by Mark Jent
On July 16th, 2018 the logo was unveiled, the first four stories were posted on the website, and the first officially branded trip was a week away. It’s hard to believe that was five years ago. Some days it feels like last week, yet more often than not it feels like it’s been ten times longer than the 1,826 days it’s been.
The origins for Simply A Fan began long before that summer night sitting on our couch in Nashville as I clicked for the website to go live while watching the HR Derby. I have my friend Rob Huey to thank for planting a seed after an adventure to the 2015 All-Star Game festivities in Cincinnati. After months of planning logistics for that bucket list trip, at the end of the four day trip it came time to financially settle up and Rob said, “Wow Mark, this was pretty easy for me, I didn’t do anything but show up and you took care of the rest! You could charge a premium for something like this.”
Ding, ding, ding, ding!
The next year as Vin Scully Weekend in Los Angeles was approaching in September 2016, I proposed an adventure to the same three guys – Rob, my brother Jason, and my long-time baseball traveling partner Patrick Cameron. I went to them with an idea and a package of three days, two nights, two games and being at Dodger Stadium the night that the legendary Vin Scully would be honored for his 67 years of being the iconic voice of the Dodgers. None of them hesitated at my price tag to which I replied, “Thanks a bunch, you just paid for my trip!” Although I didn’t make any money, the goal was successful for me to get a free trip out of it.
The next year I felt God calling me into a new season professionally. After 14 years of working at my alma mater (Lipscomb University) doing something I loved dearly, I could not resist the nudge He kept giving me to take a step of faith. So in June 2017 I did the once unthinkable – I stepped away from the comfort of a paycheck and security of benefits and took a leap of faith. Amidst the excitement of something new, a lot of doubt, fear and anxiety crept in as I stepped off the ledge because I realized I hadn’t packed a parachute for what was next!
Shortly thereafter we began building the foundation for Simply A Fan. I figured if I could organize mission trips for students to travel across the country and around the world to serve, I could take those skills and translate them into baseball trips. Although 2017 is when the entity was given a name, the business license was filed with the state of Tennessee and the first trips were planned for spring 2018, it wasn’t until July 2018 that Simply A Fan was actually born.
There were only four people who were with me on that first trip – my Mom, my Dad, my brother and my best baseball traveling partner Patrick Cameron. That was it, three family members and a best friend. The budget was so bad that I begged the Air BnB if I could get a partial refund because I didn’t have as many people sign up as I had hoped to – and they did!
Those first couple of years were fun, draining, exciting and just down right hard – I mean excruciatingly painful at times, like stumping your toe and hitting your funny bone at the same time kind of hard! I often tell people that I wanted to quit more days that I wanted to keep going in 2018, 2019 and 2020. When you launch a sports travel business and two years later a worldwide pandemic hits and shuts down both sports and travel industries, it makes you question that nudge God was giving you a few years prior. Yet I recall talking to someone I respected and who had gone before me, Alex Muir with Pantone 294, and I asked him the secret to his success in building a massive travel following for Dodgers fans on road trips and he said, “Just don’t quit.” So on the darkest of days when throwing in the towel seemed like the best idea since Tommy Lasorda pinch hit Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series – I just kept remembering what Alex said.
Another person who inspired and encouraged me more than Alex, who I had only talked to for 7 minutes, has been my gorgeous wife, Beth Jent. From the outset I had her amazing and unwavering support, and she’s been my biggest fan and cheerleader since day one. I would plan trips that would lose money and she would say, “It’s okay, you’re learning and building – don’t quit.” I remember one trip in particular where the night before I was in tears because of anxiety and the fear of financial loss and I wanted to call the ones going to refund their money and cancel the adventure – she wouldn’t let me. I will say thank you to her a million times and it still won’t be enough.
Our kids have been supportive too in their own way. They might not understand the hours and energy that go into Simply A Fan, but they have been forgiving and still love me even though I am often distracted and traveling. One of my favorite parts of the last five years has been being able to take the kids to local outings and road trip adventures. We have hit up plenty of Sounds games, Nashville SC matches, along with road trips and adventures to Atlanta, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles. It makes my heart beat a little faster to see their eyes light up and get excited when an invitation is extended or announcement is made.
I could give shout outs to dozens of friends who have encouraged me along the way, but inevitably I would leave somebody out because there are many. But two people that deserve a special thanks are Joseph Mankin and Brian Holaway. In the months leading up to the website launch, Brian locked arms with me and created the website from scratch. He then patiently taught me how to manage it, post stories and trip pages.
When I was mulling over what kind of logo was needed to brand it, I paid someone to mock up some options and sent it to Joseph for his opinion. About 30 minutes later he sent me a text back “If your goal is to appeal to white guys in their 40’s who wear khakis and baseball caps then you nailed it. If you want something that will have greater appeal to all demographics, here you go,” and he sent me the logo! He tells me I was lucky that he just so happened to be sitting on his couch that night watching TV, was kind of bored and his creative design juices got flowing.
Thank you both to Brian and Joseph for your friendships!
As I write this story, I’m on my way to Wrigley Field to catch a Red Sox-Cubs game with my oldest two kids. It’ll be Brooklyn’s first trip to the Friendly Confines and Harrison’s second game. The idea for taking them on just a Nashville-Chicago day trip on Southwest came to me months ago, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized it would be on the 5th birthday of Simply A Fan. How ironic!
We’ve been blessed with so many fun adventures – two trips to Cooperstown (2019 and 2022), six Opening Days, four World Series games, including seeing my Dodgers win it all in 2020, an All-Star Game in Los Angeles, a College World Series, Vanderbilt football road trips and more. One of the benefits of COVID is that it caused me to rethink the long-term viability of Simply A Fan by primarily going to Major League Baseball games while based in Nashville, which doesn’t have a MLB team! That’s not the best business model. So coming out on this side of the pandemic, we got into supporting our local professional teams big time – the Nashville Sounds, the Nashville Predators, Nashville SC and this fall our first NFL game to support the Tennessee Titans.
I’ve got big plans for the years ahead. Who knows if they’ll come to fruition, but I can guarantee you that if I don’t try them, then they’ll just continue to be words on a page in my journal. I’m excited about the success we’ve had and hopefully what’s still to come, but I’ve also learned not to be afraid to fail. And boy have I failed a bunch!
If you made it this far in the story, you’re pretty dedicated – thanks for reading. (PS – and if you didn’t make it past the first paragraph, I thank you too but you’ll never know this sentence exists!) Whether you’ve read a story on the website, joined us at a game, traveled on an adventure, follow along on social media or are subscribed to the mailing list, know that Beth, the kids and I are grateful. Here’s to a lot more fun ahead!
Because I love stats and grew up looking at the back of baseball cards, here is a breakdown of a few numbers.
2018: 12 adventures, 188 fans
2019: 12 adventures, 343 fans
2020: 3 adventures, 22 fans (COVID!)
2021: 6 adventures, 113 fans
2022: 15 adventures, 469 fans
2023: 13 adventures, 861 fans….and counting
total: 61 adventures, 1996 fans
Adventures by Sport:
32 – MLB
12 – MiLB
7 – MLS
3 – NHL
1 – NBA
3 – NCAA Football
1 – NCAA Baseball
1 – NCAA Basketball
1 – Dude Perfect
Other Notable Highlights
30 ballparks, stadiums, arenas
107 stories on website
3 published journal book reviews
I share these with you not to awe you, but to say THANK YOU for making it possible!
A special thanks to my friend Jeremy Mitchell with Mitchell Bat Co for this idea. The baseballs that make up the 5 are comprised of baseballs that my brother and I played with in our backyard as boys along with a few balls that we play with in our backyard with boys. The Wilson glove is mine from Little League that I still use today! The Louisville Slugger bat is a Bo Jackson signature model that is Jeremy’s and nearly identical to one I have that is a Pedro Guerrero signature model. Thanks Jeremy!
To check out other stories on the website click here: Stories From The Stands.
To check out upcoming adventures click here: Upcoming Adventures.
You can also follow Simply A Fan on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
And finally, to stay up to date with all things Simply A Fan, click here to sign up for the newsletter. By doing so, you’ll be the first to receive opportunities to purchase tickets and reservations on upcoming adventures and stay connected with new stories!
Mark Jent is the chief trip planner and designated storyteller for Simply A Fan. He lives in Nashville with his wife Beth, and their three kids, Brooklyn, Harrison and Zach. He enjoys cheering on his Dodgers, reading baseball history, hiking at Radnor Lake and chasing waterfalls throughout Tennessee with his family. He launched Simply A Fan in July 2018 with the two-fold purpose of taking people on adventures to ballparks across the country and providing fans a platform to share their baseball stories. He is currently on a quest to meet as many of the living Brooklyn Dodgers as possible.