WALLA WALLA — It’s not likely that Alex Wagner is familiar with the 1980s television action series The A-Team, but he’d certainly appreciate Colonel Hannibal Smith’s oft-repeated catch phrase.
At the end of nearly every episode the Colonel, played by George Peppard, would lean back in his chair, light up a big cigar, smile and say, “I love it when a plan comes together.” This, of course, was after his A-Team had once again bamboozled the bad guys and saved the world.
Other than perhaps a cranky usher or two and a “strange dude” in a Greyhound bus depot, Wagner didn’t have to deal with any bad guys. But his long-plotted baseball adventure with five fellow Walla Walla Valley Academy seniors came off without a hitch earlier this summer.
The 1994 Ford Econoline Wagner bought sight unseen for $3,000 off of craigslist ran like a top, he said. And by averaging 16 miles to the gallon on the highway, the conversion van exceeded expectations.
“The van was the perfect vehicle,” Wagner said. “It was comfortable, and it maneuvered well in the cities.”
Wagner and his buddies — Paul Trapani, Alex Aamodt, Chad Stewart, Mathew Hansen and Jonathan Lindsey — also stayed under budget during the 20-day journey that took them to the East Coast and back, with stops at 12 different big league ballparks being the primary objective.
“We pooled our money and we came in well under what we expected to spend,” said Aamodt, the group’s finance chief. “Each of us is going to get about $150 back.
“Say, when are we going to get our money back?” he then asked with a sideways glance in Wagner’s direction.
They also stayed on schedule and just ahead of a line of thunderstorms that stalked them from Minneapolis to New York City. Getting rained out was a big concern, but not to worry.
“We never got rained out,” Trapani reported. “We did have a 3 1/2-hour rain delay at Wrigley Field in Chicago, but we got the game in.”
Fortunately, the Cubs were playing an afternoon game and that allowed the group adequate driving time to reach their next destination, Detroit, where the Tigers were taking on the Red Sox the following night.
And despite the close confines during the 7,000-mile trip, the group got along reasonably well, they agreed. All six slept in the van on one occasion, and at least two spent the night in the van on most other nights while the other four shared motel rooms or crashed with friends.
“We did better than expected,” Stewart said of the close quarters. “I think the only issues were when the person driving was given conflicting sets of directions.”
And while they were never seriously lost, there were a couple of occasions where they seemed in danger of running off the rails.
“I left the van lights on one night and the battery went dead,” Trapani confessed. “And it was 1:30 in the morning.”
“We called Triple A and were put on hold for a half-an-hour,” added Hansen. “And then we got a jump-start from a very nice lady.”
Then, after a Mets game at Citi Field in New York, the group discovered that most of the subways and bus lines had stopped running. And they were a far distance from their van and that night’s lodging in Hoboken, N.J.
“We ended up in a Greyhound bus depot,” one of them said. “We finally got on a bus full of people who were all speaking in foreign languages, and when we got off we still had to walk the last two miles to our hotel.”
It was also at the bus depot where they encountered a stranger “who was just a little too friendly,” one of them said.
“What was it he kept saying?” another asked. “A friend forever, never forget, no matter what,” answered another.
They spent three days in New York and deemed the Big Apple the “least friendly” city they visited.
“Lots of traffic and honking horns,” one of them said.
It was also in New York, however, where the six visited Ground Zero and were touched by tour guides who had been directly affected by the attacks of 9/11.
Likewise, they were psyched about their visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., were awed by the magnificence of Niagara Falls in upstate New York and impressed by the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
It was in the Capitol Building where they discovered a statue of Marcus Whitman that is identical to the statue on East Isaacs Ave. near the entrance to the Whitman College campus.
“I took a picture of the statue and emailed it to my mother,” Trapani said. “And almost immediately, she emailed me back a picture of the statue on the Whitman campus. They are identical.
“I think this trip gave me a new appreciation for museums,” Trapani added.
“And it gave me some American pride,” said one of the others, relating that they spent the 4th of July, along with 75,000 other Independence Day revelers, under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis as they made their way west and back home.
They attended a Trace Adkins concert that night but were not all that impressed with the country and western singer.
“Mostly,” one of them said of the concert, “it was a lot of 40-year-old women dancing in inappropriate ways.”
Checking out different food dishes in different parts of the country was another interesting aspect of the trip, they agreed. And deep-dish pizza, Chicago style, was their favorite.
“It was great, and well known for a very good reason,” one of them said. “We tried to enjoy our food along the way.”
And then, of course, there was baseball, the common denominator that brought the six WWVA seniors together for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Twelve games, 12 different stadiums and at least that many memorable moments.
The best of those included:
Mets pitcher Matt Harvey’s 11-strikeout performance over seven innings vs. the Nationals — “He was the best pitcher we saw.”
Shin-Soo Choo’s walkoff hit in the 11th inning as the Reds defeated the visiting Giants at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati — “I had never been to an extra-inning game before.”
Max Scherzer winning his 12th straight game as the Tigers defeated the Red Sox at Comerica Park in Detroit — “And Victor Martinez hit a grand slam.”
*The Red Sox rattling off 20 hits in a victory over the Rockies at Fenway Park in Boston — “Fenway was my favorite stadium.”
A six-homer game at pitcher-friendly Target Field in Minneapolis — “The Twins hit four of them and beat the White Sox.”
And the big miss was in Cincinnatil where they were in attendance one night after the Reds’ Homer Bailey no-hit the Giants.
Fenway Park and PNC Park in Pittsburgh were voted their two favorite venues. Target Field, Comerica Park and Camden Yards in Baltimore were also in the top five.
Safeco Field in Seattle, where they have all attended Mariners games, would fit nicely into the top five, they said. And Citi Field is the stadium most comparable to Safeco Field.
And now they’re back home, holding down summer jobs and preparing for their first year of college at Walla Walla University. With one exception.
Lindsey was already back on the road — a family-vacation driving trip to North Carolina.
“He’s probably going to be sleeping most of the way,” one of his pals predicted.
But memories of their long-planned baseball trip will last forever. And there’s already talk of a sequel.
“I would say we will probably do something again, I’m just not saying what it is,” Wagner said.
“I think it would be cool to have this same idea but go south, to California, Arizona and Texas,” Trapani added. “That was one of the conversations we had during one of our three-hour drives.”
It would take some planning, but these guys are good at that.
“A lot of people doubted us and said it was a dumb idea,” Wagner said. “They told us we would break down and fail. But we did it.”
You’ve got to love it when a plan comes together.