By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
Bob O’Neill is a 63-year-old institution in New York, as is the community of Baldwin. Why is this important, you ask? Because Bob is the architect and headmaster of the Baldwin Orioles, a staple of the Long Island MSBL since 1991. They have always been the Orioles and always associated with Baldwin.
“I played college ball at Fordham way back then and a bunch of us played in a different baseball league after college,” said Bob. “We played for a while and then tried softball but decided we had to go back to baseball. I saw the initial Sports Illustrated article with Steve Sigler and we decided to give it a try. We may be the longest continual team in the country!”
When you consider they have been the same team with the same name for 33 years, he may be right. The true beauty of the Orioles and their association with the Long Island MSBL is that they aren’t in it for the ring or trophy. In fact, they have never won their division in the league.
“We play in the 55-over division now but aren’t doing too well,” O’Neill continued. “But our team philosophy over the years is that if you have come to play, you play. Everyone hits. There are 17 of us and if everyone shows up, which is rare, they all play and hit. We are there to play and be together, not just win.”
Bob has been running the team since the beginning and used to pitch in college but is more of an outfielder now with only an occasional inning on the mound. Being a New York native, I had to ask why they became the Orioles, of all teams.
“We liked the uniforms.”
Were there any fond memories of the days when baseball was everything in his life while growing up?
“In high school, I played on a traveling town team and pitched against Frank Viola and actually won the game 1-0! We were both seniors and he went to St. Johns so we continued competing in college. I guess you could say that his career took a little different turn than mine. But I still managed a free education out of it all.”
Bob has been with the New York Life Insurance Company for the past 38 years so I would say that he also landed on his feet, though he said he is retiring this year. He is married to Jean and they have a son Eric, who is 25 years old.
“Eric was a baseball and basketball guy in high school and played club baseball in college. We may have to check out a future appearance in the Father/Son division of the MSBL World Series.”
I asked Bob if there are any other members of the Orioles who have seen all of the years on the team since 1991.
“There are four or five of us that have been together for the duration. My brother, Kevin O’Neill, Tom McGinley, and Skip Gehring – whom I have known since 1st grade, Jamie Clemente, and Mike Pisano – whom I have been playing ball with since we were 12. We were all Baldwin kids growing up.
However, over the years we lost two players. Jim ‘Doc’ Baker passed away in 2012 and Gene Batih died around 2019. He was also an original Baldwin boy.”
I always enjoy asking players and managers what they feel is the best thing about their leagues.
“It’s the camaraderie of not only teammates but all the managers. It all comes down to Steve and Brian (Sigler) allowing us to continue playing baseball. The Long Island MSBL is a great outlet to keep playing the game. We always figured when you were 22 years old, baseball was in the rear-view mirror. Then Steve created that 30-over concept and now it’s up to 80!”
Bob said they don’t go to national tournaments but enjoy participating at Cooperstown on the Hall of Fame field. In addition, the Orioles have participated in several Ron Hunt fundraiser events at the old Shea Stadium and subsequently at Brooklyn Cyclones Stadium in Coney Island.
“We did go to Las Vegas one year for a tournament but it is too hard to put together. Maybe we’ll get back there someday.”
Is there a favorite player of all time?
“Tom Seaver. He was a fantastic pitcher back in my day and I always tried to emulate him. I could never quite pull it off but you have to have goals, right?”
My final question of Bob was if there was a greatest baseball moment, either watching or playing.
“Just like everyone, I have had four hits in a game, maybe five RBI, and there are always days when you feel a lot better than other days, as it always comes and goes. I know those memories are there but I am not one with the time to ponder. I am a stickler for keeping team stats but not so much mine. I do know that it took me 30 years to get four home runs! But my greatest moment remains going to the ballpark and seeing everyone, win or lose. That is what keeps me going and smiling.”