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Could this be Julian Loscalzo’s final ballpark tour?

Every year, it’s the same old story. Julian Loscalzo announces this could be it — his final summer bus trip leading tour groups to America’s iconic ballparks, majors and minors, a feat he’s been pulling off for 42 years running, with the single exception of a pandemic year.

And every year, Loscalzo — a former stadium beer vendor, sometime bike-taxi manager and lobbyist at the State Capitol for the St. Paul Saints, nonprofits and other groups — fails out of retirement. But at the age of 72, he may mean it this time.

An Alaska Bus Lines coach bus he’s rented for the occasion picked up 44 baseball fans at the Midway Target parking lot on Tuesday morning and took them to Beloit, Wis. — go Beloit Sky Carp! — for the Tuesday night game against the Lake County Captains.

Then it’s off to Chicago, where the White Sox meet the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Wednesday. And then it’s the Red Sox versus the White Sox on Thursday on Chicago’s south side, at Guaranteed Rate Field, the former home of Comiskey Park.

Then it’s back to Wisconsin on Friday to watch the Quad City River Bandits take on the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at Neuroscience Group Field in Appleton. Yes, there will be fireworks — literal ones.

A love of urban travel

Loscalzo, who has made his home in St. Paul since the mid-1970s, has promised his tour group they’ll roll back into St. Paul’s Midway next weekend. But his sights are already set on his next ballpark tour to Syracuse, Cooperstown and Utica, N.Y., in July.

“We seldom stay out in the suburbs unless we’re on a tight schedule,” said Loscalzo, who has turned his love of urban travel into a side gig across four decades of ballpark hopping, much but not all of it concentrated in the Midwest. “We stayed in downtown Wichita last year. Same with Tulsa. It’s as much a chance to explore the city as the baseball.”

Every other year, he goes big before he goes home, wrangling a few dozen tour-goers on an eight-day tour. About a third of his entourage are retired folks. Most are repeat customers. Sometimes they bring with them their kids or grandkids, who get to experience the family road trip with a baseball family writ large.

He recalls a tour that drew three generations of the same clan. He brought his own grandson with him two years ago to Cooperstown. Travel friendships form. Sometimes they last.

Rolling out for Beloit, Wis.

When Joel Hanson’s aunt died in February, a number of the friends he made over four years of ballpark tours attended the funeral. On Tuesday, he was scheduled to roll out for Benoit with his 73-year-old father and his 42-year-old brother, who would be joining him for the first time.

“My dad’s from Chicago and he used to skip school and go to opening day at Wrigley Field,” said Hanson, 34, of West St. Paul, one of the younger individuals on recent trips. “His mother would write him a note: ‘Please excuse Billy from class as he’s sick today.'”

Of course, not every ballpark is a Wrigley Field.

“We’re tending to see probably twice as many minor league ballparks as major leagues,” Loscalzo said. “They’re as fun. They’re more fun. They’re different, but I think we get more enjoyment out of it because it’s more like Americana. You get to hang out with the players, you get to meet people. They’re always intrigued by a bus load of Minnesotans. If you have a kid with you, the kid gets to throw out the first pitch. People kind of take you under their wing.”

John Reay has been going on Loscalzo’s ballpark tours almost annually since they launched in the early 1980s. He doesn’t consider himself a baseball super-fan as much as a fan of the community that forms on the road. What started out as a bit of a men’s outing has become almost equally co-ed.

“It’s the friendships. It’s the sitting on the bus for seven or eight hours to Chicago. These are friends I get to see every year,” said Reay, 79, of St. Paul. “You come back and you start up right where you left off.”

Why ballparks?

So why the fixation on ballparks?

Loscalzo, who grew up in working class Philadelphia, one of the only kids in his neighborhood to go to college, lost his father when he was just three months old. His mother poured her love of baseball into him from a young age, but it would take him 20 years or more to make the connection — America’s pastime was her link to her late husband, and an emblem of dad that she could pass on to her son.

He remembers trips to long-gone Connie Mack Stadium in old Shibe Park, and the nosedive the Philadelphia Phillies took in 1964, the year their 10-game losing streak cost them the pennant they had opened the season seemingly destined to win. His mother took him to Game One of that 10-game slide. Yes, baseball can be a game that breaks your heart.

“It does, it does, it does! But it’s a game of people,” Loscalzo said. “It’s a game of history.”

Some of those repeat customers on his ballpark tours are no longer with us. At 72, Loscalzo takes a close read when he learns that a celebrity or local notable his age has passed away. Nothing lasts forever, maybe not even America’s favorite pastime, which has lost ground in popular culture to football and basketball.

So after this summer, he’s hanging up his baseball tour hat for good.

Or maybe not.

“It’s been a tongue-and-cheek statement to people,” Loscalzo said. “It’s kind of a reminder that everyday could be your last.”

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