Travel: Sports administrator likes to travel to iffy places
Rick Bay knows a lot about venturing into potentially hostile territory.
After serving as a University of Michigan athlete and coach, Bay took a job as athletic director at Ohio State University, working there from 1984 to 1987.
After that, his trips to Syria and North Korea must have been a piece of cake.
Bay, 74, has spent a lot of time traveling in retirement to places that might scare many tourists out of their comfortable walking shoes.
He tells about his experiences in “Forbidden Travel: What I Learned About the World,” available through Amazon.
Bay has held a number of high-profile sports administration jobs, including chief operating officer with the New York Yankees and CEO of the Cleveland Indians.
He also has a history of clashing with bosses and other authorities.
He resigned from his Ohio State job in protest when he was ordered by then-university-President Ed Jennings to fire football coach Earle Bruce. Bay also tussled with owners George Steinbrenner of the Yankees and Dick Jacobs of the Indians.
So the subtitle of his new book, “The U.S. State Department said ‘Don’t Go’ — I Went,” should surprise no one.
“Yes, some of these places happened to be on the ‘do not travel’ list,” Bay said.
“But I’m going to check into it myself. I’m not going to be restricted by the State Department if I believe it’s reasonably safe.
“I didn’t think I was reckless, but I didn’t want to be told where I could and couldn’t go. And I wanted to understand these places better.”
Before becoming an athletic administrator, Bay had been director of the University of Michigan Alumni Club. He got a taste of unusual travel destinations by leading alumni groups to places such as the Soviet Union and China.
“We were one of the first university alumni groups into China, about 1977,” Bay said. “I found that a fascinating experience.”
But it was only after retirement that he started traveling extensively, he said.
“I never had the time before. I started with general trips to Europe: England, Italy, Germany, the usual places. I found it kind of boring.”
Bay did a bit of adventure traveling with his wife, venturing to Cuba 12 years ago. She died in a traffic accident a short time later.
“I was pretty much at wits’ end,” Bay recalled. “I thought one thing that could occupy my mind was to go to someplace really different.”
Soon after, Bay booked a trip to Africa, where he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and scattered his wife’s ashes.
He then found a travel agency that arranged a six-week solo trip to Egypt, Jordan, Iran and Syria in 2008.
“It was a very therapeutic experience,” Bay said. “One of the things I learned about that kind of travel — no matter how bad the situation may seem to us in another country, people love their homelands and want to be there. Even the ones who must leave, they want to go back. That made an impression on me.”
His other notable destinations include Pakistan and North Korea. In all, he has visited 70 countries and all seven continents.
Adventurous travelers shouldn’t avoid iffy destinations, Bay said.
“Of course, I wouldn’t go back to Syria now; I’m devastated by what’s happening there. But I think Iran, for example, is still safe.
“You just have to make sure you’re with the right travel agency and have the right guides. You should take precautions, but if you’re really curious, you should go.”
And you might find the experience in “hostile” territory fulfilling and enjoyable, just like a Michigan man once found his time at Ohio State.
The week of Bay’s resignation and Bruce’s firing, the Ohio State football team went on to beat Michigan. The team gave a game ball to Bay.
“Yes, that’s one of my prized possessions — and I say that sitting here (at home) in Ann Arbor (Michigan). “That really was the best job I ever had,” Bay recalled, somewhat wistfully. “If Earle hadn’t been fired, I might still be there.”
— Steve Stephens can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SteveStephens.