by Jeff McGaw and Dan Piro
Photos courtesy Kevin Fitzmaurice
(This article appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of HardBall Magazine.)
For one evening in July 2008, a group of MSBL/MABL players pinch hit for their local professional team.
Members of the Savannah Adult Baseball League played their first ever All-Star game at historic Grayson Stadium, as part of a program followed by a great fireworks display. While the league has had a chance to play some games at the stadium, this experience was considerably different.
They were providing the baseball entertainment as part of a Fourth of July weekend celebration, and their game was followed by a spectacular fireworks display. When the players looked around, they saw the stands filled with people.
Built in 1941, Grayson Stadium is home to the Savannah Sand Gnats - one of two single A affiliates of the New York Mets. The stadium's roots date to 1926, and those who have played on its field included Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron and Jackie Robinson.
Normally, the Gnats play at home on that day and hold a huge, must-see fireworks show after the game. This year, however, the Sand Gnats were scheduled to be in Greenville. Rather than cancel the fireworks show, Sand Gnat general manager Brian Dodson called SABL President Kevin Fitzmaurice to ask his league to provide the baseball entertainment for the evening.
Only a minority of MSBL leagues have access to professional stadiums, and it often requires dogged persistence to convince the local pro team that the league is worthy. It is rare for the professionals to call their local MSBL affiliate - but that is what happened. Even better, the Sand Gnats contributed $10,000 to cover the cost of pre-event advertising and fireworks. The event attracted 3,400 paying customers, with a Thirsty Thursday beverage promotion helping to fill the seats, and live music adding energy and excitement to the evening.
East v West
The West Division All Stars, managed by David Mesaros, defeated the East Division, 4-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning when Pat McCarthy drew a bases loaded walk to force home the winning run. McCarthy also earned the win on the mound for the West. Brian Reynolds pitched well for the East in a losing effort. Robbie O'Dell had two RBI, Jack Myers had a triple, and Jon Crapse walked twice to lead the offensive charge for the winners. Reynolds contributed two hits for his side. Rick Evans doubled and Matt Foley, Brian Heightington, and Travis Moore each had RBI's for manager David Morrison's East squad.
The league's elder statesman, 65-year-old Anthony Mesaros, tossed the ceremonial first pitch of the game to start the evening. Each squad had an all-star roster of 20 players, with each of the league's ten team sending four players.
"It was a special night," Fitzmaurice said. The resulting publicity was good for the league, he noted.
Rooted in the Community
In three short years, under the guidance of Fitzmaurice and its 14-man board, the league has established itself as a respected community baseball organization. That is why the Sand Gnats believed they would be well served to invite the SABL to hold its all star game at Grayson Stadium.
The SABL, a registered non-profit organization, has achieved its respect in the community through its outstanding and dedicated board members and its highly organized approach. With its business plan and annual operating budget in hand, the league is able to gain support and tax deductible donations from corporate sponsors. This support help the league hold per-player cost at approximately $160 per player.
With board members from the community as well as one from each of its ten teams, the league's roots extend deep inside Savannah. One of its board members also sponsors the Sand Gnats and, in exchange for a sizeable advertisement on the outfield fence, persuaded the Gnats to agree to allow the league to schedule several games at Grayson. This year, the SABL has scheduled five fund raising games at Grayson each benefitting a different and usually local charity such as the SPCA.
Next year, the league will likely split into two age divisions - part of its plan for well managed growth. All of the board room work, the publicity from the local radio talk shows and print stories about the league, the planning and budget preparation and other administrative efforts have made Savannah a great MSBL town.
Magic of the Game
In the end, it's a place where ordinary, working guys can don their baseball garb, drive to the park with wife and kids in tow, and play baseball on a field where giants once stood.
It doesn't get much better than that.