends tomorrow, I’ve had a great trip. And so the only way it would end is if the car breaks down basically, that’s it.”