The Story of a True Right-hand Man: Ray Houle, Jr., Mohawk Valley (NY) MSBL

By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

A while back, MSBL Founder and President Steve Sigler asked his league presidents if there are some people involved in their league who have been around a while and who have been impactful and a true credit to the league.  We asked this so that we could publish a story about them as a way of assisting us in this year’s 35th-anniversary celebration of MSBL.

One such request was sent to Mark Minicozzi, league president of the Mohawk Valley MSBL, located in and around Utica/Rome, New York, an hour east of Syracuse.  Mark enthusiastically responded with a nomination of Raymond Houle, Jr., Mark’s ‘manager’ of the league.  Below are a few of Mark’s comments in his response to Steve Sigler:

Ray came into the league 20+ years ago as a young player out of college and played for a new team in the league.  Ray is my right hand and my left hand!  He is sort of my day-to-day guy.  He is my document checker, crosses my “T’s” and dots my “I’s,” he’s the logistics guy, and especially my Rule enforcer.

Ray takes over when I am out of commission or out of the area and is always there to help anyone, ready to lead, criticizes when needed, and supports no matter what!  Ray is a great friend to anyone who knows him.

No matter what the outcome of Ray’s game or season, he is the guy that is there to ‘live stream’ a playoff or championship game.  He is always willing to help another manager with his team, or with a field, and when you talk to Ray, he’s there to listen.  I don’t think Ray has missed one manager’s meeting in 20 years.

The one year the Mohawk Valley League shut down in 2019 because of covid, we took a team to the Syracuse MSBL to play. Ray was my manager and led the 2019 Rome Bombers to their League Championship!

Since my father passed in 2016, I have relied on Ray to help me keep this league ALIVE and THRIVING! He has delivered!  He is a great friend and someone I can always count on.”

We were fortunate to catch up with Ray and discuss what keeps him going in the Mohawk Valley MSBL and what the future has in store.

“I first came into the league in 2003 at 18 years old because I didn’t want my American Legion career to be the end of my baseball days,” explained Ray.  “A buddy and I had talked about putting a team together with friends from over the years so that’s how it all started.”

That’s how the New York Mills Rebels were born.  The Mohawk Valley MSBL started as an 18-over league and remains that today.

“This year we have eight teams and have gone down to as few as four and up to as many as 12.  We are fortunate that we have many fields at our disposal so we can handle expansion when we need to.”

A 39-year-old accountant by trade, Ray is invaluable when it comes to assisting Mark with league operations.

“I do most of the administrative stuff like finances, scores reported, and scheduling, to name a few duties.  I really don’t have a title and don’t need one.  I just want to help get our league back to ten or 12 teams like it used to be.”

We don’t want to paint a picture of Ray sitting behind a desk all day and never stepping a foot onto the field.  He began as a player and remains one today.

“I have played for all 20 years, usually at first or third base.  I have played on Mark’s traveling Bombers team in Cape Cod on Labor Day since 2009, a couple of Rochester tournaments hosted by Rochester MSBL, and the Chesapeake Columbus Day tournament. 

I haven’t been to the MSBL World Series or Fall Classic yet.  I also bowl a lot and the season’s clash, as I do a lot of bowling over the fall and winter.  But we want to get there with guys from our area because we all enjoy being together and playing together.  We’ll get there someday.”

What are some of your fondest memories of playing in the Mohawk Valley MSBL?

“One of my fondest memories would be playing in the Syracuse MSBL when we couldn’t play in 2019 and winning the championship.  We have gotten close to winning in the league but have never won it.

Another is witnessing a couple of no-hitters on our team.  Those were really special.  But a real lasting memory was in the Syracuse championship game I mentioned.  We ended up winning on a wild pitch that hit on home plate and bounced clear over the backstop!  You can’t script this stuff!”

Who are some people who have always been there for you and remain close to you, on and off the field?

Mark (Minicozzi) is at the top of that list.  He has been instrumental in keeping my team intact.  In 2010 I didn’t have enough to field a team and had to take the year off, so I played for someone else.  But in 2011 Mark made sure we could field another team and helped to hand-pick players to fill out my roster.  We were back on the field in 2011 because of Mark.

Marc Nashton is another guy who has always been a part of our team, even in the lean years.  He plays hard every week and is a real down-to-earth guy that I care a lot about.  We are tight friends and he would do anything for me, on or off the field.

Ben Kimball and I have become extremely good friends.  He played baseball at my college (Ray didn’t play college ball) and a few years later someone told him about our league and we were reunited in 2012.  We also play in tournaments together and his baseball IQ is off the charts.  He is someone I rely on.”

Final thoughts?

“One piece of advice is to never stop playing if you don’t have to.  It is more than just a game.  A lot of life lessons can be shared within the game.  Those lessons can start when playing t-ball and continue today.  Don’t give up on the game.  Stay the course on the field, and in life, where many more positives can come.  We are not playing professional baseball; this is rec baseball. 

The thing I am most proud of is the camaraderie that has been brought together between guys I never knew and the combination of existing ages and egos in the league.  We all mesh together.  I take pride in being a part of putting together a team of great guys enjoying themselves.  That’s why we’re out there.”