By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
It seems that in almost every age division, you will find a Cal Vets team warming up in the outfield before your game. Though that is not exactly true these days, it isn’t far off.
“I used to help populate younger teams but I found over the years that it took more time juggling around player’s commitments because of work and family concerns,” stated the long-time master of assembly and this year’s MSBL Lifetime Achievement inductee, Don DeCordova from California. “The hardest part of all of this is sealing commitments. A lot of players will say they are coming but when it comes to collecting money or booking a room, suddenly they tell you they’ll let you know.
I’m sure many managers reading this know exactly what I am talking about. I have found that the older division participants will tell you they are coming and they follow through.”
More to Don’s point, this year’s World Series will see nine Cal Vets teams represented in the 60+, 65+, 70+, 73+, and 75+ age divisions.
“I will be managing the 70+ and 73+ teams and have other people handling the game-time management for the other teams. I am more of an assembler of teams and organize their qualifications and payment issues and also their lodging, if they need some help. But I can’t be everywhere!”
So how did this all start?
“It started in 1991 and 1992 when I wanted to play but our team didn’t go. I was 42 at the time and called Steve Sigler and said I wanted to play and he found a team for me. Then in 1992 I went with the Silver Sox but didn’t like the way it was managed so I started my team in 1993. That year started my career of finding people a place to play.
Half of our first team was from California and half was from Alabama. This wasn’t easy to organize because there was no internet so there were a lot of phone calls! Over the years we have been the Red Sox, Indians, Legends, and Crushers and in 2004 became the Tri-Valley Giants, basically because I am a Giants fan.”
The Giants became the Cal Vets in 2018 so I had to ask Don why he switched.
“I am a military veteran and I wanted to assemble teams that were primarily veterans. We have grown in the number of teams we bring so it became impossible to populate them with only military veterans. But in their honor, I have ‘VETS’ in big letters across the front of the jerseys to make sure everyone who sees us remembers someone who is or was a veteran.”
Why did he start managing all of these teams and work so hard to find players?
“In some early teams I played on I realized that there were a lot of players who should be playing but were overlooked for various reasons. I vowed to have a team where they could play as much as they wanted and they could tell me if they didn’t want to play. We are not ring driven. We play in the lowest division where there isn’t even a ring offered. But we’re out there, having a good time, and playing baseball.”
Don stays in contact with me regarding the Player Pool, as many of his team members were obtained through that portal. He also lets me know if a player has been picked up on other teams. He is all about giving people a chance. He is a true watchdog.
“Our teams are made up of players who just want to play. 75% of the guys are loyal and want to play and keep coming back because they know I have a place for them to play. I always ask interested players what they want. Do they want to play for the ring or have fun? I don’t want to disappoint anyone or create a negative experience.
I am playfully known as MSBL’s biggest loser because we have never won a ring. We have won three times in the Desert division but that is more of a rec division. But you need that division so that the teams that share our outlook can all come together and play one another for the love of the game.”
Don started bringing multiple teams as far back as 1998 when he brought three. He informed me that he has orchestrated around 135 teams over his 33 years of participating in Arizona.
“I do this out of passion for the game and sharing that with my players. I can’t play anymore because of health issues and every year I say it will be my last but I always change my mind. I can’t afford to do this but I always find a way.
For example, I was only going to have one 70+ team this year, but a guy from Texas called me and said he had seven guys who wanted to play maybe one last time and asked if I could help him fill in a team. I pulled in some pool players to help him so now I have two teams in that division. But that is my life. I just want to help people find a place to play.”