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Don't Go Soft, Play Hardball!

MSBL League Profile: Greater Philadelphia Men’s Amateur Baseball League

By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

The Greater Philadelphia Men’s Baseball League came into existence in 2001 and was founded by current league president Brett Mandel, who works as CFO in the Office of the Philadelphia Sheriff when not running the league.  “We were unsatisfied by the local adult baseball scene in the late 1990s,” said Mandel. “We decided to create a well-run, centrally organized league to marshal our collective resources and stress certainty and accountability to play on the best fields possible in a professional environment.”  Welcome to the MSBL, Brett.

In 2020 the GPMABL will suit up in 23-over and 35-over divisions in their 20th year beginning in late April and expect to host four teams in the younger division and eight in the 35-over, where Brett plays for the 2019 league champion Bears.  Their season concludes with playoffs in late August.

Brett played in the very first league game in 2001 and has also run the league from day one.  “We will definitely all grow old together playing this great game.  I also played in the 2007 MSBL Fall Classic and have played in the MSBL World Series each year since from 2008-2019.  The trip to Arizona is the best week of our year.”

“Our greatest accomplishment here in Philadelphia is that we host games on quality fields when the weather is favorable.  Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at a field and finding that something has gone wrong – a team forfeits, the umpires don’t show, or the field is unplayable.  Everybody wants to PLAY BALL, and in our league and that happens more than 99% of the time when weather does not intervene.  That’s the only important accomplishment.”

Brett has plenty of baseball in his past and has the experiences to prove it.  “I have played baseball all my life, but I was never a standout player,” started Mandel.  “The coolest baseball experiences I have had – aside from drinking from a few men’s league championship trophies – have actually come from my role as a writer.  I spent a season signed to a minor-league contract to write the book, ‘Minor Players, Major Dreams,’ the story of my Paper-Lion-meets-Bull-Durham summer with the Ogden Raptors telling the inside story of a season in the little show. 

As the author of ‘Is This Heaven?  The Magic of the Field of Dreams’ I also played as the least-famous player in the celebrity game on the Field of Dreams Movie Site in Iowa to commemorate the film’s 25th anniversary, making a nice play to throw out Bret Saberhagen on a hard groundball at third and smashing a line-drive through Kevin Costner at shortstop for a single.”

It is never easy to keep the league wheels on and keep everyone engaged.  “Getting players and teams to buy into the concept of centralizing our resources so we could improve operations is the biggest hurdle,” elaborated Mandel.  “Finding quality fields for a fledgling league was an issue early on.  Getting access to the best fields is a continual challenge even today.  There are only so many colleges/universities that will allow guests to play on their fields and the remaining facilities (high schools, recreation centers etc.) are generally sub-par.  But we all come together and make it work.”

We asked Brett if there is one event or experience in the league that stands out over the past 20 years.  “We hosted the Russian National Baseball Team in 2007 as they were barnstorming the U.S. to prepare for a bid to qualify for the Olympic Games.  It was an incredible experience hosting the international baseball exhibition; preparing all the pomp and circumstance of gift exchanges; having national anthems performed; and dealing with the logistics of entertaining our guests at an authentic Russian banquet at a local restaurant.  The entire event was poignant and memorable – except the details of the banquet, which are incredibly hazy due to too many vodka toasts!”

Running a league and playing in it certainly takes a lot of time away from the family, as we are all aware.  “We can only get on the field if our families give us that support,” said Mandel.  “They may not come out and cheer us on every week and they may not even understand why we like to get out and play, but every spouse and child who tolerates us taking a few hours from our week to go play is owed a debt of gratitude.

Having MSBL as a resource to take pressure off our league for sourcing balls, procuring insurance, and so many other activities is incredibly valuable.  The allure of the regional and national tournaments are great assets as well.  Family support and having MSBL watching our backs makes this all possible.”

Are there any special baseball moments off the field?  “I was in the stands for Roy Halliday’s playoff no-hitter in 2010, and part of the crowd that watched the Phillies win the 1993 NL Pennant, but my greatest baseball moment was playing a men’s league game against my father’s team – dad’s team won the 1990 40+ MSBL World Series so our game a few years later was a great one including me sliding under his tag to score a run in a bang-bang play at the plate.  Any day coaching my son on the ball field is a close second.”

Supervising an adult baseball league for 20 years certainly encompasses many trials and errors, along with the successes, so are there any words of wisdom to bestow on perspective league executives?  “Over-communicate so that everyone knows what is happening.  Be a commissioner, not a bank, and advise your managers of the same maxim.  Money is the only proxy we have for desire so only believe that the players and teams that find a way to pay are actually going to participate. 

But it is always nice to look at the assembled men from all the league teams at our annual All-Star Game at a minor league ballpark to consider the scope of what we have done together.  That makes it all worth it.”

“It amazes me to think about how many games I have played in men’s leagues.  When most folks were hanging up their spikes, I began my adult-baseball career and it has stretched into three decades.  It is a very special thing to grow old together with a bunch of guys who stay young by playing baseball.”

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