By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
44-year old Derek Stewart is the sophomore league president of the Connecticut MSBL and has had the task of steering the ship through the 2020 pandemic. Usually competing with 13 teams in a south and north division during regular years and playing on Sunday mornings, they settled on an even dozen teams this year and are happy to have landed there.
“We had only one team that couldn’t quite pull it off with enough players,” explained Stewart. “I am happy with that. We ended up with seven in one division and five in the other and started play on July 12th. The north and south signification is merely geographically based and not talent driven. The league is very equally matched.”
Derek started playing in the league in 2009 and was involved on various committees for a few years prior to his becoming president in 2019. He has been playing for many years, mostly while pitching, but he has adopted his own opinion as to what a president should focus on.
“When I became league president I stopped playing. Yes, I miss it but I think our players deserve an impartial assessment of the league and its dealings. I am now an administrator and work for every player in the league without any bias or appearance of leaning one way or the other on any issues based on how I may be impacted. They deserve the impartiality of someone in charge of their well-being. I concentrate on my decisions being what’s best for the league and not just certain teams or players.”
Derek has also tried to instill a positive mindset into his managers and players as they deal with a very different 2020 season.
“I removed the emphasis on the value of the regular season since it is more important to be playing and not just winning a game. It’s more important to be playing once again, even if we share players from the other team. We will have a double-elimination tournament after our new nine game summer schedule so maybe then the game emphasis will change a little. But a team shouldn’t be penalized because their numbers are down because someone got the sniffles and were urged to stay home or can’t make it for some reason. Let’s just play ball and we can regroup back to our regular focus in 2021. July 12th through the second week in September, nine games, playing is the emphasis. Make sure guys with the sniffles stay home and then borrow a player if you need to.”
What are some of the special rules adopted for the league to comply with any coronavirus mandates as dictated by the state or county?
“Our games are seven innings, the umps work from behind the mound, the fielding team supplies their own balls so that no umpire touches the ball, catcher’s equipment can’t be shared or any other equipment, no hands to mouth, no spitting on the field and no water bottles or coolers can be shared.
Also, only the next four batters up can go into dugout if it is enclosed but if it is more open, we simply ask that they separate themselves. There is no hanging around after games but that may ease up over time if our Connecticut numbers keep dropping. Masks are optional but we stress supporting those who wear them. Don’t try to make something out of nothing. I have been blessed with receptive coaches who understand what we need to be doing to be able to play.”
At the end of the regular season all 12 teams are in a double elimination tourney. That gives the teams a total of at least 11 games in a year that it was a very real possibility that the entire season was going to be cancelled.
“It’s not ideal, but it‘s eleven games at the end of the day. People need to get out of their house and have interaction with people so making sure there was baseball was paramount. We should be done with our playoffs by early to mid-October so some of our players and teams can get to the national tournaments. The Connecticut Top Hats historically do very well at the Fall Classic in Florida. We trimmed our regular season games down to a seven-inning game to avoid injury from the layoff. We may go back to nine if they want for the playoffs. We’ll see what everyone thinks when September hits.”
When you took over the league two years ago what was your biggest challenge?
“Parity. The top was super heavy with young talent and bottom was very weak. In the past few years, the gap has shrunk. Even our teams near the bottom were hanging within a run or two after seven innings. Nobody likes being on either end of an 18-1 blowout so my emphasis was creating a competitive game every Sunday. If you don’t have parity, you’re going to lose players.”
Derek’s answer above seems to blanket my final question to him, which was ‘what gives you the greatest satisfaction as president?’
“We are actually getting younger each year with our new players and one of the reasons we are able to bring them in is because of the parity. They know our league is competitive and balanced and even though you have some very good teams at the top, like in any league, you still have a shot at them. Our lower teams have a chance for a win on any given day. That’s very satisfying.”