By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
Aaron Eberhardt is the maestro of the symphony called the Central Florida Amateur Baseball League. The 20-team league resides in the middle of a Floridian hotbed of baseball talent and covers a large geographical area but also provides a wide range of talent, which can create some problems.
“Up until a few years ago we played as one MABL division but the teams with the ex-pros or collegiate players would cream some of the average teams made up of guys who just wanted to return to baseball,” said Eberhardt. “Teams would actually pull out mid-season after getting creamed so it had to be addressed.”
“We divided the league into two divisions, competitive and recreational. We have six very competitive teams who now get to play a good game every week and 14 recreational teams. The rec teams are still good teams but they don’t have to face a 90-mph fastball from a recent college pitcher or throw to a guy who hits it 400 feet. Everyone is happy.”
After arranging the different divisions, Aaron realized that he created a monster that he didn’t have enough time in the day to dedicate to.
“I needed two presidents with my new role being changed to the ‘go to’ guy in case of big problems and scheduling. The day to day stuff is now handled by Sergio Delgado with the competitive guys and Kareem Evans dealing with all recreational issues. They are both doing a terrific job and may be called on one day to take over for me if I decide it’s time to step down.”
The league has become the culmination of other area leagues, as Aaron’s hard work and organizational skills assisted in gobbling up other leagues from people not prepared to put in the work. He promoted the heck out of his new league, in areas such as Orlando, Daytona and Tampa, and came under the MSBL umbrella in 2013. The CFABL is now known as ‘THE’ area league to play in.
“I still play for the Lakeland Ball Hawgs, who are the recreational division champs. Lakeland is pretty much where our league calls home, though we draw teams from an hour away and also play in some of the neighboring communities to try to cut down on everyone’s travel time.”
Next year Aaron said there will be more of a mixed season with both divisions playing each other in the spring and then in the fall session they will go back to the recreational and competitive distinction. Drawing from the St. Pete, Clearwater and Land O Lakes areas, the fall session is a time when a lot of the competitive teams take it off so that they can watch football or maybe play in a tournament. He mentioned that it’s a good time for new players to become involved and get ready for the spring season.
Getting back to the issues of the day, what special precautions have been undertaken to ensure the safety of the players during the pandemic?
“We took the MSBL guidelines that were forwarded and the county recommendations and picked and chose. We emailed our final list of recommendations to all the managers and created specific rules for the game. For example, dugouts can have no more than two players at any given time while everyone else stays outside the dugout with a mask. The first baseman has to wear a mask if he holds on a runner. We decided you can steal so that’s where the mask for first baseman came from.
It is voluntary to wear masks on the field but you must wear one off the field. Umpires have to wear masks but we decided that coaches don’t have to wear a mask on the field. We keep two umpires, with one behind the plate and one in field, because of potential arguments if they were both stationed behind the mound. It is actually dangerous to be six feet behind the catcher because of potential foul balls so they are positioned right behind the catcher. The umps also signed a waiver stating that they accept the risk.”
Any other special considerations?
“There are no mound meetings, though that is a tough one to enforce, and we encouraged the umpires to enforce our dugout rule throughout the game. We just can’t be everywhere but they can. The defense also uses their own baseballs and the managers were told to buy a thermometer to take their team’s temperatures before the game. It was encouraging to see probably 95% of our players wearing their mask when not on the field.”
In conclusion, we asked Aaron how he sees the make-up of the league in the years to come.
“We are technically an 18+ league because we are 18-over minimum, though this year in the rec division we allowed 17 year old’s to play so that they had somewhere to go and we even allowed some 16 year old’s to play with their parents signing a permission slip. We have tried to create an older division in past years, such as a 25+ or 30+, but the market just isn’t there.
We were going to finish our spring/summer season by the end of July or beginning of August but COVID dictated that we will now conclude September 20th, barring rainouts. To get in a full season we have even decided to play holidays and play double-headers if necessary. It has been a tough thing to schedule all of the games but at least we’re playing ball again. The players are happy and complaints are low. We’ll get it done.”