CHICAGO — Paul Swaney said if he had won the lottery and didn't have to work, he'd devote his life to his true calling: traveling around the United States, writing about the country's sports stadiums.
Swaney didn't strike it rich on lucky numbers, but he dedicated his professional career to chasing his dream job anyway.
Four years later, Swaney has built a team of more than 100 contributors based in 15 countries in every continent except Antarctica.
The publication has reviewed about 1,500 stadiums — big and small. In Illinois alone, Swaney has written feature stories on 38 facilities, from Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field and United Center to O'Brien Field in Peoria and The Corn Crib in Normal.
"When my son Owen was born five years ago, something about having a child born made me think a lot about [how] I would be dead someday," Swaney said. "I realized I should be doing work I'm passionate about. I just felt like I should do this."
Swaney, who also lived in Uptown and North Center, has a psychology background. He was working on his master's degree at Adler School of Psychology downtown, but quit and eventually started to pursue Stadium Journey.
Swaney's wife of 12 years, Jennifer, said her husband always talked about writing about different ballparks and arenas, but she was the one who finally pushed him to doing it full time. In 2008, she bought the domain name stadiumjourney.com for $25 as a Christmas present.
"I figured if I did that, he would have less excuses to not starting the company," Jennifer Swaney said.
The deal was this: Paul could devote all his time to Stadium Journey if the family could move anywhere Jennifer wanted. That place would turn out to be their current residence, Ann Arbor, Mich., where Jennifer is an IT manager at the University of Michigan and has several family members nearby.
Swaney's range of coverage is most of the Midwest and other locations as needed.
"If no one else can go to the panhandle of Virginia, I'll head out there," he said.
Swaney drives about 30,000 miles a year in his 2000 Honda Accord during his 50-or-so trips. He's in the car so frequently, he's named it Seamus and talks to it in an Irish accent.
The monthly magazine has about 300 subscribers, who pay $20 a year. Swaney said the website had about 200,000 page views in April, and he noted the company is "profitable, but just barely."
The articles are reviews of stadiums in great detail, from where to park to what to eat and how much it will cost. The upcoming magazine issue will feature a Swaney article pairing his favorite ballpark — Wrigley Field — with a pregame visit to Hot Doug's.
Swaney isn't stopping at a Stadium Journey magazine and website. He eventually wants to expand services to create a cookbook and travel guides for each of the major cities.
"We've got a big team working on it now, but early on this was a matter of Paul providing all the momentum for a long time and everyone giving him sideways glances wondering how long he was going to be able to do this," said Edgewater resident Marc Heiden, one of the contributing writers. "He's proved to everybody this could be done."
Swaney's favorite excursions are the ones he takes with his family. Owen occasionally rides with his father on his long road trips to America's sports palaces.
Even family vacations weave in a stadium stop or two for "work."
"I hope to do this the rest of my life," Swaney said. "That was the goal, to create a profession moving forward."