MSBL League President Spotlight: John Reel, Capital District MSBL, Albany, New York

Compiled by Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

John Reel is the league president of the Capital District MSBL, located in Albany, New York.  John has held this position for an amazing 31 years and sees no reason to vacate the post, though he admits that he always has his eyes open for the man or woman with ‘the gumption to lead.’  He is also a member of the MSBL National Hall of Fame, is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, and has been selected as the MSBL Man of the Year. John was kind enough to fill in the blanks in our Q&A format as we continue our League President Spotlight series for 2023.

What inspired you to become involved in MSBL at the beginning? I started playing adult baseball in 1986 with a local 18+ league. I was an old guy over 30.  In the winter of 1990, I saw an ad for a new men’s league for those over 30. That league was just one full season old. Basically, everyone was randomly placed on two teams. That was the beginning of this long experience with this league. I managed that first team pretty much because I was the first guy the president called.  I fumbled through that job to a last-place finish out of eight teams.

What drove you to want to become League President? Officer turnover was fast and furious in the first three years and I was nudged into a vice president role in my second year.  After the league’s third president left town, I assumed the presidency along with a cardboard box of papers and a few baseballs.  Very early on the treasurer, Dennis Scimeca, guided me where I couldn’t fake it.  One bit of advice is to always get a good treasurer and separate his role from the others. Having the cold hard facts of accountancy is vital to any organization.

What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned through your years as League President? One winter day in 1991 Steve Sigler came up from Long Island to meet our league. Steve arrived with a fellow from Connecticut and utterly wowed our eight managers. He had the Hardball Magazine, the Arizona (World Series), and Florida (Fall Classic) programs, and spoke about the already flourishing MSBL local leagues across the country. They also mentioned the local and regional tournaments. The guy from Connecticut also spoke about the World Series in Arizona and gave out a video cassette of the 1991 series to watch in attendance.

Steve Sigler is the reason we joined up right there at that diner in Albany. Everything he spoke of that evening has been sustained and delivered to us with class and enthusiasm.  It’s a huge plus to be connected via the MSBL network.  The valuable lesson here is to stay associated with MSBL to maintain the professionalism you need to stay on top.

Do you have any special experiences, remarks, or fond memories? Our local league has grown to mirror the national tournaments in many ways. From four teams to now 40. From just one age division to five. As I aged, we created a 40+ division and in the last two years, we now have a 62+ with six teams.  The love for the game endures. Just like the national tourneys, most of our players play in at least two age divisions. I find players come and go and I think it’s great we can be a baseball institution that they can count on.

How valuable to you and your league has MSBL National affiliation been?  Everyone says it is not just baseball but the community.  It’s just the simple cooler session after a good game.  But it’s often deeper. Helping others outside the game, as MSBL does, goes so much further. I went to a fellow player’s wedding once and there were more league guys there than in-laws! Personally, I have lifelong friends who have retired from playing but we remain good friends. One group goes on a baseball trip every year, while others I meet for lunch. I suspect that all MSBL leagues have this dynamic, and are truly blessed this way. 

What inspires you, today, to continue in your leadership role? Baseball can be very simple. Get 18 guys, an umpire, and a field, and play the game. But leagues can get complicated. Is it primarily recreation or does it sway toward unbridled competition? Early on we decided that if we found a manager, he could find his players and run his team the way he wanted. This took a huge burden off the league in recruiting players and in administering directly to players. But it wasn’t always an easy transition for a new team.

Player talent shifting occurs. We do strive to find everyone a spot. We counter this tiered shifting effect by trying unbalanced schedules and having playoffs, byes, A and B divisions, etc. We not only separate by age division but by relative talent, but we’re just too small and it can be hard to keep parity. But we continue to try. Leagues should always try and be flexible. That’s why I continue in this role.  I want to make sure everyone gets a good shot to play against equal talent.

Are there any words of wisdom to convey to newer league presidents? In 2001 we invited a Dutch team to Albany, we toured NYC with them, went to Cooperstown, and even a Yankees game. Some of us are still in touch with this group.  Our league has tasted success at National MSBL Tournaments, too. We pride ourselves in sending league players and not delving too deep into the player pools or grabs for talent. I lost count of how many titles we’ve won over the years but one special one for me was in 2006 in Florida (Fall Classic). It was my local team of 14 guys and we beat a much bigger roster in the finals in an extra inning, 2-1 victory.

Why do I mention this?  New presidents need to expand the reach of the league.  Try special events, go to national tournaments, invite other organizations or countries to come and play, and be creative.  All organizations need structure besides their players. It’s what sustains them. Give your officers specific jobs and let them perform. Don Wixon and John Kalinski have not only dedicated themselves to the league, but they are also my counsels.  Numerous others have helped me, some long gone while some more recently involved. Jim Konstantakis, Jim Bonaparte, Kevin Jackson, Lex Herrlett, I could go on here.

And you MUST listen to your critics and absorb their concerns, which is perhaps the hardest thing for all of us. I always have my eyes open for that young guy or lady with the gumption to lead. Maybe one day I can hand him or her MY cardboard box!