By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
Bob Bankoski is the 60-year-old League President of the Chautauqua Men’s Senior Baseball League, located in Chautauqua County, the westernmost county in New York state. He became the president in 2000 but took a break from 2016 through 2020, though he still served as the league’s treasurer/secretary.
What is the history of the league and how did it start?
“Charlie LaDuca, Bart Carruth, and Lou Nalbone played in the Buffalo MSBL in 1991 and loved the idea of an adult league, so they organized the Chautauqua MSBL the following year,” said Bob. “Initially, it was a 35+ league with four teams and followed the National format of wearing major league replica uniforms and playing twice a week.”
Going into 2024, the Chautauqua MSBL has evolved into a 25-over league and is now represented by eight teams. They begin play usually the last week of June and the playoffs conclude the last week of August. Bob personally began playing in the league in 1998.
“I was a youngster of 35 at the time,” chuckled Bankoski
We asked Bob if any of his presidential predecessors are still involved in the league.
“That list includes MSBL Hall of Fame member Charlie LaDuca, Winston Woodard, and Shawn Hennessey, but none are involved with the league anymore. They had a lot to do with our continued growth of players and teams and something I am glad to be a part of, too. With eight teams and over 120 players, that is something to be proud of!
Back in 2001, we hosted a regional tournament that drew teams from Cleveland, Buffalo, and Rochester. It was a great weekend and really put us on the map. The past presidents had a lot to do with that.”
What challenges did you face when you took over?
“Making sure all of our teams had enough players. Guys don’t want to pay money to play games and then have games canceled or forfeited because your opponent can’t field a team. I also have to make sure that the teams all have quality pitching. Pitching is a commodity! All teams are looking for ‘arms’ so I try to help them out.
I always strive to run our league, in my opinion, ‘The Right Way.’ I believe that the players appreciate that.”
Though Chautauqua, New York, is much more than a pebble’s toss from Arizona, the league is a regular attendee of the MSBL World Series in October.
“We have never sent a complete team, but players from our league have attended the MSBL World Series from 1994-2022. Over that period, players have played on numerous World Series teams from across the country, winning seven National Championships, including our own Father/Son National Championship team! We also had a player play in Puerto Rico.”
What do you see for the future of the league?
“I can see it continuing to slowly expand with more teams. Softball was big in our area for many years but not so much anymore. The real players are gravitating our way now and we can benefit from that. We are the only organized adult league of its kind in our area. You would have to travel at least an hour to find something close to what we do here.
I am proud of the regional league we have become. I also enjoy being in charge and having a part in the success. It gives me great satisfaction to make sure that this league is run professionally.”
What advice would you give to new league presidents?
“It’s not an easy job, for sure, and there is no pay involved. I have always put my heart into it to make sure the league was successful. There are definitely more good times than bad. If you are not the guy for the job, don’t try to be. But get involved and help out the best you can to try to lighten the load for the guy running things. Don’t be afraid to ask MSBL for any help.
I feel I have a great relationship with Steve Sigler, even though I haven’t personally met him. We converse quite frequently and if I ever have any questions, he is always available to answer, and vice versa.”
Any final thoughts?
“Family support is essential. My wife has been a baseball widow for over 30 years! She understands my enjoyment of the game. My three children and her try their best to still come and watch and hang out after the games to socialize with other players’ families and players. I feel if we didn’t share this type of fellowship, it could be difficult for players to justify taking this time away from their family life to play this GREAT game!”