By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
The Central North Carolina MSBL is located in the Raleigh/Durham area and sports three divisions, 18+, 40+ and 50+. Now in his third year as league president, Rob Isbell re-started play on June 7th after a regular start in April that was shut down because of the pandemic.
“I have been playing in this league for 13 years and have never seen anything like this,” lamented Rob. “We were only able to re-start the 50-over division right now because we could only secure one field. We have eight teams in that division and can only reserve this one field for one day per week. It’s been a nightmare. This field has 300-foot fences so I can’t put the young guys on that, so I keep plugging away to secure more fields. Hopefully we can at least get this field for additional days or nights so that we can open things up.”
The league began in roughly 1989 and the 57-year old Isbell continues to play in the 40+ division with the Orioles and the 50+ as player/manager of the Senators. He also helps coach the Orioles. The Central North Carolina League is comprised of 21 teams, eight in the 18+, five in the 40+ and eight in the 50+.
“The 18 division is my biggest concern right now because they are anxious to play and we don’t have anywhere for them to go. I hope we don’t lose any of the teams but I also don’t blame them. Nobody is at fault. I have had so many promises on fields and then the rug gets pulled out. My fingers are sore from all of the schedule rewrites!”
Every state has their own mandates they set up for baseball and how to deal with the current health crisis as many of the guidelines mirror other states requirements.
“We have provided waiver forms on line to be filled out and lineup cards are exchanged by text between managers. Our umpires have to sign a waiver form, too. Our head umpire is on our board and he watches the umpires closely to make sure they are maintaining a comfortable distance. Other social distancing requirements are enforced, such as six foot between players, each team supplies their own baseballs, sanitizer is available everywhere, no spitting and all that sort of thing and no mound visits. I keep an eye on everyone and so far, everyone is doing a good job of watching out after one another.”
As a player, Rob is a catcher by trade but makes an appearance on the mound now and again and takes a turn at first base when called upon. He unfortunately had rotator cuff surgery in January of 2019 and it cost him his annual trip to the MSBL World Series in Arizona.
“Our tournament team, the Raleigh Braves, were a fixture at the MSBL Fall Classic in Florida but we decided on some new challenges and headed to the desert,” explained Rob. “We won the 50-over division in 2017 and 2018 and I really wanted to go in 2019 but I couldn’t even throw the ball comfortably back to the pitcher after my surgery, yet alone second base to throw somebody out. I decided to bite the bullet and stay home but I’m looking forward to getting back to Arizona this fall. We especially need to thank our league manager of the Braves, Dave Halley, who really keeps the team focused and on track as they prepare for their tournaments.
We have a lot of guys from the league who go to the World Series with different teams but the Braves are predominantly a league team from here with a few pickups. Previous league president Mike Wilson continues to go to the MSBL Fall Classic with his Raleigh Red Sox.”
What have been the biggest challenges in starting play again and do you have any advice?
“Keep everyone in the loop. Stay connected and updated. Listen to your players but know that you still have to collect money while they aren’t playing. It gets tough. Regarding how to deal with the current pandemic and how to make sure you are staying compliant, maybe consider appointing one player per team per game to be the watchdog. Separate people if needed, remind players where to go or what to do and basically be that day’s supervisor.”
Well, Rob, that is a wonderful idea. Rotating a game supervisor each week will make sure things go as planned. Players forget what they are doing in the heat of battle and need a little nudge now and then. It could work!