Capital District MSBL Pioneers: Don Wixon

By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communication

“For the first time in years, I can run again!”  Those were a few of the opening remarks from my interview with Don Wixon, 75-year-old treasurer and still all-star caliber player in the Capital District MSBL located in and around Albany, New York.

“In February of 2020 I had both knees replaced and I was also dealing with a bad back,” elaborated the league treasurer.  “I am playing this year but 2021 wasn’t up to snuff.  I look forward to having a normal year once again.” 

But wait, there’s more!

“I played in the 2005 Fall Classic in Florida and we got into the playoffs.  I started the game playing at third base and by the end of the game, I wanted to catch the last inning. So, on a throw, I hurt my shoulder badly enough that I had to have rotator cuff surgery in 2006.  I hope there’s nothing else I can tear or break for a while!”

That was sort of a comical introduction to the story but there is much more to this super-achieving, long-standing member of the Capital District MSBL.  Don came into the league in 1997 and played for the Bethlehem Braves in the 35+ division.  He has been older than every team dictated and has always ‘played down’ as we call it.

“I started the Black Sox team myself in the 45+ division quite a few years back but two years ago I decided I had enough of managing and finally decided to just play.  So now the guys who took the team over named them the All-Stars.  My fondest memory is that while manager of the Black Sox, my son got to play alongside me.”

Don left the 45-over division and now plays for the 55+ Angels and the Arachnids in the 62’s.  Last year nobody stepped up to manage his team, so in typical Wixon fashion, he agreed to manage it for one year (2021).

“We got to the finals and got beaten but this year we are 1-4, though still working hard and hoping to make a comeback!  We named ourselves the Arachnids because I told John (Reel) when I agreed to manage the new expansion team, I didn’t want another animal so we went with reptiles!  We came up with red shirts with a big black spider.  I love it!”

I was very impressed with Don’s passion and desire to keep at it and stay active on the diamond.  I asked what he does to stay in shape and remain relevant in the game.

“I play a lot of pickleball.  I started playing when I had my original knees and then my surgeon said I can’t get behind the plate anymore. I now play third, second, first, and also pitch if needed.  My new knees allow me to play pickleball very competitively and I am also an instructor.  Pickleball forces me to keep moving and keep everything lubricated.  I’m glad I found it.” 

To close the book on negatives, Don’s knee issues started way back in college as a top-flight catcher.  That was in 1965, or so.

“I tore it up in spring practice and it cost me the year.  Then it happened again the next spring so I took that as a pretty big sign to give it up.  I labored on the softball field for a while until a friend told me about the MSBL league in 1997 and I felt re-born.  But at my first practice, I was facing an ex-AAA pitcher and wondered if I made the right decision!”

Don just finished playing in Cooperstown a couple of weeks ago.  He lives only about an hour away and has played there at least a dozen times.

“Everyone should experience playing there at least once.”

Don has been the league treasurer for the past dozen years and is also a long-standing board member.  He is big on giving back to the league which has allowed him to keep chasing his baseball dreams.

“I volunteered to help back in 2010, as the previous guy was both president and treasurer but he decided it was too taxing so they split up the duties.  John (Reel) is really the leader of the league and is the glue that helps keep things running and coordinates our growth.  Since 2010 the two duties have been separated and John and I work side by side.”

What is the toughest part of being the treasurer?

“That’s easy.  Getting the money in and collecting the fees.  Deadlines are hard to enforce.  But you also don’t want to keep people from playing so I try to remain flexible if they are truly sincere.  It has gotten much better in the last six or seven years, as we have gotten tougher and it has paid off.  Also, since we are a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, closing the books at the end of the year is always critical and a hard task.”

Don still manages to frequent the MSBL Fall Classic in Florida in November. 

“I haven’t gone in a few years because of health issues and time commitments but I may be going this year.  I have been to both the Fall Classic and World Series as a player and manager, beginning in the early 2000s.  I’m glad the bracket ages keep going up!”

I asked Don what was the funniest thing he witnessed on a Capital District field.

“There is a guy in the league that is never afraid to dive for balls and the guys on the other teams say they place odds on if he was going to dive and how many times.  He was playing against John Reel’s team once and there was a collision at second base and John says ‘I can’t believe what he does on that wooden leg’ and convinced the other guy it was real!  That was pretty funny.”

Don told me about the time at a tournament in Florida where they were playing America’s team and he was catching and a throw came in, he went down to get it, and his knee buckled and he couldn’t get up.  So, teammate John Reel simply stepped over him to go back to the mound and said to the other concerned team “don’t worry, he’ll get up.”  I can see why everyone loves playing in this league!

“I’m so glad we are part of the national MSBL organization.  It makes our lives easier and adds credibility.  Thank you for providing us the platform.”

As they say in the movies, “No, THANK YOU!”