Except for their old school ties, about all Shelley Duncan and Jordan Brown had in common was that they wanted to be big-league ballplayers, where the minimum salary, even that of a utilityman, is $400,000, and the daily meal per diem is $125.
Duncan played his last baseball game in an Arizona Wildcats uniform in 2001. Brown took his last cuts as a Wildcat in 2005. They scattered. Baseball roughed them up.
After 721 games in the minor leagues, Duncan was called up by the New York Yankees. He hit seven home runs in what seemed like seven minutes and then, almost as quickly as he became a Yankee, he was back in Scranton, Pa., where he became the Class AAA International League's 2009 MVP.
Brown played 553 games in the minors, was the MVP of the Class A Carolina League and followed that by being named MVP of the Class AA Eastern League. And yet the Indians balked and didn't summon him to the big leagues even after he won the 2009 International League batting title.
They've had their tires kicked, but they laugh about it now.
Duncan and Brown return to Tucson in the winter, work out at McKale Center, and, in pure happenstance, have become teammates but are essentially rivals. What are the odds of that coupling? Both play left field and are designated hitters for the Cleveland Indians.
It is not unlikely that when the Indians make their final roster cuts in March, they will choose either Brown or Duncan and not both. It has not corrupted their friendship.
"I'd never root against Shelley," says Brown, 26, who grew up in Vacaville, Calif., before playing at Arizona and settling in Oro Valley. "I'm a firm believer that you make or break your career, not someone else."
The soft-spoken Duncan, who set career home run records at Canyon del Oro High School and at the UA says: "I long ago figured you can't control any of that stuff. You just play as hard as you can and don't worry about it."
So not only are they teammates, they are friends and, for the first time, business partners.
One day last summer, leaning over the dugout railing, chewing sunflower seeds while watching Cleveland play the Detroit Tigers, Duncan suggested they do more this winter than lift weights and get in some miles on the treadmill machine.
"We were watching the game that night, and Shelley says, 'Let's put on a baseball camp for kids in Tucson, not just a one-day quickie, but a more involved camp in which we can really teach the kids what we've learned and give back to the community.' The lightbulb came on," Brown remembers. "We decided we wouldn't do it unless we could make it a first-class event."
And so on Jan. 8-9, in partnership with former UA, Oakland A's and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher John Meloan, the BMD Baseball Camp will be held both at James Kreigh Park and at CDO. Boys ages 8-12 will be involved from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. by high school age players. (Entry information: brownmeloancamp.com or at 520-465-5250).
"We're going to do this the right way, with a lot of former UA players and some top coaches," says Brown. "Our vision is to be able to write a check for $11,000 - major-league baseball will also contribute up to $5,000 - for the District 5 Little League scholarship program."
Duncan takes this head-on serious, the same way he has approached his baseball career. He remembers going to baseball camps at which ex-Wildcats and future major-leaguers Alan Zinter and Willie Morales were the instructors.
"I almost feel like it's a privilege to pass on what I've learned," says Duncan. "I don't like what I see in Tucson baseball with spring training gone and minor-league baseball leaving town for a while. If this is going to be a baseball community in the future, the way it was when I was a kid, we've got to get started at the bottom, with younger kids. I'm all in."
Both of the Cleveland ballplayers know how fragile, and fleeting, baseball can be.
Duncan has had four surgeries in his baseball career: two on his shoulder, one on his elbow, another for a groin injury, and a further, more frightening procedure to remove bloods clots from his shoulder. Brown wrecked his knee on the first day of spring training games last March; he required surgery and didn't return for six weeks.
Now, two months before they report for spring training, they hope to make a difference for younger Tucson ballplayers.
"Shelley and I were in the same position the young kids at our camp will be in," says Brown. "We played on the same fields. We started at the bottom. We had to prove ourselves in high school. We've been shown how to do things the right way. That's what we want to teach."
BMD BASEBALL CAMP
• What: Two-day baseball camp for young players age 8-17 held by former UA baseball players Shelley Duncan, Jordan Brown and John Meloan
• Where: James D. Kreigh Park (ages 8-12), 23 W. Calle Concordia, Oro Valley; Canyon del Oro High School varsity baseball field (ages 13-17), 25 W. Calle Concordia, Oro Valley
• When: Jan. 8-9 (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for ages 8-12; 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. for ages 13-17)
• Cost: $110 for both days or $60 for one if registered before Christmas. $175 for the weekend after Christmas. Space is limited to 200 campers.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org