MSBL League of the Month 2021: SoCal MSBL, Established 1988

By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

The SoCal MSBL is one of the building blocks of the MSBL foundation, having begun in 1988 and still going strong.  They are also major contributors to the MSBL national tournament arena and are now under the leadership of Jef Brown, a task he assumed in 2017 after being a part of the league since 1995.

In my quest to learn the background of the league for this ‘League of the Month’ feature I asked Jef to supply me with a few details that I could weave into a story to share with everyone.  To my pleasant surprise I received the following detailed and well thought out responses to my questions.  Though possibly a little lengthy, I think it would be a disservice to change one single word. 

So, for your reading pleasure, I have left the format of this profile as a question and answer.  Why change something put together so well?  Please enjoy the history of the SoCal MSBL as conveyed by league president Jef Brown.

What is the history of the league and how did it start?  The league started in 1988 by our former President, Dennis Swartout and others who were looking for an organized baseball league.  At that time in Southern California, there weren’t many organized adult baseball leagues, and Men’s Senior/Men’s Adult Baseball League was the right fit.  Since 1988, the league has grown tremendously, and there have been a lot of changes, but we are still the premiere adult baseball league in Southern California.  We’ve produced more than 28 MSBL World Series Champions since our inception and we continue to adapt, grow, and change with the current environment. 

What age divisions of play are now offered?  We currently offer a 25 Open division (that allows 2 players per team down to the age of 18) and a 45+ Division.  We hope to expand our offerings within the next year to include a 35+ and a 55+ Division which will be more inclusive and allow more teams to be added.

How many teams are anticipated this year?  This year we anticipate at least 18 teams (possibly 20), as the season begins to take shape.  We’ve had many inquiries from teams that used to be in other leagues, so we are excited about the season and the possibility of adding more teams.

Were you able to get in a part or all of your season in 2020?  We were all set to go in March when the COVID 19 pandemic took hold, and the season was postponed.  We again obtained approval in July to start, with a shortened schedule, just before another outbreak took place and our regular season was canceled.

When does the league begin play and when will it finish, including any playoffs?  Our league usually starts the third week of March and runs through the end of September, including any playoffs.  This year, we are awaiting approval from the School Districts and Cities to start playing again.  We anticipate our season will start in mid-April this year. 

When did you personally start playing in the league?  I first came to MSBL from another league in 1995.  At the time I was playing in the West Coast Baseball Congress, a local league that had a few teams, and they folded that year, about one week before the start of our season.  I had to scramble to find another league and I reached out to a couple of leagues that never responded.  I reached out to MSBL and received a call within a couple of hours, so I took my team, the SoCAL Angels to MSBL.

When did you become president?  After joining the league in 1995, I was elected to the Board of Directors in 2006 and remained on the Board until 2017 at which time I was asked to take over the league as President.  It’s been a rewarding and interesting time, as I’ve met several Presidents for other leagues, and I’ve enjoyed working with Steve Sigler to help build MSBL/MABL of Southern California into the best baseball league in Southern California.  Since I stepped in, we’ve attracted teams from other leagues, and other areas as far as San Diego and Los Angeles to join our league.  We continue to grow and expand to provide more opportunities for teams to have the opportunity to play high level, competitive and fun baseball!

Who were your predecessors and are they still involved in any capacity?  The former President was Dennis Swartout, and he did a fantastic job running the league for nearly 30 years.  He is involved on a limited basis and has been very helpful whenever help is needed.

What is your most memorable MSBL moment as a president?  There have been many memorable moments in the last three years, but the most memorable would be that when I took over, we had only 8 teams, and over the last two years, we’ve been able to consistently grow the league, more than doubling in size to 20 teams.  I love the game; I love this league and I love having the opportunity to provide teams a home!  At the end of the day, to me that is the most rewarding thing, making this the best league around and making it a place where teams want to come and play!

What challenges did you face when you started the league or when you took over?  The biggest challenge we faced was that the number of teams had started to diminish over time and when I took over, we only had 8 teams.  Making sure we could continue, and grow the league, attracting new teams, and teams that may have left previously was a challenge.  With new leadership, a new Board, and a new direction, we’ve been able to turn things around and we’ve consistently grown each year.  We look to continue growing the league through providing the best baseball experience in Southern California.

What are your biggest challenges today?  The biggest challenges today are working with the municipalities, school districts and city fields where we play baseball, to ensure that we can safely return to play and start playing baseball again. California has some very stringent guidelines regarding the pandemic and allowing adult baseball to return, but we are working through those issues, partnering with the municipalities, school districts, and cities to develop Safe Return to Play guidelines that will allow us to start our season and play baseball once again.

What gives you the greatest satisfaction?  The thing that gives me the greatest satisfaction is when players or managers approach me and tell me thank you for what we’ve built here in Southern California.  It gives me great pleasure to see them enjoying the baseball experience that we provide.  I also enjoy it when I speak with new teams about the tournaments that MSBL offers each year and when they attend one of the tournaments and they come back and tell me what a great experience their team had.  Playing on MLB fields at the World Series is an experience that not everyone has, and it is unique, so I love it when teams and players experience it for the first time. 

What do you see for the league in the future?  The future…well, my hope is that we can grow the league to truly be a Southern California league and grow the league to at least 40 teams with a 25+, 35+, 45+ and 55+ divisions.  That would be ideal.

What is the reason for the continued success of the league?  I believe the reason that we’ve had success is that we’ve changed the culture and we really focus on what is best for players and teams.  There were some things that managers and players used to complain about frequently, so we created a way for them to come and discuss their concerns, share their thoughts and ideas with the Board and this has been a very successful approach.  When teams, managers and players feel like they have a voice, and a say in how their league will function, they buy-in and are more engaged.

What part of running the league do you enjoy most?  There are many things that I enjoy, but I think bringing this league back to being the best baseball experience in Southern California is what I enjoy the most.  Our Board and I have worked very hard to secure the best fields available to better work with our Umpires to avoid issues, and in every aspect tried to find ways to make the league better.  I think our continued growth is testament to the fact that our approach is working and that everyone feels that they have a home here with SoCAL MSBL!

Do you still play in the league?  Yes, I still play in the league and in tournaments!  I play to play as long as my body will allow me to, and I hope that at least another ten years.

What is the history of your league team’s participation in any MSBL national tournaments?  MSBL/MABL of Southern California has long participated in MSBL national tournaments, since it’s inception, and we’ve produced more than 28 MSBL World Series Champions over that time.  We have teams from each of our divisions that regularly attend the annual tournaments. 

What would you say are the most important accomplishments in your league?  As I’ve been saying, I believe the most important accomplishments are the culture change and continued growth of our league. 

How valuable is your relationship with MSBL?  The relationship with MSBL is phenomenal.  We couldn’t have accomplished what we have over the past few years, without the support of Steve Sigler.  He has helped us in so many ways and has focused on helping us grow and to be the premiere baseball league in Southern California.  I can honestly say that we have a fantastic relationship, and we owe Steve a tremendous amount of thanks for all that he has done.

What advice would you give to new league presidents?  The only advice that I can give is to take advantage of the resources that are available to help grow your league and to really focus on the people and the culture.  When the focus is on the managers, players and teams and ensuring they have a voice, the rest will follow. 

How important is family support?  Family support is very important, and I must say that my wife Sam has been my rock.  She has supported me every step of the way and she often takes the time to ask how things are going and she provides her perspective.  Since she is from Boston and is a Red Sox fan, I give her a pass for all of her support.  😊