6/16/2020 Tom Knapp

Baseball Weekend

This magazine article is part of Spring/Summer 2020 / Issue 95

Bruce Levin ’88 and Jim Black ’88 came from vastly different worlds. But a love of America’s national pastime helped spark a friendship — and a tradition that’s taken them around the world

 
  • Fenway Image Credit: CF Payne

 

As freshmen, they were randomly thrown together by a housing experiment that sparked a friendship—cemented in a mutual love of baseball—that has lasted ever since. It’s taken them from Boston to St. Louis, Denver to Minneapolis, New York to Miami. And last summer, to London, where the legendary rivals Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees competed.

“We came from two very different worlds—socially, culturally, religiously and in just about every other way—but 32 years later, we’re best friends,” says Bruce Levin ’88.

In 1984, the College placed Levin, Jim Black ’88 and three other freshmen together in a five-person suite in Schaeffer Hall, in the basement of Ben Franklin North. “It was pretty unconventional at the time,” Levin says. “And it didn’t work out so great. We’re a success story, I guess. But they canceled the program the very next year.”

Levin and Black bonded anyway.

“It comes under the heading of ‘opposites attract,’” Black says. “Bruce and I came from very different childhoods. For instance, I mentioned camping, which was a foreign concept to him. He took me to my first Broadway show. He exposed me to a lot of things I’d never experienced before. That experiment was the beginning of a great friendship.”

They were roommates again as juniors and got an off-campus apartment for their senior year. Black graduated with a degree in government and Levin, who started out pre-med, majored in economics.

After college, Levin went back to his hometown of Edison, N.J. Black, who was from Winchendon, Mass., got an apartment in Lancaster and worked various jobs before meeting his future wife, Stacey, and eventually moving to Wisconsin.

The two pals—who saw each other regularly while living in neighboring states—knew they’d have to be more deliberate about keeping in touch. That’s where “Baseball Weekend” came in.

“We talked on the phone from time to time, but life got busy,” Levin said. “He had young kids, a new job. He had a lot on his plate. One of our ideas was that it would be nice to get away from it all once in a while, just for a couple of days. We wanted to get together for a guys’ weekend.”

Their wives, Stacey and Dorie, were understanding, he says with a laugh.

They got together in 1997 in Washington, D.C., where they walked the National Mall and toured the Capitol. The following year, they met in Toronto.

“We had a great time. We have a lot of great memories,” Levin said. “But later we were kicking ourselves. We were so close to the Rogers Centre, and the Blue Jays were in town, but we didn’t go to a game.”

So a tradition was born. It started in Boston. Black is a Red Sox fan, while Levin roots for the rival Yankees.

“We decided to go to Fenway,” Black said. “It took a little arm-twisting to get Bruce there.”

“I said, ‘I’m going to wear my Yankees jersey,’” Levin recalled. “He said, ‘You do that at your own peril.’”

But it became customary, he said. Each year, they visit a different Major League ballpark, and at every game, Levin wears a Yankees jersey, and Black wears his Sox attire. “People look at us and say, ‘You guys are actually friends?’ Of course we’re friends,” Black says.

“We get razzed by other fans,” Levin added. “We get a real kick out of it. It happens every year, at every ballpark.” No matter where they are, he said, “regardless of how we feel about the team, we’ll always suck it up and root for the home team.” Unless, of course, the game features the Red Sox and Yankees.

To date, they’ve visited 24 ballparks, including a few that are no longer Major League parks: Atlanta’s Turner Field, the original Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and Shea and Yankee stadiums in New York.

They go early to tour the stadiums, Black says. “Our mantra is, ‘You never leave the game early.’ Even if it’s a 15-0 blowout, you never know what you might see.” They’ve seen a second baseman pitch and a National League pitcher hit a home run. But they’ve yet to see a no-hitter—a rare feat they both dream about witnessing at the ballpark.

Their shared love of baseball has allowed them to visit iconic spots around the United States, including the Johnson Space Center in Houston, a Minuteman silo in Tucson and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. But last summer was extra special, the men said, because their favorite teams played in London.

“We’d never seen a Red Sox-Yankees game together,” Levin said. “Our wives both said, ‘OK, we’re cool with you guys going on this weekend every year, but you’re not going to London without us.’ So we made a vacation out of it.”

They attended the first of two games between the archrivals at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park—and it was a doozy. “The Yankees won, 17-13,” Levin said. “It was completely insane. That’s a football score.”

With that off their bucket list, he and Black are looking to their future. They still have lots to do. “It doesn’t end,” Levin says. “We still have a handful of stadiums to get to. We also have to go back to a few cities, because they’ve built some new ballparks.”

More importantly, he says, “it’s stayed fun. And it’s met the objective that we set out. We’ve remained close. He’s been a great friend, and I like to think I’ve been the same to him. It’s kept us tight as two families, even though we’re separated by half the country.”

As for next year, Black said, the two friends will right a 22-year-old wrong. “We’re heading up to Toronto.”

Meanwhile, he urged students to find their own someone at college.

“Whether it’s a roommate or a teammate or a lab partner, whatever,” Black said, “try to find someone you can hold on to.”

 

  • Playing Catch Image Credit: CF Payne
24 Ballparks Visited

2019 - London
2018 - Detroit/Cincinnati (22nd year)
2017 - Oakland/Anaheim
2016 - Atlanta/Miami
2015 - Milwaukee/Chicago (White Sox)
2014 - Dallas
2013 - Minneapolis
2012 - San Diego
2011 - Baltimore/DC
2010 - Los Angeles
2009 - Kansas City
2008 - New York (old Yankee Stadium/Shea)
2007 - Phoenix/Tuscon
2006 - Houston
2005 - Louisville
2004 - Cleveland
2003 - Pittsburgh
2002 - Denver
2001 - San Antonio
2000 - St. Louis
1999 - Boston
1998 - Toronto
1997 - Washington, D.C. 

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