2023 MSBL Man of the Year: Aaron Eberhardt, Central Florida Amateur Baseball League

By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

Aaron Eberhardt is the president of the Central Florida Amateur Baseball League headquartered in Lakeland, Florida, a city of just over 100,000 and also the spring training home of the Detroit Tigers. Previously an independent league, the CFABL began under the MSBL umbrella in 2015 and Aaron took control of the league in 2013.

Aaron saw the potential of Florida amateur baseball early on and has done an amazing job in eight years in growing the league in the number of teams and also across the Florida landscape.  For his hard work in expanding the MSBL presence in Florida in such a short period of time, MSBL Founder and President Steve Sigler has named Aaron the MSBL Man of the Year for 2023.

“This award shows that MSBL appreciates my efforts and what I am doing to promote the leagues.  It also shows me personally that even in the bad times, the hard work is being appreciated.  We are fulfilling the Florida needs of having quality baseball leagues and if it continues to grow, we must be doing something right.

What players are after is the quality ball.  We don’t work in total anonymity and it shows in the players’ comments and in Steve’s appreciation.  Steve (Sigler) stays in contact and is always encouraging.  He is almost like a mentor.  We have similar qualities and vision so we move forward together.”

Aaron mentions growth in a passing phrase but I need to illustrate that this is no result of anything except hard work and definitely can’t be taken lightly.  Aaron started as league president with a four-team 18-over league based in Lakeland.   They now register 110 teams in 17+, 18+, 30+, and 45+ divisions across Florida.

“My goal is to continue to offer baseball where there is none.  Quality baseball.  There are a lot of dead areas across the midlands of Florida where there isn’t a lot of ball being played after high school.

I reach out to the counties and they get excited that we can bring baseball to their area.  The coasts are more populated, but in the center areas, there isn’t too much baseball being played after high school.  I recently contacted one county that didn’t have one baseball field!  That is unacceptable.”

Aaron has a degree in engineering so he is very detail-oriented and tracks everything.  That is how he methodically created a graph of the Florida landscape and started contacting interested parties and counties.

“Just this past year we took over two county programs and both counties already had some teams, which is good.  The reason they came aboard is that they actually approached us because of our reputation for quality and follow-through.

Brevard County came to us with some older divisions because they were already in place.  We had been primarily catering to the 18-over crowd in a combination of rec and competitive divisions but we welcomed the new look.  They only had four teams in a 35-over division so we lowered it to 30-over to attract players in that ‘void’ and we went from four teams initially to 11 this spring and are looking at 20 this fall.  Again, we satisfied the need.  You have to be thorough in your research.”

The Central Florida Amateur Baseball League has become a monster that needs to be fed and Aaron admittedly can’t handle things alone.  Enter Geoff Gonzalez.

Geoff came into his position of running some of the leagues when he was a player who moved across the state from Tampa to near Daytona Beach, located on the east coast.  He contacted me and said ‘Hey, man, there’s no baseball over here!’  That led to the birth of our CFABL East Coast Division.  We attracted leagues in Melbourne, Orlando, and Port St. Lucie.  I would be lost without Geoff handing those leagues on a day-to-day basis.”

Below is a screenshot of the Google Map from the MSBL website ‘Find a League’ page that shows the MSBL leagues located in Florida.  Out of the impressive 21 leagues signified in the state, only five are not headed up by either Aaron or Geoff:

So far, the leagues are up and running on Sundays. But Aaron sees the need for mid-week action.

“I am thinking about a 40-over mid-week league around Clearwater.  Our philosophy, including Geoff’s, is to find a location that will service an hour in all directions.  Players are willing to travel that far for quality baseball,” explains the engineer Eberhardt.

The makeup of Florida baseball is very competitive.  They play ball all year and there are many high-ranking college players looking to keep their dreams alive, both during and after their college careers.  However, that isn’t always the case.

“When the CFABL began, we catered to a high-quality concept and tried to attract the serious player.  I have found over the years that there is a definite pocket of recreational players who have no desire to face a Florida State pitcher throwing 95.  That led to our creation of rec and competitive divisions within the league so that everyone has a chance to play.

Geoff’s leagues are still a bit smaller but are getting close to 20 teams and might be able to split into rec and competitive soon.  It takes more teams to be able to split talent but he’s getting close.”

I asked the 41-year-old what his vision is for the future.

“First off, I think my playing days are over.  It has become too big and I can’t be on the field if issues come up. You have to be selfless.  In order to run a league, you need to have a strong mind and you can’t become overwhelmed.  You have to think unbiased, make sacrifices for your own joys in life, and think for the good of the league.

Regarding our vision, we want to create more mid-week leagues and hopefully expand to the panhandle.  We steer clear of most major population centers.  That is a fight we don’t need right now.  We have all we can handle and need to keep our focus on the areas where baseball is needed by everyone and would welcome having the opportunity to play baseball once again.”