By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

18 is a lucky number in the 25-over Cleveland MSBL.  Started in 2011 with six teams by current league president Tony Martin, he sits in a perfect setup of eight teams in his premier Gold division and 10 teams competing in the more relaxed Silver division.

‘We aren’t in a big hurry for expansion and many rivalries have been created throughout the years, especially in the Gold division,” explained Martin.  “18 total teams is a good number to manage and schedule.  We used to require that the bottom Gold team had to move down and the winner in Silver moved up but we eliminated that.  Teams play where they want to play and where they feel most comfortable so who are we to force them to change?  We are a big family and are in no hurry to disrupt that.”   

Tony has, however, been forced to expand his other passion for a good cause; umpiring.

“The virus has caused a high demand for umpires in our region, as many of them were a little older and decided it just wasn’t worth the risk.  At 48 years old I am actually on the lower scale of umpires.  The youth leagues need umpiring but that will be slowing down this week, actually.  Last Thursday I umped two college games and two games featuring 12 and 15-year olds.  Between the umpiring and running the league, as well as playing and managing the Cobras in our league, my dance card is pretty full.”

What obstacles did you have to overcome to get the league started this year?

“Masks were our biggest hurdle.  Some areas said masks were mandated, even for a baseball activity.  I was actually within about two weeks of shelving our season because I know our teams would never go for that, both on and off the field, but at the last minute the Governor changed his stance and recommended them but didn’t require them.  That saved our season.

We were able to start on July 12th and I took some heat for waiting it out for so long but we had to wait and see, even while the kids were playing.  I knew I couldn’t police the mask mandate at every game and saw that it would be a disaster if we slipped up and had to cancel things.  Thankfully is all worked out well.”

The league hopes to finish up the regular season by Labor Day and then start playoffs the week after.

“We had to go to a single elimination format for playoffs so that we could finish by the end of September.  It has been a year of many sacrifices and the usual playoff formula is one of those casualties but we’ll be full tilt again in 2021.”

What was the toughest part of dealing with the pandemic as president?

“It is safe to say that teams generally lost about 20% of their rosters because of a multitude of virus-related issues.  Keeping teams together while they lost players and encouraging them to stay intact and move forward was quite a challenge.  My own team lost some players, too.  Just getting teams to get on board with our plan was tough but well worth it.  I have had to constantly communicate with the managers because we were in unchartered waters and were learning as time went on. 

I think what also helped is that people’s summer travel plans were impacted by the virus so more players stayed around to play, which helped the available number of players.  When the smoke cleared, we lost two teams but picked up two.  We were very fortunate.”

Tony is also a tournament veteran, having been to the MSBL Fall Classic in Florida many times.  He is also hoping to be able to put together a nice weekend tournament this October for the players who didn’t get enough baseball this summer.  The annual Capital City Classic in Columbus in October unfortunately had to make a decision to cancel earlier in the year.  Tony is hopeful that maybe some of those teams may want to help squeeze out one more tournament weekend of baseball before they put 2020 to bed.

In a year when so many decisions had to be made and norms have been shifted, what continues to be the highlight of being a league president?

“By choice I run the entire league alone.  I’m the president, treasurer, scheduler, webmaster, online stats guy, etc.  I know a lot of other leagues that have those roles, plus others, as well as their board of directors, but I do it solo.  I tried to get some help at one point, but I noticed a lot of times there are too many meetings and discussions when you have a large governing body.  So, remembering to do everything is sometimes challenging, but it’s worth it.

This may sound strange, but a perfect day as president is when nothing goes wrong.  No rain or sprinklers left on, no ejections, no nasty phone calls, no umpire-related issues and nobody is upset and my phone isn’t ringing off the hook.  Those are special moments and make it all worthwhile.”