By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
There is a talent pool in Jacksonville, Florida known as the Jacksonville MABL. As evidenced by the name, the MABL league is technically an 18-over league and has become even stronger thanks to the pandemic. We’ll let league president Joe Hellett explain
“This league has been around since the late 80’s in the traditional 30-over format but we added the 18-over element in the mid-90’s and it has stayed there ever since,” said Hellett. “Our average age is in the mid-20’s, though we have some players in their 50’s.”
A mid-20 average age is enough to put shivers up and down this old 60-plus spine, as my bat speed is well below what is needed to turn on any 90+ fastball, but as the commercial says, ‘wait, there’s more’!
“We were the beneficiary of no college or minor league baseball being played because of the pandemic so many players decided to play with us. To say that we have the best possible quality baseball in the area is an understatement.”
Yikes! I would pay admission to watch this MABL league play.
“We started on June 24th and hope to end in August with playoffs in September,” said Hellett. “However, summer weather in Florida can produce daily rain so you never know what will happen to your schedule. We usually have two sessions, regularly beginning mid-April with playoffs in August, followed by a ten-game fall season from mid-September to Thanksgiving. We don’t get a ton of teams in the fall because football is so crazy down here but this year will be a little different, I think.”
How has the pandemic affected the way these young horses feel about playing baseball in Jacksonville?
“It’s really pretty simple. There are just a few things we needed to monitor, since these guys are all about straight-up baseball. One, if you’re sick you can’t play and you need to take a couple of weeks off and then show you are OK. You can wear a mask if you wish but it is not mandatory. Lastly, keep your social distancing as best you can in the dugout. There are no strict rules about that, we just encourage you to be smart. It’s too darn hot in Florida to wear a mask on the field so that was voted down but we do see some guys wearing them on the sidelines.
The umpires can also wear a mask if they wish. We actually started with the umpires standing behind the pitcher’s mound but with the quality of these players it became dangerous to be standing out there. That experiment ended quickly and thankfully without incident!”
Joe took over as president in 2014 and all games are located right there I Jacksonville on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. The 30-over division was attempted again last year with the hope to possibly attract players from other counties but it didn’t go as planned so they abandoned the idea.
“We found that the older division was filled with guys who were old enough to play but were playing on other teams in our MABL division. We really weren’t attracting anyone new and only supplying another format for them to play. We decided to just leave it alone for now, at least until some of the players wish to go to the older division exclusively.”
Joe remains the player/manager of the Indians while holding down third base. He also attends the MSBL Fall Classic in Florida on occasion.
“The last time I went was in 2015 but look forward to getting back there. A lot of our players take part. It’s a great time, if we can pull our players away from football and the NFL Jaguars for a little while!”
Joe is a high school social studies teacher, which is why it is a little tougher for him to get away for fall tournaments. But this down time has given him the time to concentrate on the league and the rules set forth by the county and state as he strives to make the baseball experience as normal and exciting as always.
“I concentrate, as always, on making this league the best it can be, at all times. We attract quality teams and that is our focus: quality and top-notch competition. The sheer number of players who come back year after year is a testament to the league. There are no other leagues like ours nearby. I guess after over 30 years of being in existence we must be doing something right. I sure hope so.
We just try to provide quality, competitive baseball and I think our league is better than ever, especially this year!”