Origin Story

Experience Baseball founder, Tobias Blake, tells this story:

In November 2012, at the light rail station outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, a man approached me, confessed he hadn’t eaten in three days, and asked for spare change.

oriole park at camden yards baltimore oriolesWe spent the next 15 minutes eating lunch together. “Are you an Orioles fan?” I asked him.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Huge O’s fan.” And he went on to tell me that he had spent most of 30-plus years in roughly a 10-block arc of where we were standing at that light rail platform, literally in the shadow of the now 20-year old iconic urban ballpark behind us.

“Ever been to a game here?” I asked.

He looked at me sideways, as if I just had asked the most absurd, insulting question he could have imagined.

“Naah,” he said and shook his head. And he said it like that: “Naah.”

I felt embarrassed and extremely small.

As if to explain himself, “The economy,” he said. “There are no jobs.”

I nodded and said I understood. And I asked him what one single thing would help his community to develop.

After a short pause, he answered. “I got two: We need more people to know our story and we need money to come into the community and stay here.”

The Baltimore city skyline from the east side.

The Baltimore city skyline from the east side.

I asked him how to do both of those things and he responded: “I don’t know. What do you think?”

I said I didn’t know either.

And then we talked a little bit about Ben Roethlisberger’s head injury and the Ravens-Steelers game coming up that Sunday.

And when the train came, we shook hands and I left him at that light rail station on Howard Street in downtown Baltimore behind Oriole Park at Camden Yards. And as the train pulled south past the Camden warehouse, I started to consider the man’s question.

  • This man lived in the heart of Baltimore.
  • He was a self-identified “huge O’s fan.”
  • He couldn’t afford lunch, let alone an opportunity to see a game in his own hometown.

Meanwhile, I have had the privilege to attend over a dozen games at Camden Yards and I haven’t lived in Baltimore for 20 years. I asked myself two questions:

How did baseball communities communities get like this?

How can baseball fans like me help?

Considering the answers to these began a process of organizational development and the founding of Experience Baseball in January 2013. The process continues as we build an organization committed to the development of urban baseball communities through education, support of grassroots organizations, and the training of future sports industry leaders.

At Experience Baseball, we believe in helping those that help themselves. And we believe that baseball and its fans have a unique opportunity to help to improve the quality of life in urban baseball communities by supporting incredible local organizations best situated to help themselves to improve access to health, education, and a vibrant economy in their own neighborhoods.

The average household income within a mile of U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago is $17,000. Most of these homes bring in less than $10,000 a year. In neighborhoods surrounding Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, the number of residents over 25 with a bachelor’s degree is less than half the national average. And outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards in downtown Baltimore, this man hadn’t eaten in three days.

But consider more than 60% of over 175 million baseball fans in North America live in households with an income above $75,000More than 81% of baseball fans live in households with at least one college graduate.

The stories of baseball in Chicago, Kansas City, Baltimore, and every baseball city are stories that weave in and out of the the neighborhoods and communities of diverse people in downtown, high-density urban centers. The stories are not all legends of great players or hulking stadiums. There are baseball stories impacted by social issues relating to socio-economic disparities, education gaps, food deserts, homelessness, historic racism, and many other challenges for urban neighborhoods existing alongside the ingrained American game of baseball.

We will collect these stories from baseball clubs, fans, researchers, and community members. We will share these stories in safe, fun, educational game-day events in pro ball parks across the country. And we will be a leader in harnessing the love and power of baseball to transform communities.