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A mission with a message

Joe Connor attended a sporting event every day for 675 straight days, bringing awareness to Operation Gratitude while on the road
Conor with tickets

So you think your little “sports vacation” of seeing ballgames in six different ballparks during your vacation is unique? You’ve got nothing on this non-ordinary Joe: Joe Connor is home in San Diego after seeing at least one sports event for 675 consecutive days.

Connor, closing in on the age of 50, was at Rio Rancho (N.M.) 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 basketball game in Ft. Wingate.

The next night, he was watching a G-League basketball game in Prescott, Ariz., and then he planned to 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 unenviable cross-country sports trip was done in two cars wrapped with American flags; he had his first car totaled by a woman driver in Springfield, Mo., who thought she could make her left turn before Connor proceeded through. She couldn’t, and he says he’s thankful his airbag was deployed, possibly saving his life.

Joe Connor and his car

The car and his sojourn are to raise awareness of a veterans charity called Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages to those who are serving and thank yous to those who have served. 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.”

Connor 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 is simple, asking anyone seeing his car if they have thanked a veteran, service member, or a family member today.

“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.

Monday’s event in Rio Rancho, across the Rio Grande from Albuquerque, wasn’t his first sports event in New Mexico. Back on Feb. 6, 2018, he was in The Pit to see the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team face Boise State, remembering a “mini-postgame melee.”

No surprise: 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 resumes, 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 TCU), 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. … 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, a recent Oklahoma State basketball game in Stillwater, and even that freshman girls basketball game. He was also, coincidentally, on the University of North Carolina-Charlotte campus on April 30, 2019 when a gunman killed two students and wounded four others.

Connor knows not everyone will read or even pay attention to his back-window message.

Joe Connor 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.”

Connor tickets 1

Along the way of what will 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. For the skeptics, he also has photos of himself on each day of his trip at a sporting event as documented proof of his adventure.

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. Because he wore the number 5 when he played Little League, it’s become his lucky number.

“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.”