WHITING | If you were blindfolded and led into Mayor Joe Stahura's office at City Hall, you might think you had stumbled into a Dick's Sporting Goods.
The walls, desks, shelves and counters are covered with pro and college sports memorabilia, all of it neatly displayed, tagged, and of considerable value.
All that's missing is a sales clerk.
Joe and wife Diane, you see, are baseball fanatics who bleed Cubbie blue. They also love their Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears and occasionally cheer for that "other" Chicago team -- the White Sox.
The proof's right there, in Mayor Joe's office.
Since the summer of 2002, the Stahuras have attended games at all 30 MLB stadiums, old and new, with the exception of Marlins Park in Miami, which opened in 2012.
Now catch your breath for a moment.
Joe and Diane have also taken in ballgames at more than 90 minor league parks, at all levels.
There are die-hard fans, and then there's the Stahuras, who make them look like slackers.
"Our whole summer vacation one year, we went to the West Coast and caught six stadiums. And then we took the East Coast trip and actually caught seven stadiums because they're a lot closer together," Joe said.
"Two trips knocked out most of 'em."
Many of their baseball road trips are on weekends when Stahura's hectic schedule permits. They drive and take in other sights and attractions along the way.
"Getting out of the office and driving is kind of a release," he said. "Get on the road, eat where you want to eat, stop when you want to stop, shop where you want to shop.
"I have no problem getting in the car and driving seven, eight hours, a crack. Sometimes, on a long trip, we'll drive 12-14 hours the first day."
The Stahuras use the book "100 Baseball Places To See Before You Die" as a road map, with many attractions a short distance from the respective stadiums.
They fell in love with PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"It's just so relaxing. It's got like a boardwalk along the river," Diane said.
"They did it right. Great park. Great ambiance. Great food. They got pierogi races," added Joe.
"Florida," Joe said. "We crossed the border from Georgia into Florida and it didn't stop raining the five days we were there. The hotel fire alarm went off in Tampa, so we're standing out in the rain.
"We got to Daytona when (Jeff) Samardzija was there and it rained so bad, streets were closed. We hiked to get to the stadium and no game. Flooded out."
Diane recalled last year's trip to spring training when they visited all 10 Arizona training facilities. As for scheduling, they prefer road games when their Cubs are in town.
"Most of the time, we walk in off the street," Joe said.
Listen to them and you'd think they were travel agents. Here are a few tips:
Oakland and San Francisco had crowds that made the Stahuras a bit nervous; the aluminum bleachers at St. Louis were torture in hot weather; Wrigley Field still has the best overall baseball ambiance; the closest hotel at Fenway Park is 14 blocks away; hotels at Kansas City require walking across an expressway unless you pay to park at the stadium; Seattle sells individual $100 skybox seats on game day.
Turns out, the Whiting influence stretches far.
In Houston, Minute Maid Park rents out concession space to local civic groups. On this particular day, a vendor noticed Joe and Diane wearing Cubs T-shirts and jackets, so he asked if they were from Chicago.
"We're from Indiana," Joe replied.
Where in Indiana?
"This little town called Whiting."
What street did you live on?
"If it really makes a difference, I grew up on John Street."
So did the stranger.
It was Emil Geffert, whose family had owned a hardware store in Whiting for years.
Moments later, the Stahuras bumped into a girl from Whiting and her boyfriend.
"Imagine that. So now, we're really giggling," Joe said.
Their Houston adventure wasn't over yet.
"We sit down and there's this guy behind me with a huge sombrero," Joe said. "I had left my phone in the hotel and, when we got back, I had 123 messages. First one was (Hammond) Mayor (Tom) McDermott -- 'I saw your fat butt on TV.'
"They were showing this guy with the sombrero the whole game and we were sitting right in front of him. Made the Channel 9 news and Top 10 ESPN highlights.
"Everybody saw it."