By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
Steve Baraona is a winner. He is the owner/manager/player of the Cleveland Steve’s Sports business and diamond powerhouse in both the Cleveland MSBL and national tournaments. Still need proof? Take a look at some of the hardware below:
Here is an introduction from Cleveland MSBL League President Tony Martin:
“Steve Baraona is the owner of Steve’s Sports and manages multiple teams in our league. Last year his team won championships in the 25+, 35+, 45+, and 53+ divisions! They also won the 35+ championship in the Columbus MSBL Capital City Classic and then topped it off with the 50+ National Division title at the Fall Classic in Florida. That represents a perfect clean sweep for 2022! Their success is hard to duplicate.”
“We started in 1985 with an 18-over team, then we added a 28-over team, which ended up a 25-over team, and then just kept creeping up to a 35+, 45+, and a 53+ team,” explained the 67-year-old Baraona. “I try to cover most of everyone’s expenses and probably could have retired by now if I hadn’t done that but it makes us all happy and keeps us playing our great game.”
During our interview, I made it a point to tell Steve how professional his teams always look when I am able to put together yet another league or tournament story for our readers.
“Everybody is a family, in all of the divisions. We stress looking good and always doing our best. It’s not just baseball, it’s representing our families and the business. We just love to play baseball. Most of our players played in college or in the minors so they know what to do and what is expected of them. They all work out on their own and stay in shape. We never have practices. The guys show up ready and don’t want to let the other guys down.”
Steve’s Sports is obviously owned and operated by Steve. I asked him how it all got started and what led to the now dominant baseball machine.
“The business started in 2000, as I was working part-time for a sports company while I was coaching high school baseball and football. I would work as a rep before school, leave at lunch to do work, and then coach. We supplied high schools with their uniforms and things like that, basically apparel. I was speaking with a high school coach one day who told me that this particular rep really dropped the ball with some timing issues so I helped him out.
I got to thinking ‘Why don’t I do this for myself full-time?’ So, I started with $500, maxed out about 40 credit cards for start-up expenses, and worked hard at building credit in the industry. I already knew everyone in the area from my working for the other company so it was a natural transition. I didn’t have to go out and pound the pavement to make it work. They trusted me already, I followed through and earned their future business. My business involves uniforms, equipment, and embroidery, with about 80% of it dealing with schools.”
It appears that Steve Baraona is a living success story, in life, business, and on the field. As you saw earlier from the trophy pictures, we don’t have enough ink here to list out every championship. Steve’s primary MSBL national tournament participation stems from Florida and the Fall Classic.
“We went to the Fall Classic for the first time in 2000. We have five championships and ten second places down there. In 2012 we won our first in the 45+ division. Last year we won the 50+ ring in the Fall Classic championship. It was a special year and our success was dedicated to the passing of Jack Baker, one of our long-time players. Cancer ate him up and he died just before we came to Florida last year. We were driven to win it for Jack.”
Steve explained that Jack was a second baseman for Steve’s 53-over league team and is the first person inducted into Steve’s Sports Hall of Fame.
“Jack loved baseball so much that he actually played in games with stuff hooked up to him while he was battling his disease. He never complained and even came to the games dressed in his uniform in the latter stages when he couldn’t play anymore. He was a big part of our team.
This year everything fell into place for all of the teams in all divisions and in the tournaments. Jack was there with us in spirit before and after his death. In Florida, we were losing 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth and then all of a sudden, we scored three in the bottom of the ninth and won. There is no doubt that Jack was there with us.”
I asked Steve my stock question regarding any special moments or takeaways from over 30 years of playing, managing, and sponsoring such a successful culmination of teams and players. As expected, Steve’s response was one of having way too many things to be able to pinpoint any specifics. But he did offer a few parting words.
“Baseball has been my entire life and remains so. On my 45+ team, nine guys have been married twice! We have all been together a long time and nobody gives up baseball. They find a way to work their life around it.
The Fall Classic championship in 2012 may be at the top of the list for me personally. We were always in second place and then we finally won it. It was unbelievable. I personally was 12 for 16 that year and had something like 10 RBI’s and was voted MVP. You never forget things like that.
I usually played second base but have torn my rotator cuff three times and it never healed right because I never let it rest. Now I am mostly a DH and occasionally play first base but who wants a 5’ 4” first baseman anyway!”
Well, Steve, you do not have to play every day at second base or bat third to be called successful. You have more than proven that.