By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
The Northeast Ohio MSBL has been around for a dozen years and always under the watch of 71-year old League President and MSBL veteran Joe Sidor and his buddy Skip Riser. Joe has been handed the duty of navigating through the recent coronavirus pandemic to ensure that everyone stays engaged and that the league kicks off successfully, and they did just that on June 7th.
The NE Ohio league hosts 16 teams in 25+, 40+ and 50+ divisions as well as a handful of teams playing a more recreational based division for those over 60 years of age.
“We started with three teams when we started maybe 12 years ago as Skip and I began immediately to build things up,” said Sidor. “We are happy with where we are and are thrilled that we are safely playing baseball again. The players in our 60-over division have to be more careful to adhere to the state safety guidelines issued for baseball so we decided to just play and keep it more recreational. We don’t keep standings while stressing the social distancing for those guys. The batter must wear a mask, along with wearing one in the dugout and while on first base. This concept is just for this year.”
The 25-over ‘Open’ division is as competitive as the name implies, while the other two divisions are more traditional MSBL divisions.
“The Open division consists of college and high school coaches, ex-college or recent high school players, and those who are used to a more competitive game. We tried to have the umpire stationed behind the mound but our players in all divisions didn’t like that so we did away with it. It was also impossible for that umpire to see a ball hit down the line and determine if it was fair or foul. That was one recommendation we decided to omit.”
The league is very fortunate to have Thurman Munson Field in Canton available to the league. It is a beautiful venue to hold their games.
“We are able to close off the entire stadium and just use the field so you’ll see our players scattered all along the sidelines along with keeping their distance in the large dugouts,” Joe explained. “The state has mandated that the umpire must remain six feet behind the catcher so that’s not negotiable. A high school league recently was a little lax in their social distancing and placement of the umpires and the authorities happened to be at the game and shut down the league for the year. These people mean business, as they should. Safety is everyone’s main concern.”
The NE Ohio MSBL is going through some changes of late within their organization. Skip Riser is currently battling some health issues and Joe has recognized that some younger blood needs to be groomed for the helm.
“We have a wonderful young man, Nick Loukas, who is part of our successful 25-over fraternity and he and I are working closely to maintain the league and it’s standards. We are very lucky to have Nick as our new League President as I have adopted the title of Director to work alongside Nick. The future of the league is in good hands.”
What are some of the special procedures implemented in the league?
“The state of Ohio issued specific guidelines (below) and we primarily adopted those while sprinkling in a few of our own and some MSBL suggestions from Steve Sigler. Most rules are just recommendations but social distancing, for example, is mandatory. People forget their social distancing in the heat of the action but the state monitors how they are playing and they’d better be practicing it. It is hard to monitor but we are doing our best. We have to continually remind our players to separate but they just forget sometimes. They aren’t trying to be difficult.
We disinfect the dugouts after each game and have expanded the time between games by 45 minutes to accommodate the increased prep work. We have also mandated the discontinuance of seeds, gum, spitting, high fives, hugging and the things that most other leagues have to monitor as well.”
With the late start they will probably extend the league into their usual fall season. They will also continue to offer their regular playoff format afterwards.
“The 25-over division has to end by the first part of September because of school considerations, but our other divisions can play a little deeper into the year. We are leaving all options open and will look closer as September approaches.”
Are there any words of wisdom or encouragement you can offer to the other presidents across the country?
“I find that the strength of any league is in their managers. If managers are leaders, they will find a way to make everyone happy, regardless of the circumstances. Weak managers infect their team and then everyone is complaining, which isn’t good for the league. During the past few months, we had weekly tele-conferences so that stopped a lot of potential issues before they became real issues. Communication. Be transparent and keep your managers involved so that they feel it is their league. It works for us!