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Biking for baseball

By MARK CONCANNON
Photos courtesy of Biking for Baseball

March 2016

             

Matt Stoltz rode more than 11,000 miles, visited 30 MLB parks, and raised $24,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

As a high school student in Wisconsin Rapids, Matt Stoltz volunteered in a program that mentored young children. "It was cool to see the impact we had on the kids," Stoltz recalls. "They were more attentive in class. It really helped them."

He couldnít have imagined that experience would lead to the experience of a lifetime five years later.

Stoltz, who was born in Milwaukee before moving to Wisconsin Rapids in the third grade, spent the spring and summer of 2015 riding his bicycle more than 11,000 miles, stopping at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums to raise money for Biking for Baseball and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Milwaukee. Biking for Baseball works in conjunction with Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations across America to put on youth baseball clinics and take kids to ball games.

"They make such a difference in the life of a child," Stoltz says. "Mentoring and baseball go hand in hand. Things like having your first catch in the backyard.

"And Iíve always wanted to see all the ballparks so this was a challenge I couldnít pass up."

Stoltz, who is 22 and a 2014 graduate of UW-Madison, used $3,000 of his own savings, lined up other donors before the trip began, and found plenty of people willing to help along his 180-day journey.

"It was amazing. Strangers paying for my meals at restaurants, asking what they could do to help. I actually only paid for tickets (to the baseball games) along the way twice. Teams, players, fans really stepped up to help," he says.

Stoltz was particularly grateful to Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and former Brewers reliever LaTroy Hawkins, all of whom paid for game tickets and some other expenses. Retired Major League outfielder Eric Byrnes, now an analyst for MLB Network, did a special TV segment on Stoltz when he arrived in New York and paid for Stoltzís lodging for the last month and a half of the trip.

He did some indoor training before he started his ride but says "nothing prepares you for the trip itself."

Stoltz planned to ride 80 miles a day but often hit more than 100 miles ó and 150 during a torturous stretch of 3,100 miles over 29 days in July, which included a jaunt through Floridaís blistering heat. He started in Seattle, went south through California and Arizona, east and south through Florida, then north and west, ending up at Miller Park on Oct. 2.

"You had to push yourself through the pain," Stoltz says. "And remember who you were riding for."

He carried about 50 pounds of equipment on his bike ó camping gear for when he slept outdoors. Through a website, warmshowers.org, he found families who were willing to host cyclists. He ate mostly by making quick stops at restaurants but carried Power Bars and lots of water while he rode. Although he says he ate a lot, Stoltz still lost 40 pounds. "When youíre biking that long, itís tough not to lose weight."

There were "lots of close calls in traffic and normal repairs to chains and cables," he says, but Stoltz made a triumphant return to his home state on the last weekend of the MLB season. To date, his efforts have raised more than $24,000. You can find out more about Stoltzís efforts and how to donate at bikingforbaseball.org.

"The financial impact is great, but Iíve also had hundreds of people tell me theyíve actually signed up to become a mentor because of this story.

"Iíve heard from people all over the world who were cheering me on, and having that support group is what made the trip possible. If I was out there by myself with no support or encouragement, Iíd probably still be stuck in Seattle," he says.

Four days after ending his momentous trek, Stoltz started a job as a case manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters in Kansas City. But Stoltz, who rode his bike from Wisconsin to West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2012, raising $35,000 to purchase sports gear for kids in Africa, Asia and Latin America, expects another adventure in the years ahead.

"When I say Iím going to do something, I do it," Stoltz says. "Weíll see what comes around the corner. I know Iíve got a screw loose to take on these kinds of tasks, but a little crazy is OK, right?"

 

 





 


This story ran in the March 2016 issue of: