Editor’s note: Damon Grothe is the new league president of the Indiana Baseball League, located in and around Indianapolis, a post he assumed in January of 2021. This most successful league has a rich history and has been meticulously detailed by Damon and while somewhat lengthy, I felt it best to keep the story in its original question and answer format so that we can observe the passion behind the answers. I didn’t feel it appropriate to edit Damon’s responses for content. Enjoy!
Submitted by Damon Grothe
What is the history of the league and how did it start? On December 25th, 1989, an article ran in the Indianapolis Star to see if there was any interest in forming a new baseball league for men 30-years old and older. The article was written by a sportswriter for the Star, at the request of Steve Baertschi, who was interested in starting up a league.
From this one article, Steve received more than 100 calls and a great deal of interest. This interest led to the formation of a 9-team league for adult baseball, which would be known as the Indianapolis MSBL. Steve became the first president of the Indianapolis MSBL. From its inception, the Indianapolis MSBL began to grow as word spread throughout the city that the excitement of competitive adult baseball was available in Indianapolis.
Today, we have close to 600 players and 35 teams in four age divisions. We have over 350 interested players that have registered within the last two seasons.
What age divisions of play are now offered? 18+, 25+, 35+ and 45+
How many teams participated in 2021? 35 teams
Were you able to get in all or part of your season in 2020? I want to thank John DeCosta for his diligence in putting together a great season for us. We were able to get almost all of our season in during the pandemic, we started about a month and a half later than we normally start. With everything shut down, we had to find a way for our members to get out on the field. We put COVID protocols in place that aligned with MSBL national procedures and then customized for our league. We had very strict policies in place for COVID exposure and we were lucky to get the season in without any major issues.
When does the league begin to play and when will it finish, including any playoffs? Our 18+ league usually starts at the end of April and a champion is crowned by the end of August.
Our 25+ league starts at the end of April as well, but the playoffs end the second week of September.
Our 35+ and 45+ leagues start the first week of June and the championship will be played at the end of September.
When did you personally start playing in the league? I started playing in the league in 2000. After playing at the University of Indianapolis, I had a great high school friend, Jim Crews tell me about this league. He connected me with Ron Sexton who was managing the team. Ron and I shared the fact that we both were and still are huge Eric Davis fans!
I am extremely grateful for that phone call. This league has been a huge part of my life ever since. I took over as the 18+ League Director in 2005 and Vice President in 2008. I served as VP of the league until January 2021.
When did you become president? January 2021
Who were your predecessors and are they still involved in any capacity? I served as Director under the late Wayne Edwards and then as VP under John DeCosta who served as president for the last 12 years. John still manages the Arrows in the 18+ league and we still talk regularly. John did a remarkable job with the league and paved the way for me to keep the momentum going.
What is your most memorable MSBL moment as a president?
In my short tenure, I also have the opportunity to play first base when I am just playing in the league. From time to time, you will have guys tell you how much they appreciate the league and how happy they are to be playing. That means the world to me, it makes all of the long nights that much more worth it.
What challenges did you face when you started the league or when you took over? One of the biggest challenges was to figure out my own processes and develop a level of organization that could track the field availability, schedule match-ups, interested players, payments, and team/player registrations while developing a social strategy (thank you Rob Branson) and establishing relationships with our key field contacts.
What are your biggest challenges today? Figuring out a way to continue providing high-quality adult baseball. While we welcome any and all players to the league, we certainly have developed a standard of play over the years which is key to our growth. This year, we have had a tremendous amount of prospective players that have shown interest in our league and we are working on a better process to improve the prospective player experience. We have some great ideas as to how we can improve this for the 2022 season and develop the opportunity for interested players to play ball!
What gives you the greatest satisfaction?
Watching new teams form in the league and knowing that we provide an outlet for close to 600 players to do something they love every week! We have many players that play in multiple age divisions too!
What do you see for the league in the future? The IBL strives to provide the best quality baseball in central Indiana. There have been a few other leagues that have popped up in the city. I think it is great that we have so much interest in adult baseball. Those other leagues are great for our community and rather than dilute each of the leagues, it would be great if we created one place for players to go that addressed all skill levels and paces of play.
I look forward to growing the number of teams and providing more players with the opportunity to get on the field. We have a great foundation to build from and we will continue to work hard to provide this outlet.
What is the reason for the continued success of the league? We have developed some great relationships with our fields, we had to earn their trust and we work hard to keep it. Our standards, policies, rules, structure, and quality of play are key drivers for a well-balanced league. Some of our umpires have been around in this league as long as I have and have gotten to know most of our teams and players. Most importantly, I believe it is important to listen to our players/teams and managers, they make this league run. Our success is also attributable to the hard work and dedication of our league vice president Ken Menser. Thank you, Ken!
What part of running the league do you enjoy most? I really enjoy knowing that this league provides so many players the opportunity to play the game they love. I don’t ever take that for granted and it makes us work that much harder to be there for our players…always, pandemic or not. I also enjoy the friendships and great relationships that are built from our league network.
Do you still play in the league? I haven’t stopped playing and I’m not sure that I will. When I was in the 18+ league, I always told myself that I would retire if I had to play in the 35+ league. I have played in the 35+ league the last six seasons 🙂
What is the history of your league team’s participation in any MSBL national tournaments? Mike Shadoan and Jeff Johnson haven’t missed an MSBL World Series since 1996! Our Indy Giants team won in 1999 and Mike and Jeff won again in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Mike manages the 35+ Rangers and also plays on the 45+ Pirates in our league.
The Indianapolis Dodgers participated in the MSBL World Series in Phoenix, Arizona, and the Fall Classic in Clearwater, Florida. I also had the opportunity to play in the 18+ Fall Classic in Clearwater with the Dayton Woodpeckers where we won two championships in consecutive years!
What would you say are the most important accomplishments in your league? 600 league members, 35 teams, over 350 prospective players, and providing quality adult baseball since 1990
How valuable is your relationship with MSBL? Our relationship with MSBL affords our players the opportunity to compete in the World Series and participate in a structure that mirrors the vision of the MSBL. While we have customized our league for us, we appreciate our relationship with Steve Sigler and the MSBL. Steve provides great support to our league and truly cares about the outcomes for our members.
What advice would you give to new league presidents? Rome wasn’t built in a day and if you let it, the duties can take you by storm. I would encourage you to find a process that works the best for you to stay organized and logically progress through what needs to be done. Once you get your first season under your belt, you will have developed processes that will be easily replicated for the next season, learn from your mistakes, and adapt. It is extremely rewarding when you step back and think about the impact the league has on so many players!
How important is family support? Family support is extremely important. Working a full-time, demanding job in itself can create some challenges to focus the time and effort on the league. I remember a lot of late nights and I was not afraid to ask for another set of eyes from time to time. Having a great support system is critical for the successful implementation and commitment to the league!