Me 'n' Bobo: And Other Tales from San Quentin
Highlights of the 2010 baseball season:
Before the tryouts
How it all began
Tryouts for the San Quentin Giants were set for February 27 and March 6. There had been too much rain to allow us to use the “Field of Dreams,” so we were forced onto the small patch of asphalt that is left after the new hospital was built--$165 million dollars the State of California spent for the well being of the convict population.
As far as we know, there is nothing like our baseball program anywhere in the country, maybe the world. In most prisons, convicts are normally limited to intramural recreation—convicts playing convicts. But at San Quentin outside teams come in to play convicts—that is the uniqueness. Actually, this is the third time in the prison’s history that such an arrangement has been permitted at San Quentin—once a hundred years ago, then during the 1950s, and now in the modern era, beginning in 1995, it is happening again.
All our games are home games, and no convict teams come in to play San Quentin. Half our team roster is composed of “lifers,” meaning they have life sentences—fifteen years to life or twenty-five to life, and there are thirteen men classified as “Close B,” which is a custody term meaning they are counted seven times a day, since they have such long sentences and are considered escape risks.
In the San Francisco Bay Area we are blessed to have the BAMSBL, the Bay Area Men’s Senior Baseball League. The league is divided into age groups: over 18, over 28, over 38, and over 48. There are some ex-major leaguers who play on teams with names like the Cubs/Oaks, the Fog, the Mad Dogs, the Mission, Tri-Valley, All Blacks, Nor-Cal Pirates, San Jose Orioles, the Longhorns, Tigers, Sting, Barons, and more. Some are made up of young guys, some old guys.
This is real baseball, too, with umpires, striped fields, and fans.
I am Kent Philpott, age 68, pastor for over four decades, now in my 26th year at Miller Avenue Baptist Church in Mill Valley, California. Converted while in the military at age 21, I am so very pleased to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Fifteen years ago I began managing baseball teams at San Quentin after fourteen years doing ministry out of the Garden Chapel at the prison. When asked what I do, I say I am a teacher of the Bible to believers and a preacher of the Gospel to unbelievers. As a coach at the prison my pulpit is along the third base line—the coach’s box. My work is to glorify God.
Prior to this year’s tryouts two of my five assistant coaches, Kevin Loughlin and Len Zemarkowitz, met with me at Pinky’s Pizza in San Rafael to discuss how we would handle the upcoming season (Elliot Smith, Stan Damas, and Mike Deeble could not make it). In the past I have always argued for a larger number of players, while most others thought a smaller number on the team would be easier to manage. My suggestion was that we wait and see how many players came out for the tryouts and go by that. One thing we were all sure of—certain players who plagued us from prior years would not be on the team. Some of them we considered to be “poison,” and a few other veteran players were simply not good enough to make the cut any longer. Of course, our conclusions were not going to be greeted with smiles, but deselection would have to be done for the sake of the team as well as for the peace of mind of the coaches.
2008 SAN QUENTIN GIANTS
West Block, 5 tiers high, is in the background. Philpott is on the right side, front row. Behind him is Stan Damas. On the left, in white Giants shirts are, in front, Len Zemarkowitz and behind him is Kevin Loughlin. In the white hat, next to Philpott is Country, now at home, a friend I do miss. He was our equipment guy and score keeper.
Read more in the August issue.