Fan to attend 1,000th straight Schaumburg baseball game
Eighty-year-old Tom R. Smith has proved himself a baseball ironman of sorts.
The Schaumburg man hasn't missed a single game at Schaumburg Boomers Stadium since its debut as Alexian Field in 1999. Friday night's game will be his 1,000th.
His passion for the games has caused him to miss friends' weddings and five of his grandchildren's graduations.
Smith's granddaughter recently consulted the Boomers' home game schedule to allow her engagement party and wedding to include him.
His zeal is not only for the quantity of games but for the quality of the experience.
Beginning with four, he gradually acquired a block of 12 season-ticket seats so he never has to hear anyone near him having a non-baseball conversation.
When he had only four seats, including one for his wife Carol, he was still close enough to others to hear more than he wanted about work affairs and the weight fluctuations of their acquaintances.
"I figure if you're not there to watch baseball, to talk baseball, I don't want to hear that all day," Smith said.
Schaumburg Boomers President Pete Laven said he's known of season-ticket holders who weren't happy about whom they ended up sitting next to, but no one as proactive as Smith in doing something about it.
"I've worked in minor-league baseball for 25 years and it's unique," Laven said.
If you wanted to build the same buffer zone in the Boomers Stadium stands this year, all those season tickets would cost you $5,400.
Smith's commitment further stands out in an era when season-ticket holders are becoming more rare due to fans being cautious about their ability to attend enough games, Laven said.
"To me, he's synonymous with team loyalty," Laven said of Smith. "When you think of season-ticket holders, you think of Smitty."
Explaining what minor-league baseball does for him isn't difficult for Smith.
"I wish I were still 15 to 18 years old," he said. "I wish that were me going out there. I relive my youth every single game."
Having grown up on a farm between Decatur and Effingham, Smith's early youth was defined by busy farm chores. But when his father took him to a Cubs-Cardinals game in St. Louis in 1945, his eyes were opened to something else his life could be about.
After his Navy service, he pursued a career in baseball that spanned four years of minor league play, including two seasons in the farm system of his beloved Cardinals.
It's the hunger of players at that level -- doing all they can to catch the attention of scouts in the crowd -- that has kept the Schaumburg resident's love for the game local.
Back in the '90s, Smith believed the Kane County Cougars were his best option for local baseball, but he had to go on a waiting list for the seats he really wanted.
At the time, he ran a decorating company that did some work for the village of Schaumburg. From that connection, he was tipped off that the village was considering building a stadium of its own and he did all he could to get his name on the earliest waiting list.
Even then, it took him a few seasons to get the location and number of seats he has today.
Around 2003, the Cougars informed him that seven of the eight seats he wanted at their stadium had become available through the death of a longtime season-ticket holder. But he told them it was too late -- he was fully invested in Schaumburg.
Smith said attending every game in Schaumburg wasn't an initial goal. He was surprised after the first season that he hadn't missed a game.
But after he managed to do the same the next year, he decided to see how long he could maintain that streak -- attending every preseason, postseason and All-Star Game played at Boomers Stadium.
The closest he ever came to missing a game was when he had a severe case of the flu about three years ago. But he decided to go anyway, knowing no one would be sitting near him during the game.