From Postal Worker to Sports Tour Host
HATFIELD—Back in the 1990s, Gary Laprade’s family connected him to Sports Travel and Tours—or, Sports Tours, as it was known then—and the maiden trip he took soon evolved into a beloved and long-term part-time job.
Not long after he returned, Laprade was at work in the U.S. Post Office in Easthampton, where he lives, and he couldn’t help but notice that a customer was sending out a lot of mail with the Sports Tours return address of Hatfield. Intrigued, Laprade started up a conversation with the man and learned he was one of the travel firm’s tour hosts; Laprade was wishing he was a tour host too.
Within a week, Jay Smith, the founder of the 20-year-old sports travel firm, gave Laprade a call. “He said ‘I heard you thought this would be a cool job because you’re a sports nut,’” Laprade remembered.
Smith asked if Laprade would consider overseeing a trip to Worcester, where the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, basketball team—very hot at that time—would be playing. Laprade jumped at the chance, and after his debut as a tour host, Smith provided him with one trip after another, to New Jersey for a UMass classic game and to Philadelphia for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. With each trip, the responsibility increased.
“I slowly became a little more involved with the overnight trips, where you have to get people to and from their rooms to the arena, as opposed to simple head checks on the bus,” Laprade recalled.
Founded 20 years ago, Sports Travel and Tours has been the official travel company of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum since 2007. Its mission is to offer hassle-free sports tour options to fans across the country.
Eventually, Laprade got involved with Sports Travel and Tours’ baseball trips. Since 2011, Laprade has been working alongside Smith to create all the Major Minor trips, which take tourists to a mix of major and minor league ballparks, and then he guides the tours himself.
“We had about 50 or 60 people who’d been to all the major league stadiums and needed a new challenge,” Laprade said. “It’s been great getting to know all the travelers over the years. I consider them family.”
This year’s Major Minor trip is the Major Minor Southern Swing from May 22 to May 28. The trip includes stops in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee for four games at SunTrust Park, Coolray Field, AT&T Field and First Tennessee Park.
“It’s a cheap experience for minor league games,” Laprade said. “With the cost of major league games, you feel you have to watch every second of every game. Minor leagues are much more relaxed, but still offer good quality baseball.”
Laprade suspects a group of 20 to 25 Stadium Hall of Famers—who have visited all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums and been inducted into the Sports Travel and Tours Stadium Hall of Fame at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, will make up most of the travelers, but newcomers are always welcome.
“On the first day, everyone introduces themselves,” Laprade said. “We almost always have some new travelers who tell us about themselves and their favorite teams. Then on the bus, I’ll lead trivia contests and try to get everyone to predict the winners and scores.”
Laprade loves the tour host world. “This is a great job, and a great way to see the country,” he said. “I’ve seen the Golden Gate Bridge, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Seattle Space Needle. I’ve seen all the cities where there are major league games.”
But Laprade’s favorite part about being a tour host? The friendly faces he’s met along the way.
“It makes it interesting that everyone comes from all different walks of life, but they all have baseball as a common denominator that binds them together,” he said. “It’s a great mix of people and generations. We always have a great time.”
Learn more about the upcoming Major Minor Southern Swing trip.
Learn more about Sports Travel and Tours.