Joe Smeltzer is 19 years old and still can’t tie his shoes.
But if you randomly say any year between 1903 and 2017, the sophomore journalism major will spout off historical baseball facts and statistics like a fire hydrant jetting water after being wrenched open, without even a second of hesitation.
These are side effects of Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum that complicates development and communication. Smeltzer was in elementary school when he was first diagnosed, but he didn’t quite understand his condition until he was much older.
“It was really difficult for me when I was first diagnosed in an already awkward stage of life,” Smeltzer said. “Once my parents started opening up to me, I was able to deal with it better.”
For Smeltzer, things that are simple to most people, like social interaction, are difficult.
“Sometimes it feels like I am floating out in an ocean, aimless and trying to grab onto something.”
Smeltzer was born with a love for Pittsburgh sports in his blood. His parents have been season ticket holders for the Pittsburgh Pirates since 1994, and he attended his first baseball game at four weeks old.
“I’ve been going to games all my life,” he said.
It was attending the games and eating up the history of baseball that Smeltzer said allowed him to become so adept at rattling off random facts within seconds. While Asperger’s syndrome is a major reason behind his abilities, Smeltzer said his passion also drives his special skill.
“A huge part of why I can do what I do is just because I loved the game so much and studied it over the years,” he said.
Smeltzer’s expertise on sports facts has been his claim to fame over the years. One of his best friends from his alma mater of West Allegheny, Sean Routch, has admired Smeltzer’s love of the game since the first grade.
“My first impression of [Smeltzer] was that he was the kid who knew a lot about sports,” Routch said. “It was almost terrifying how much he knew. I gravitated
The now-sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh has seen Smeltzer in each stage of his life with Asperger’s, and said he has been there for him every step of the way.
“He always kind of struggled with social things,” Routch said. “I remember in first, second and third grade, he always struggled getting dressed after swim class. I used to help him figure out how to put his pants back on. I was protecting him that way, you know?”
For Smeltzer, Routch’s kindness meant everything.
“He was the one constant that I had,” he said. “I am definitely thankful.”
As a student at Waynesburg University, Smeltzer said he has had more practice handling his social skills than ever before.
“I think living on my own in college has kind of helped me to come out of my social shell,” he said.
However, as he continued to struggle, Smeltzer had yet to go out with friends on a Saturday night, even as a sophomore in college.
That is, until senior sports broadcasting/sports information major Drew Brown got involved.
“I talked to [Brown] about how I had never really gone out on a Saturday night before,” said Smeltzer. “He immediately invited me to his house to hang out with his friends.”
While hanging out, Smeltzer’s sports-savvy reputation preceded him, and he was quickly prompted about it by two of Brown’s houseguests, Tanner Ambrisco, graduate of Slippery Rock University, and Ryan Jaehne, pharmacy major at the University of Pittsburgh. Smeltzer was swiftly bombarded with random number generators to determine a year and cellphone cameras to capture each second of his extensive memory in action.
The camera bounced from Ambrisco, who was using his phone to generate random years in history, to Smeltzer.
“That was the Yankees over the Cardinals in four games. Babe Ruth hit three home runs, Lou Gehrig hit four home runs and that was the second consecutive championship that the Yankees had in the 20s.”
“Yankees over Reds in five games, that was the year Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris had the homerun race. Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record with 61 home runs. The Yankees won the World Series in seven games the next year, and after 1962 they did not win another championship until 1977.”
“The Cleveland Indians beat the Brooklyn Robins five games to two. It was the first grand slam in World Series history. It was the year Ray Chapman died after getting hit by a pitch.”
After getting his hands on the video footage, Brown thought it would be perfect to send it to the Instagram account of Barstool Heartland, the Indianapolis extension of Barstool Sports, after interning for them this past summer. It immediately expanded to the official Barstool Sports account and was shared by several other accounts online.
The video of Smeltzer’s uncanny baseball knowledge has since gone viral, garnering more than 1.5 million views on Instagram and thousands of retweets on Twitter.
When the video of Smeltzer took off, Brown was not surprised.
“The numbers and statistics [Smeltzer] is able to rattle off are legitimately mind-blowing,” Brown said. “I felt as if America deserved to see what us on the fourth floor of Buhl Hall have been witnessing for three semesters now.”
A week later, the dust from the viral video has settled, and Smeltzer is back to his everyday routine. Moving forward, he hopes his fame helps him achieve his dream career.
“I want to write about sports in general, but baseball is my favorite,” said Smeltzer. “Who knows what doors that video will open for me now.”
After seeing Smeltzer pop up on his social media timelines, Routch is in disbelief of how much Smeltzer
“When I look at him, I am proud of who he has become,” Routch said. “From the kid I had to help put his pants on in swim class, I know how far he’s come and I think it’s pretty cool.”
For Smeltzer, the video is a validation of who he is. Even though Asperger’s often leads him to feel alone, the video shows him he belongs.
“I know I have this condition and I am proud to be able to live through it,” Smeltzer said. “I just want to be known as a kid, not as a kid with a condition.”