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Saltwater Portrait

John Wright: A lifetime of adventure, positivity

Traveling teacher visits all ballparks, 49 states
December 18, 2018

John Wright says he can plan a trip to the same location that can cost him $200, or $2,000. “Travel can be whatever you want it to be. I don’t need a top-flight hotel. I just don’t need bedbugs.”

Wright’s wanderlust emerged as a boy, when he traveled the East Coast with family in search of adventure. “I was lucky to have parents who asked us each summer which amusement park we wanted to go to,” said Wright, the oldest of three brothers.

Since then, the Cape High grad has checked off visits to all Major League Baseball parks and 49 states. In two years, he plans to visit his final state, Alaska.

Wright’s travels began in earnest during college, when he toured England with his British girlfriend. When their relationship ended, he decided to keep going. “I thought, I could stay in my comfort zone and go to the same place every year, or I could save money, plan it out and go somewhere I’ve never been.”

Wright researches locations in advance so he knows regional food specialties to sample and top sights to see. When he can, he brings a cooler to take home his favorite delicacies. “In Cleveland, they’re known for pierogies,” he said. “In Colorado, it’s mountain oysters, which are fried cattle testicles. I could only eat two or three; I just couldn’t wrap my head around that.”

Wright often tests his own comfort zone. While in Colorado, he drove to the top of Pikes Peak, a 14,115-foot summit in the Rocky Mountains. “It was scary, but I was hell-bent on doing it,” he said.

Top locales include New Orleans, Hawaii, San Diego, Nashville and, surprise choice, Cleveland, from where he just returned after watching one of his favorite teams, the Browns, beat the Panthers 26-20. “Cleveland is a hidden gem. The people are nice, it’s not really expensive and it’s easy to navigate.”

Wright travels alone or with friends, and says flexibility is key. He uses a phone GPS app for navigation, but always brings an atlas as backup.

Wright’s baseball stadium tour began with an innocent glance at the scoreboard. “I was at Coors Field watching the Rockies, looking at scores, when I started counting how many stadiums I’ve been to,” he said. “It was about 15 at that time. I decided to start planning trips that tie in stadiums, and that began the mission.”

By giving up his airplane seat to earn bonus miles, he recently flew free to Oakland. He drove to San Francisco for a day Giants game, then back to Oakland for an A’s night game. The next morning, he flew to Hawaii and cruised the four major islands before heading home.

Wright counts the Orioles among his favorite teams, because his grandmother was a fan. “Watching them reminds me of growing up. I used to be a Phillies fan, but they’ll kill you. Nothing but heartache.”

Wright calls Dodger Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field the best of the classic ballparks. “They capture the era and give you the feeling you’re watching an old movie,” he said. “Giants and Pirates both play on the water so you get that majestic view.”

Wright said, while newer stadiums offer modern amenities, some are too sterile. “Baltimore has charm. When you walk up to the stadium, you feel, ‘This is baseball.’ You get that childlike, magic feeling, like in Willy Wonka with the golden ticket.”

Wright thought a summer 2017 trip to Tampa’s Tropicana Field was the final stadium.  “But, the journey is about to kick off again,” he said. “Texas is building a new stadium.”

Besides his extensive travels, Wright is known for his daily, positive Facebook posts and ubiquitous selfies with friends. He said after a 2007 breakup, he fell into a deep depression and needed counseling. “As I started to get stronger, I thought, if I can make it through this, I’m going to tell others I am here if they need me.”

Wright says his posts are meant to boost everyone, even himself. A typical morning message might tell friends he believes in them. Another may send prayers and love to those in need. Others just pass on wishes for a smooth and quick workday. “Some days it’s tough for all of us to get going, even me. I’m not Mr. Positive 24/7. I can be surly and cranky,” he said. “The messages are reminders, and like a cup of coffee in the morning, I hope it helps.”

He says he hopes his Facebook selfies do the same thing. “Friends give me a hard time because they know the selfie is coming. It’s a running joke,” he laughed. “But I feel fortunate when I run into old friends and know others would like to see them, too, so I post the picture. Now people volunteer to pose. They’re in on the joke.”

If karma is real, you might say Wright is often rewarded for the positive vibes he emanates. While he was at an Eagles game with a friend, a video production team stopped him for a quick interview. As thanks, the team escorted the pair under the stadium and then back up to a roped-off spot in the endzone, where they enjoyed the game and an all-you-can-eat buffet, and received Eagles scarves and hats as gifts.

Another time, upon presenting his nosebleed ticket at the Rolling Stones’ GRRR! Tour seven years ago, the ticket-taker promptly issued him another ticket -- on the floor, eight rows from the band. “I still have no idea why,” he marveled. “I was just thrilled to be there.”  

When not on the road, the Milton resident keeps busy. An 18-year special education inclusion teacher at Fifer Middle School in Camden, he coaches cross country, boys’ basketball and track, and coordinates the school Odyssey of the Mind program.

“Vibes, connections and energy are the things that guide life,” Wright said. “I’m 48 years old, and I feel very fortunate. I’ve lived a very rich life.”