Steve Mahler: 30 Years in TVMSBL Dugouts

By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

A funny thing happened on my way to assembling a story about the only remaining, original member of the Tri-Valley MSBL in California.  67-year-old Steve Mahler had already compiled a ’30 year’ story for the Tri-Valley website at the urging of MSBL World Series Hall of Famer Mike Pankow and league president Bruce Fraser.  In his already-completed summary for the league website, Steve addressed so many things we discussed in our conversation that I thought it best to introduce Steve and simply re-print his summary in full.  It will be added to the Tri-Valley website sometime in 2022 but I was able to obtain an advance copy from Steve!

Steve’s MSBL journey actually began in San Jose and then veered to Tri-Valley in 1992 at the urging of a friend, where he has played ever since.

“I have also gone to the MSBL World Series for 28 years with a half dozen different teams and different age divisions but I only have one ring,” said Mahler.  “In the league, I now play in the 65+ division for the Tribe and I’ll be a member of the Dragons in the 65s in Arizona.”

Before we proceed to Steve’s story below, I asked him if there was an event that sticks out from either the league or the World Series.  He was pretty quick to reply.

“In one of the first years in the league back in the early 90’s, we had an ex-major league pitcher on the Mets named Mark Raust.  He threw the second game of our double-header and he struck out 20 of the 21 batters he faced!  I have never seen dominance like that.

The funny thing is that the one guy who didn’t strike out hit a triple, so there wasn’t a no-hitter involved.  Mark was a little upset that he hit a triple so he promptly picked him off third!”

Without further ado, below is Steve’s story outlining his MSBL journey through the decades.

30 Years in TVMSBL Dugouts, by Steve Mahler

The 1990s

“Hey Steve, my name is Bill Davis.” An unfamiliar phone voice said, “I’m the manager of the Tri-Valley Mets and the newly-formed league president, Burt Hadlock, tells me you’re looking to play some real baseball.”

“Yeah, Bill,” I replied, “I’ve played a couple of years in the San Jose league on Ron Dunn’s Red Sox, but I’d love to play here in the valley. What’s the league like?”

“Well Steve, we’ve just started this year and have only four +30 Teams; the As, the Dodgers, the Rangers and we’re the Mets.”

“What kind of talent do you have, Bill?”

“We’ve got a former AAA pitcher named Mark Raust and another chucker named Randy Grant.”

“Wait. The same Randy Grant who played in the Rose Bowl with Jack Trudeau, the NFL Colts QB?”

“One and the same, Steve,” Bill replied.

“Damn, they both graduated from my Ala Mater, Granada High School, right here in Livermore. When do we start?”

And that was to be my initiation to the next 30 years of playing in TVMSBL. We were a powerhouse, winning the league championship the first three years, behind the stellar pitching of Mark and Randy. In our second year in the league, Mark pitched the second game of a seven-inning doubleheader where he struck out 20 of the 21 batters he faced – the only hit being a triple by Steve Garrido over my head in left field.

But our dominance did not last for long, as word quickly spread of TVMSBL being the place for competitive 90-foot baseball. Under the league leadership of Bob Beren, other studly teams like the Tigers and the Indians, with former Saint Mary’s College pitcher Rob Olmo, began their turn as the teams to beat. The league also became more aggressive in securing better fields like Diablo Valley JC and Los Medanos JC, instead of local High School JV fields.

As the league progressed, it attracted more and more experienced quality players. A notable example was Dave Hamilton, a former middle reliever for the Oakland As in the early 70s. He was well known for not liking when lesser players dinged him.

It was a beautiful fall day at Mount Diablo HS when me, being one of the lesser players, stung a double down the right-field line. Dave was not happy. After the fifth throw to second base to try and pick me off, a loud cry of cursing and pointed protest came from our bench. “Just throw to the plate, Hammy!” Not to be intimidated, Hamilton fiercely strode off the mound towards our dugout.

“When are you coming up!?!” he said to no one in particular. “Cause you’re going down!”

And so it was – the first bench-clearing fracas in TVMSBL history.

Aw, the dugout. Some of the most humanizing and real moments in my life would come from the raw, revealing, and sometimes compassionate conversations that can only come from a baseball dugout.

By the early 2000s, the TVMSBL became a force at the Steve Sigler’s World Series in Arizona, winning more than nine rings. At home, we also became even more of a desirable place to play the game we so loved. Our new league president, Mike Prothoroe, added new teams and new age division separations. His vision for the league was taking us in an even more diverse direction as he poured his heart and soul into the league – sometimes at the cost of his personal life.

A glowing example of his dedication and love for the players and league was his newly-formed Tri-Valley 40s team. At his own expense, he paid for two perfect uniforms and hat choices that would usher in a dynasty that would be easily recognized and respected at MSBL tournaments for years to come.

The 2000s

Although I had been going to the Arizona World Series for many years, I was both surprised and honored to be invited to play on Prothoroe’s 40’s in 2000. This was easily the best team I had ever played on – lead by Burlin Germany (who would go on to collect 9 rings) and former MLB Astro, Tony Walker. Mike’s generosity included nightly dinners at local sports bars as he always paid the tab. We didn’t reward him with a ring that year, but the stature of the league would never be the same.

Players with MLB experience would venture into the league and certainly make their mark; Steve Byre from the MLB Twins, Gary Spitzak from the A’s organization, Jeff Melrose from the Rangers, and Terry Fail from the Phillies to name a few. Melrose’s stint was short, but not many would forget his prowess. In one inning he hit two towering yard shots – and in the next game at Granada HS hit a blast that not only left the yard but also cleared the industrial arts building behind the right-field fence. It’s still rolling.

By this time the Mets had folded and I was on to the Rockies and then the Cardinals. But in a memorable Rocky/Cardinal game I came up against the crafty Steve Laughrey who was known for a sharp curve and sometimes wild heat. With two men on and a three/two count, he threw me a belt-high fastball. Over the fence, it went for my first and only TVMSBL tater. Next at-bat – chin music – of course. What else could I expect from Laughrey. (Years later he would break Prothoroe’s jaw with a pitch that could truly be defined as ‘chin music’.) To this day, however, we have spent many a time ribbing each other about that day. Aw, the dugout.

During this decade, the league could be considered nothing but a huge success. At times we had five different age divisions with Protheroe still at the helm, but now with the help from Dale Marinello. TVMSBL Hall of Fame inductees were honored at end-of-the-year dinners.

Unfortunately, the league also began to experience the passing of some very impactful personalities. To this day, they are memorialized on our website, most recently Jimmy Collins, who played 27 straight years and was known for his dry humor, rubber pitching arm, and a dancing knuckler that once led a TVMSBL WS Rocky team to a Final Four berth after pitching 30+ innings.

Also during the decade, the Cardinals led by Mike Ching, would become a force in two different age divisions three-peating two times.

The 2010s

By this time, the TVMSBL has firmly established itself as fierce competition in all the West Coast tournament play. One of the favorites for TVMSBL teams is the MSBL Desert Classic Palm Springs tournament played on MLK weekend. In 2011, Bob Wilms sent what was to be an excellent team in the +50 division. As I arrived in the dugout for the first game, I noticed we had recruited a number of faces I didn’t recognize. Dugout chatter abounded, but what caught my ear as I entered the dugout was Bob stating, “Mahler, you got the rock this game. You ready?”

“Me? I replied. “Have you lost your mind, Bob?”

“Not you, Steve.” Bob laughed. “Mickey”

“Mickey?” I scanned the dugout.

“Yeah, I’m ready as I’ll every be, coach.” Mickey Mahler replied.

There he was. A former MLB pitcher for the Angels and Braves, among others. As I tripped down the dugout steps, I managed to mumble, “Hey, glad to meet you, we share a last name. I followed you and your brother Rick’s career in the show.”

“Great to meet you too, Steve.” he said with a warmth I wasn’t expecting for some reason. “Unfortunately, my brother passed… but now I have a new brother.”

“Brothers in arms.” I said

“Yeah, Steve, yeah.” Mickey replied.

I was caught off guard to say the least. We laughed and joked the entire game as he cruised to easy win. He told me that the reason his family pronounced their last name differently than mine was because his family immigrated to America after WWII and his parents thought that with the German pronunciation the family might experience confrontation or prejudice. Aw, the dugout. After the game, I asked him if we could take a picture together.

During this decade, I was fortunate to be on a few more very successful teams; the +55 Black Sox, the +55 Cardinals, and the +65 Cardinals that recently three-peated. But dynasties are short-lived.

In 2013, I again was fortunate to play for a winner. Rob Segura led a team of mostly TVMSBL players to the +55 championship in the World Series. The ring is my first and will be forever treasured.

We now have a new league president, Bruce Fraser with help from Mike Pankow and many others, and they have quite efficiently moved the league in a very collaborative new direction.

But still, my love for the game is underlined by the strength of the relationships that are formed in the dugout. And for this, I wish to mention just a few of the men who have shared a lot of themselves in the TVMSBL dugouts over the 30 years – with the game – and me: Greg Reason, Pat Carroll, Steve Laughery, Mike Ching, Terry Fail, Carlos Bryson, John Hughes, Rob Segura, Jim Bouquin, Mark Weathers, Steve McNeely, Jimmy Collins, Steve Hallock, Dave Curry, Dale Skinner, Mike Wilgus, Junior Little, Rich Mangini, Randy Grant, Mike Prothoroe, Darryl Gray, Skip Stephens, Dan Egbert, Stan Holliway, Elgin and Stan Williams, Mike Pouncy and so on…….

I’ve lost touch with Mickey. Last we talked he was selling Real Estate in Utah. To this day, the photo from that sunny Palm Springs day is my screen-saver. I think I’m going to shoot him an email today.