Alumni’s new non-profit is working to bring baseball back to Baltimore City with the help of Towson University baseball
Former Towson University baseball player Andy Weltlinger ’97 has always had a special relationship with Baltimore.
He’s a graduate of Calvert Hall High School — where he was initially drafted by the Houston Astros. After playing baseball two years at Cal State Fullerton, he returned to Baltimore and finished his collegiate career at Towson University. And after graduating from TU, he has spent the past 20 years living in Federal Hill working as an investment portfolio manager at Merrill Lynch.
But when he started volunteering with the Digital Harbor High School baseball team in Baltimore City, he saw there could be more done with Baltimore City Schools and their athletics programs — especially in baseball.
Currently there are no junior varsity baseball teams in Baltimore City. It’s also been 17 years since a Baltimore City high schooler has been drafted by a Major League Baseball team. Those were just a few of the stats that made Weltlinger want to get more involved.
“I loved volunteering, but I saw there was such a need for some major improvement and work,” Weltlinger said. “The easy thing to do was to just do the same thing. But I wanted to take a step back and attack, or fix, the structural issues and the bigger picture.”
With the bigger picture on his mind, Weltlinger decided to start the Baltimore Urban Baseball Association (BUBA) last fall. Under Weltlinger’s leadership, BUBA is a non-profit organization offering free baseball clinics and academies to Baltimore City youth ages six through 21-years-old.
And along with Weltlinger, BUBA features volunteers and coaches from the Baltimore area who have played collegiate and professional baseball. This includes fellow Towson University alumnus Chris Russ — who spent five years in the Texas Rangers organization.
“There is a real value provided,” Weltlinger said. “We’ve organized a lot of younger, recently-out-of-college young adults who have played college or professional baseball, who live right here in Baltimore City and have the capacity to volunteer their time and help these kids.”
Most of BUBA’s clinics take place on Sundays at the Under Armor House in downtown Baltimore City. The initial clinic just featured two participants. Today, clinics welcome anywhere from 60–80 participants on a weekly rotation. BUBA now serves about 200 kids — and is seeing a growth of about 10 kids per month.
“He’s brand new and doesn’t know me, and I was pitching BUBA within seconds,” Weltlinger laughed. “He listened, he thought about it, and came back and asked how do we help. So, TU ended up donating a bunch of their old equipment.”
The Tigers were keen to help.
“Any chance that we can keep baseball going somewhere, we definitely want to be a part of that,” said TU baseball assistant coach Tanner Biagini. “[Andy’s] giving these kids a chance to keep up, giving them a chance to learn, and given them something to get them out of a bad situation.”
Along with donating equipment, student-athletes from the Towson University baseball team started volunteering at the Sunday clinics this past offseason. The team was so excited about the opportunity that most Sundays featured more volunteers than there were spots available.
“It’s really important to give back, and that’s the most important thing we can do, because of how fortunate all of us are to be in this situation,” said Alex Parker, a sophomore right-handed pitcher from Westminster, Maryland. “That’s why we take pride in what we do with BUBA Baseball.”
Baseball isn’t the only focus of BUBA — they have programs that focus on academics as well. This includes a special college prep workshop for high school juniors and seniors, where volunteers make sure students and their parents are prepared to apply to college.
That is why when the Tigers' baseball team is volunteering, they make sure to stress the importance of academics when trying to take the next step.
“Being a student-athlete is two parts,” said Drew Bossi, freshman catcher from Phoenix, Maryland. “If you do well in school and focus on your studies, as well as your athletics, your window of opportunity expands so much more.”
While the group still works on Sundays, Weltlinger is hoping that BUBA will grow to a fully-funded after-school program with Baltimore City schools. He is also hoping to continue his partnership with his alma mater.
“Towson University is where I grew up,” Weltlinger said. “In fact, the partnership between BUBA and TU is how I got connected back to the university. I would love to continue this partnership, and I feel like this not only helps us, but also the TU student-athletes.”
BUBA is also an excellent example of Baltimore's premiere college athletics program working in Greater Baltimore to improve the lives of residents in local communities, observed Will Huff, TU's deputy director of athletics for operations and a member of the university's BTU (Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore) council.
"This program is a great example of our BTU initiative in action," Huff added, "making a positive difference and once again demonstrating why Towson University matters to Greater Baltimore and to all of Maryland."
TU's baseball team will host Albany in the Tigers' first home series of the new season, starting Friday, March 2. But when asked if they will volunteer with BUBA again during the offseason, the players’ faces lit up with excitement.
“We’ll definitely go back,” Parker said. “It’s cool because all these kids look up to you and they see you’re a Division I athlete. They look up to you, they listen to you and they want to get better. It kind of makes you feel like a superstar in a way.”