Don Pike loves baseball – the competition, the camaraderie, and excitement.
Once he got so excited after hitting a home run that he ran back out to his position – catcher – and caught an inning before he realized he didn’t have a chest protector on. In words dripping with sarcasm, Pike’s good friend and battery-mate, Atlanta MSBL legend Steve Rosenburg, approached him and said, “Don, I know I don’t throw that hard, but…” (STEVE ROSENBURG — Below)
The story illustrates Pike’s boyish enthusiasm for the game, but Pike is more than an enthusiastic participant. His ability to organize and run leagues got him a spot in the MSBL Hall of Fame in 2011, and now two years after joining that MSBL pantheon, and just months after he quietly performed a form of organizational CPR on the Atlanta MSBL, Pike has been named the MSBL’s very first Man of the Year by MSBL Founder and President Steve Sigler.
“The MSBL thrives for all because of the leadership of a few,” Sigler said. “Don Pike has always been an effective leader, but his presence in Atlanta was never felt more strongly than it was in 2013. He stepped up when nobody else would,” said Sigler said.
Pike, the director of distribution for Volvo Penta Marine, has not missed a Sunday of baseball since 1995. His credo is “it’s about the league.” These are more than words. Pike has worked selflessly and tirelessly to make baseball available to the masses and to strengthen the league’s reputation in the community.
He was already in charge of the league’s Men’s Adult Baseball League (MABL) Saturday League (9 teams), the MABL Sunday League (31 teams), Mid-Week (12 teams) as well as its Fall MABL program (24 teams) when, in February, he took the reins of a suddenly leaderless 25-and-over division. That division, which once weighed in at 24 teams, had shriveled to nine by last Spring.
Other issues loomed on the horizon – the annual player draft, field acquisition, scheduling, the start of the season, normal administrative concerns, and the inevitable competitive flare-ups and rainouts that come tend to separate good leaders from lame ones.
Pike started with the draft and succeeded right away. The event drew about 75 new players – about 40 more than the prior year.
He added a few players from the draft, and moved two teams from the MABL division up to the 25-and-over to create a more stable, 12-team league.
He then replenished the 18-and-over division with talent from the draft. In the process he tried to close the gap between the talent-rich and the other teams. Players can lose interest and stop coming to ballgames in a top heavy league, Pike said. “You want to make it more competitive.” Teams need a place to play – so Pike went about the task of securing playing fields.
Two new calamities soon surfaced – a problem with the league’s Memorial Day Tournament, and rain – lots of rain.
With just a month to go before the time-honored Townsend Memorial Day tournament, the event was without a leader. “I usually spend Memorial Day doing stuff around the house and spending time with my parents (in Maryland),” Pike said. Not this time. “I know the tournament is important for our region,” Pike said. “It’s something Rosie started. I had things planned, but I canceled all that and took over the tournament.”
On the Thursday before the tournament began, a team from Chicago had to pull out. Next to rain, it’s a tournament organizer’s worst nightmare because it fouls up the round robin schedule. So Pike got on the phone and began assembling a team.
The tournament was a success with 30 teams. And the hastily convened team comprising players from Chicago and
Atlanta ended up winning the whole thing.
Pike even negotiated with the area’s host hotel to set up a room that turned into a used equipment bazaar for coaches from the tournament and the league to come and visit to fill certain equipment needs. “It was very rewarding,” Pike said.
The next portion of the amateur sports gauntlet of doom was brought about by none other than Mother Nature who saw fit to wash out over eight weeks of the 18-game season that stretched between March and the final week of August.
Pike handled it the only way he knew how – his way. “The managers honestly in the 18-and-over league know my policy,” Pike said. “You have two weeks to get the other manager, pick a date and time and get back with me. If you do not, I schedule a makeup for you,” he said. If one team doesn’t show, it’s a forfeit and a fine, he added. “It worked great,” he said. “It’s pretty much my way or the highway with scheduling,” he said.
Pike’s leadership and organizational skills were honed early. When he was 18 the Hagerstown, Md, native became the President of a local Sunday night bowling league that he started at a local bowling alley. When he was in the Marine Corps, he was transferred to Okinawa and put in charge of organizing sports for the troops – an undertaking that, done well, boosted marine morale.
The trend continues in Atlanta. “I`m on the road by 6 a.m. every Sunday to drag and prep two or three fields. I`m usually finished with that by 10 a.m., but then comes the phone calls and text messages. By the time my game starts at 4 p.m. I am sometimes cranky and always worn out, but it never fails: someone will come up to me and say ‘thanks.’ That single word will take any crankiness out of me and will make me forget how tired I really am.”
The Don Pike appreciation club extends beyond the MSBL fences. Last spring the folks at Osborne High School, where Pike is an assistant baseball coach, gave him the Marjorie Townsend Conner Community Service Award for his role in helping that school with its baseball program. For the past 25 years the Atlanta MSBL has not only been the main caretaker of the baseball field itself, but has built additional parking, a deck, and has donated uniforms and equipment to the school’s baseball program.
The award was humbling and, Pike said, “(it) meant the world to me.”