Recently, I had read that Bronx Banter's one and only Alex Belth would make an appearance with several of his sports-writing colleagues at Columbia University. Since I missed a chance to meet him earlier in the year, I made it a mission to actually meet the man behind one of the best sports blogs in cyberspace...
My persona at Bronx Banter is a lot more outgoing than I think of myself in person. Of course, I have no reason to kid anyone about who I am or what kind of person I am... I like to think I really am warm, funny, personable and outgoing, but what I think I'm inconsistent with is je ne se quoi... my big brother is the very definition of such, but then I both idolize and fear him (another story)... anyway, some insight about Alex for my fellow Banterers...
When I walked into the Barnes & Noble where the chat was being held (fifteen minutes before it ended, thanks stupid 2 train and special shout-out to the M116 bus), having successfully navigated my way through Alfred Lerner Hall at Columbia University, I discovered a relatively intimate group of speakers and observers tucked away in the back. As I strode toward the assembly, I locked eyes with one of the guys behind the table: his eyes grew wide with what I thought was fear and disbelief. I had a strong notion, but I slid in as quietly as I could among the observers; one of whom moved a chair into place for me. I listened intently while the speakers chatted away, at times stealing a glance at the fellow who had stared at me. This time as our eyes met again, he grinned and nodded knowingly. No doubt about it, he was the man.
The assembly was quite casual; Allen Barra was sitting in the audience with the rest of us (he slid a chair out for me) and Steve Goldman, Jay Jaffe, and Alex presided at the table, while Kevin Baker stood in the forefront stage-left and expounded on anecdotes from their book. I got a lot out of fifteen minutes, honestly. After a while, the chat came to a close and the audience rushed forward to grab a book and have it signed by this illustrious group of baseball writers... I snuck up to the front row of the seats and reclined in a plastic folding chair, just chilling (it's what I do best >;)
When the herd had thinned out a bit, the guy who had eyed me hopped around the table and approached.
"What up, B," I replied, giving him a big hug.
For Banter folk, it's like this: it was just like seeing a long-lost friend. There was genuine joy in his eyes and voice. "Do you have the score on the Yankee game now?" he asked excitedly. Damn, I knew I forgot something. "That's ah'ight," he said, whipping out his cell, "I'll call home and get it." I watched him dial and Emily must have picked up on the first ring, because he was almost immediately jabbering. He closed the phone with a thank you and he'd be home soon. "We're up 9-1." he grinned. I thought to myself, boy it's so great you two have each other. It doesn't happen often enough in my opinion.
Alex introduced me to some of his comrades; Barra backed off humorously when "Bronx Banter" was mentioned, while I shook his and everyone else's hands. Barra confided in me that he enjoys what Banter is and the level of knowledge and range of personalities, not to mention the sense of community. I stood as the group again stirred up conversation about baseball facts, and surprisingly to me, Alex was just as dazzled as I was taking it in. His banter with Jaffe was particularly fascinating, as they reminded me of brothers tossing a ball back and forth between them. Not surprising when you consider that they practically grew up together, if I recall correctly from what Alex said.
I followed like a shy puppy as the congregation filed out, making plans for a restaurant get-together shortly, but as soon as we all got outside, Alex said he had to go home. I instinctively followed him toward the subway entrance and we continued to chat. We talked about baseball, about Banter and about writing. We talked about ambitions, about passions, about dreams and about desires. We talked about perceptions, media, he shared insights on media and where he saw himself. Alex opened up in a way that made me genuinely appreciate what Banter is for not only what he writes, but what it has been able to create and sustain. As such, I promised that I would keep much of our discussion between the two of us, which I will continue to do (and hope that you didn't expect otherwise >;)
But I will say this: Alex Belth is a genuine human being. He has ambitions and he has concerns, he has passions and he has fears, but something unique to people I consider my closest friends, he does not fear revealing himself to people he knows will understand. How do I know this? Because I've never described myself in person other than casual remarks about my appearance here or at Banter, yet he instantly recognized me the moment I walked in. I asked him if I had scared the sh-- out of him because of that look he had, but he insisted, "I just knew it was you; I said to myself 'it's really him, this is the man'..." The few times that's happened, these people became lifelong friends, and I had a good feeling about Mr. Belth. We spoke (well, he mostly talked and I mostly listened, but that seems to suit our personalities just fine) until we realized that it was really time to get home. Sometimes when you talk with certain people, time stops to listen in. It must have been late and I surely hope his wife wasn't worried, but we parted with much dap and a promise to stay in touch. "It's so great to finally meet the man," he smiled. "The cat's out the bag now," I grinned back, and we departed.
It was a thrill, and I called Ish to discuss the meeting. I carried on about how human he was and how inspiring it was to talk about where we were with our writing and where we each wanted to be. There was a lot to take away from this, but Ish agreed wholeheartedly when I said that it was important for us to continue what we are doing here. As I said to Alex, when you follow your bliss, you'll be surprised at what develops. Bronx Banter is a large and growing community of minds, spirits and personalities from many corners of the mind, yet is a community; better yet a family that informs and plays on our lives in one way or another every day in a way that has certainly proposed a new dynamic that is both acceptable and endearing.
What's most important is that you enjoy what you're doing, you have a passion for it. The fame and fortune may or may not follow, but you'll discover things and meet people who will love the same things you do and carry you further towards the things you dream of. That's just how it works, and thanks to Alex and everyone at Banter, I realize I'm further along than I would have thought. Good look, fam' >;)