By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
I had the treat of a lifetime recently. I had the opportunity to chat with 79 year old MSBL veteran George Hughes about his baseball life. George is a cross between Earl Weaver and the Energizer Bunny so sitting back and listening is a real experience and you can’t help but come away impressed. George plays with passion in the Ohio MSBL, a league he co-founded with good buddy Joe Sidor in 2009, located in and around Canton, where he plays in the 55’s, 60’s and 65 and over divisions. He is also an annual presence at the MSBL World Series every October with his team, the Ohio Classics.
At his enthusiastic 79 years ‘young’, George sees no baseball end in sight. He’ll be at the helm once again for the Classics in 65-over and 73-over divisions in Arizona at the World Series. (“They need an 80+ division”, insists George)
“Wow, I could write a book on my blessed career, and the fact it’s still running is the best blessing,” says Mr. Hughes. “I started as a player/manager at the young age of 19 right out of high school. Our coach died that year, his son was my catcher, so my being the oldest guy on the team I was elected as the manager.
I guess the biggest victories in my career would be our two championships in the Phoenix MSBL World Series. (2012 and 2014) My greatest baseball recollection would the perfect game I pitched at the age of 22 against our cross town rival in 1960.”
But this is just the Cliff’s Notes version of our discussion. As they say on television, ‘but wait, there’s more!’
George and the Classics continue to climb up the age ladder at the MSBL World Series in Arizona, which George first attended in 2005. They were in the 65’s, then the 70’s and now play in the 73 and over, while continuing to play ‘down’ in the previously mentioned divisions. “Some of the guys are OK with moving up as they get older. We love to just get the bodies out there and have fun. Heck, just play your age. We continue to bring the old boys from back home and go for it.”
George has been guiding the Ohio Classics for over 20 years and was inducted into the Canton Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013 along with seven other guys. The master of ceremonies was making the introductions for everyone and kept utilizing the past-tense ‘was’ during his speech for each person while outlining their baseball careers. When George was called to the podium he said he had heard enough about the ‘he was’ comments and proceeded to tell everyone they can still play in the MSBL so keep chasing your dreams. The crowd cheered. “That’s why my nickname is Windy,” explained George.
George was also inducted into the MSBL World Series Hall of Fame in 2016 by MSBL Founder and President Steve Sigler. “That was a wonderful honor. I still enjoy playing in Florida and Las Vegas. Where there is a tournament I’ll find it.”
There can’t be enough 73 year old’s in Ohio to field a team every year and head to Arizona, right? “We are primarily made up of players from Toledo, Akron, Columbus and all around Ohio,” said Hughes. “We added a few guys from California, a couple from Wisconsin and also two from Pennsylvania. You have to do what you have to do to stay competitive.”
George himself is a second baseman and pitcher, though in the league he’ll play anywhere. “I like to let the guys play when they come to Arizona. I enjoy managing and seeing them enjoy themselves. I’ll fill in once in a while.”
Says long time Classics teammate Alvahn Mondell, “I got to know and play for George Hughes and the Canton Classics and I’ve always been impressed with George’s passion and love of the game of baseball. I don’t know anyone that I have more respect for than George, and all he has done when it comes to the game we love, BASEBALL! I truly believe George Hughes deserves this recognition for all that he has given to the game of base ball.”
George told me about a fairy tale ending that took place during their 65-over championship run in 2012 in their semi-final game, a single play that led to their eventual first title.
“We were up by three runs and they had bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with no outs. Their guy hit a line drive up the middle and everybody took off running. Our center fielder made an amazing shoestring catch and threw to second base for the second out and the second baseman threw to first to end the game on a triple play. We then went on to win the championship. You can’t make this stuff up!”
Is there a player who serves as a true inspiration to you George? “We have had so many great players over the years that it’s hard to think of one. However, Danny Gates comes to mind. Danny had knee surgery last year, at the age of 68, and is a great hitter, a great pitcher and also plays shortstop and catches as a left-hander. He is in the greatest shape of anybody his age and plans on coming back to the league and come to Arizona this year. He is an inspiration to us all.”
How about a personal on-the-field highlight from his MSBL career? “In the league I hit my first home run at the age of 75 and it was a grand slam. It was against Springfield, who is our rival. We were losing 3-0 in the third inning and my friend was cheating in on me in center field because I always hit up the middle. The ball made it over his head and went to the track and I just started running. I got to home when the ball was being thrown in. I guess it helps that it was artificial turf! But we still ended up losing the game 7-5.”
If you ever get the opportunity while in Arizona, find George, pull up a chair and enjoy yourself. If we are all still playing this great game at 79 years of age, then there will indeed be many 80-over divisions and I have no doubt that George will be running one of the teams. Thank you for your inspiration and passion, George. We’ll see you in the dry heat in October!