By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
Joe Hellett began his MSBL career in the Jacksonville MABL in 2008 and became president in 2014. Jacksonville, and all of Florida, is a hotbed of younger leagues because of their year-round playing capabilities, and the proximity of many nearby colleges. People need places to play competitive baseball when their high school and college careers come to a halt. That is where Joe and the Jacksonville MABL come in.
“We currently have only an 18-over division,” explained Joe. “We have had different age divisions in the past, but this age division is the only sustainable age division that we have consistently been able to maintain.”
The Jacksonville MABL has been around for a very long time.
“The league began in 1988 when a couple of guys decided that playing softball was not what they wanted to do, and they believed that there was enough interest that a baseball league was possible. We should have ten teams this year, which is a good number for us.”
The league historically begins near the end of April and will be complete by the first week of September. Having Florida weather to play and practice in, including tournaments in the fall, makes this a baseball mecca for Jacksonville.
“We try to enter teams into tournaments and plan on attending more starting this season. I have personally taken teams to the Fall Classic, the Holiday Classic, and Atlanta. We had a local team win the Fall Classic in 2006!”
Now let’s explore a little more about Joe the president, player, and coach, and how he got to this point in his baseball journey.
“I am originally from Panama City, Florida where I played high school baseball at Bay High. I chose not to play college baseball, instead focusing on my studies at Florida State University.
I began playing adult baseball with a local team at the age of 18. I started managing the local team at the age of 23 before I moved to Jacksonville. I also have coached high school baseball in various roles for going on my 23rd season.”
Who were your predecessors and are they still involved in any capacity in the league?
“The two longest-standing members of our league’s development are Norm D’Accardi and Denny Shannon, one of the founders. Denny is still a board member in our league and participates as an umpire.”
We asked Joe about some of the challenges he faced when he took over the league back in 2014.
“The biggest challenge when I was made president was restoring our reputation with the city and baseball community. We had several aggressive incidents that tarnished our reputation to a degree. Last season we accomplished zero player suspensions for misconduct, so we have come a long way.
Today our biggest challenge is obtaining quality fields, which I’m sure is every league’s biggest concern. I hopefully foresee the league continuing for decades to come, and maybe adding an older player division soon. I love baseball, so seeing adults continuing to display passion for the sport is gratifying.”
We also asked Joe a couple of thinking questions, such as what he enjoys most about running the league and what he sees as the most gratifying element of the Jacksonville MABL.
“We have a dedicated group of players and managers who enjoy what they do and help make the game run as smoothly as possible. I love chatting with the other players and managers before and after games.
I think one of the most important league accomplishments is the fact that we have operated continuously since 1988. 36 years of continuous adult baseball is something that we are very proud of. I still play, but not as much as I used to as I am getting up there in years for an 18+ league, but I still get in where I can.”
When asked what advice he would give to new league presidents now taking the reins he echoed a familiar thread.
“Find people to lean on and get quality advice from. Do not try to take on every task, otherwise you will not enjoy what you are doing and will not last in that role, as players, managers, and the community will present challenges to navigate.
We value our relationship with MSBL National. Use them and seek their advice. Being affiliated with a high-quality national brand lends credibility to what we are trying to accomplish in offering adults the opportunity to continue playing a difficult game that they love.”
Our final question to Joe was how important he felt having family support was to him personally and his league participants.
“My brother began playing on the same team with me in 2008, which was the first time we were able to play on the same team, as we are seven years apart in age (I was one of his high school baseball coaches), and we are now going on our 17th season in the league.
If you do not have family support to play or manage, you will struggle to get the enjoyment out of baseball that you certainly can.”
As Joe conveyed in his 2018 MSBL Honor Roll Induction story, “I hope to continue to play until I am eligible for the oldest available MSBL tournament bracket.”
We all do, Joe. Well stated.