I’m sitting in a hotel room in Baltimore, hours away from attending tonight’s Orioles/Twins tilt at Camden Yards. I’m pretty excited for any number of reasons. It’s my first visit to Camden Yards, which opened just about in time for me to move to Southern California for a long time. Also, I’m heading to the game with an old friend, someone who has a tertiary connection to Prospectus.
I grew up with Alex. We played Little League baseball together (me a little better than him) and then Strat-O-Matic (him a little better than me). I would like to tell you how we came to be close friends, but I don’t know; those two connections were the primary ones, and in a neighborhood that divided pretty strongly from block to block-you were “Park Terrace” or “204th St.” or what have you-we didn’t have geography in common.
Alex was one of the founding members of the Inwood Table Baseball League, a group that later also included BP’s Derek Jacques. It was through playing in the ITBL, playing all that Strat with my friends, that I learned so much about the math of baseball. Eventually, another friend in the league showed me the 1988 Baseball Abstract, and…here I am today. It’s not quite so simple, but I think had I not known Alex, maybe the ITBL doesn’t happen, maybe Eddie Kneafsey never lends me that book, and I’m a mid-level editor at Penguin today.
The ITBL was more than just a group of guys playing Strat, although we did a lot of that. Most of us played stickball or baseball or basketball together, and even though we all went to different high schools, the league survived for a year into our college lives, when geography snapped it. For me, the ITBL was what I did instead of doing some of the other things teenagers in Inwood did in the 1980s. I can remember hanging out with these guys, either playing games or talking trades, or just sitting on a stoop deep into the night, then having to defend my late hours to my mother by saying, “We’re just playing Strat.” It seemed like it should have been more acceptable. I mean, Alex and I spent our youths representing “Joyce’s Bar” and “Fort Knox Social Club,” members of a Little League in which more than half of the sponsors were places where you could get hops-based beverages, and the preferred nighttime activities of many of my peers, even at 16 and 17, involved elbow-bending. I played Strat in no small part to stay away from that, to stay away from a life I most certainly did not want.
Twenty years later, I’m in Baltimore, which itself is another connection back to the ITBL. (Many of you have heard me tell this story. You can skip ahead.) Camden Yards is where our friend Miguel Jimenez, who also played in the ITBL, made his major-league debut back in 1993. Alex and some other guys from the neighborhood went down to Baltimore and cheered him like crazy when he entered a Sunday afternoon game for the A’s. Paul White of Baseball Weekly noticed and ended up giving over his column that week to the story, which was an incredible moment given that Baseball Weekly was our bible back in those days.
At its best, this is what baseball does. It’s where little boys form friendships, ones that lead to other friendships that lead to knowledge that aids in personal development…and eventually back to the game as two men who can still laugh at the words “Cory Snyder” said with just the right cadence or tell stories about their old coaches or just sit in the stands and watch some baseball.
I’m excited to finally see Camden Yards tonight. I’m excited to see my old friend tonight. And I’m very thankful for the role baseball has played in bringing me to this point in my life.