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RIO RANCHO, N.M. — So you think your “sports vacation” of seeing ballgames in six ballparks is unique?
You’ve got nothing on this non-ordinary Joe: Joe Connor returned home to San Diego last month after seeing at least one sports event for 675 — not a typo! — consecutive days.
Connor, closing in on the age of 50, was at Rio Rancho High School on Dec. 9 to take in a freshman girls basketball game.
“Mondays in December are very hard to find sporting events — a lot of teams don’t play on Mondays,” he said, although after seeing most of the Rams’ girls game, he was headed west on I-40 to see a game in Ft. Wingate.
The next night, he was watching a G-League basketball game in Prescott, Ariz., and then he shut down the epic voyage with a minor-league hockey game in San Diego the evening of Dec. 11.
A freelance writer and career coach, his cross-country sports trip was done in two cars wrapped with American flags.
He had his first car totaled in Springfield, Mo., by a driver who thought she could make her left turn before Connor proceeded through. She couldn’t, and he says he’s thankful his airbag deployed, possibly saving his life.
The car and his sojourn are to raise awareness of a veterans charity and another that also supports first responders. The trip is also a salute to his father, who “got me into sports and served in the Air Force — he was stationed in San Antonio and served in Vietnam.
“My late father died about 20 years ago; he was a smoker,” Connor said. “My father was my hero — he was Joe the third; I’m Joe the fourth.”
He grew up in Connecticut, where he played on a youth hockey team that traveled throughout New England and Canada. Hockey was his “first” sport, but baseball is his favorite sport.
Today, he has a passion for sports and travel, hence this unique adventure with a message.
“I wanted a moving billboard that spoke for itself and for people who see it to remember freedom is not free,” he explained.
The message on his back windshield is simple, asking anyone seeing his car if they have thanked a veteran, service member, first responder or a family member thereof today.
Connor knows not everyone will read or even pay attention to his back-window message.
“A large percentage have tunnel vision and don’t pay attention; they live in their little bottle,” he said. “I want to bring joy to people — a simple thanks is enough.”
On the evening of Dec. 7, coming out of a Walmart in Stillwater, he said, “A woman said, ‘Hey, I love your car.’ And that’s good enough for me.”
“I came up with the car concept and am 100 percent self-funding my journey,” Connor said. “I write for Basketball Times (and) I have seen a different sporting event since the Eagles beat the Patriots on Feb. 4, 2018.”
That rare Monday event in the City of Vision wasn’t his first sports event in New Mexico. Back on Feb. 6, 2018, he was in The Pit to see the Lobos face Boise State, remembering a “mini-postgame melee.”
Connor is single and doesn’t have any children.
“Basically, my full-time occupation is I’m a career coach — someone who helps job-seekers with résumés, job changes, preparing for interviews, negotiating raises,” he said, noting that the late fall and winter are the slowest times of the year for him.
“I was originally a journalist (he studied journalism at Texas Christian University), then in public relations; I’ve been self-employed for 20 years.”
As a freelance writer, he said, it’s easier to obtain a credential to see an event.
“I’m not getting any younger; I’m unattached — I ended a relationship a couple years ago, so I’m free again,” he said “…This is gonna be it.”
His “events” have run the gamut, starting with a Cal-Baptist basketball game and including countless baseball games, the Indy 500, a race at Talladega, a lacrosse game at John Hopkins University, the U.S. Open tennis tournament and a recent Oklahoma State basketball game in Stillwater.
Connor was also, coincidentally, on the University of North Carolina-Charlotte campus on April 30 of last year, when a gunman killed two students and wounded four others.
Along the way of what would amount to a 150,000-mile sojourn, Connor said he’s taken a ton of photos and collected countless ticket stubs, so someday he can assemble a video collage of the trip, during which he has taken selfies with his vehicle in front of all 48 lower-states’ capitols.
Thanks to the internet, he’s been able to find sports events, even as obscure as the one at RRHS; thanks to GPS, he’s been able to find the venues.
“I drink a lot of Coke; I’ve had two coffees my entire life,” Connor replied, when asked how he stays awake for so many hours behind the wheel.
“I want to go home on my own terms — 675 days will end it,” he said. “There are never enough hours in the day; it’s a balancing act. You can do it next year, but what if there isn’t a next year?
“I don’t have any regrets about doing the trip,” he said. “I’m gonna take at least a couple months off. I love San Diego — it’s been my home since I was 24.”
He told the Observer he wanted to return to New Mexico sometime, hopefully to hike in the Sandias and see an Albuquerque Isotopes ballgame.