By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
Don and Shari DeCordova are a partnership, on and off the field, as they head up their multiple Cal Vets teams every year in the MSBL World Series. Donny is married to Shari, his bride of nearly 40 years, and she is his biggest supporter and organizer. Donny was also named the MSBL Man of the Year in 2016, an honor bestowed on him by MSBL Founder and President Steve Sigler.
“I would be lost without Shari’s help,” explained Donny. “I have so much to keep track of but she understands my passion. She is actually the one who saw the MSBL ad in the paper in 1990 and encouraged me to go try out. I don’t think she knew what she was getting herself into!”
Let me explain what Donny means by ‘passion.’ This year Donny and Shari are taking seven ‘Cal Vets’ teams to the MSBL World Series with entries in the 50+ (two teams), 60+, 65+, 70+, 73+ and 75+ divisions spanning all three weeks.
“People may remember us every year as the Tri-Valley Giants. We switched to the Cal Vets a few years back,” said Donny. “A lot of our team members are military veterans so we thought we’d honor their service. Not all of our players are veterans but our core is.”
Donny has been playing his league ball in the Redwood Empire MSBL for 30 years and the Tri-Valley MSBL for 20, both solid California MSBL members.
“The two leagues are about an hour and a half apart. That’s something Shari and I can handle.”
What sets Donny and his Cal Vet teams apart from the rest is not their pedigree of championships but their open arm policy of embracing new members from the MSBL Player Pool. Donny picks up more players from the player pool every year than any other team. He routinely rounds out his many squads from our published list.
“The World Series or any national tournament is so wonderful because everything is there to assemble teams, like a player pool. I use a ton of pool players to fill out my rosters. You can always make it work. It’s not about the rings, it’s about everyone getting a chance to play. I find ways for them to play.
I am known as the biggest loser in MSBL World Series history because none of my teams have won a ring. But I think I’m the biggest winner because so many new players have had the chance to experience the World Series. That makes me feel good and many new friends have been made. They just want to play baseball and I give them a place to do that.” (Editor’s note: The Cal Vets won the 2019 World Series 65+ Desert Division Championship but it didn’t include a ring)
How in the world do you organize all of the World Series teams and players on multiple teams for three weeks?
“I do all of the fee collecting, lodging, etc. and if I’m there at the field I’m in charge but there is always a second in command to take over if there is a scheduling conflict. I try to have a manager on each team to help and I am basically the general manager. I tell them ‘if I can’t be there, then you be me on the field.”
How did the concept of utilizing so many players from the player pool come about?
“When I first wanted to go to the World Series in 1990 my league president mistakenly said it was only for really good players. I emailed Steve Sigler and told him I wanted to play and he called me to say he’d put me on a team and I have gone ever since. I’ll never forget how good that made me feel and I wanted to be sure to carry forward that philosophy of giving everyone a chance to play.”
I asked Donny if he solely manages and organizes or if he has a chance to brush off the spikes, grab a glove and get on the field.
“I want to play but I always make sure the other guys in there. They paid good money and arranged their schedules to take part and they deserve to play. I still love to pitch, though, so I get in there every now and again.”
I concluded my time with Donny by asking him if he has one special memory from all of his years with all of his teams.
“More than a specific baseball memory, just seeing guys over and over who keep coming back to our teams is what is so special to me. They’ll also call and say they have buddies and want to see if we have room for them, too. MSBL is a baseball family and it’s great to see everyone every year. The world series has changed a lot of people’s lives.
It’s also a good feeling to see a lot of teams who are formed by my past players who have now organized their own teams. Now I have to play against them but they are a part of spreading the fun. That’s what this whole thing is all about.”