By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
Rick Crain is the headmaster of the West Metro Atlanta MSBL ‘Midweek’ segment while Don Etheridge handles the duties in the ‘Saturday’ division. Both gentlemen are an extension of league president Ron Huck’s oversight of this three-division success story. The 12-team midweek league was founded in 2005 by Mr. Etheridge as an alternative to the Atlanta Sunday league, as many players were looking to play during the week. The Saturday division was added in 2008 as yet another option.
“I started playing in the Greater Atlanta MSBL in 1996 and served as President in 2000-2001,” explained Etheridge. “I founded the WMAMSBL in 2005 and the league is currently being headed up by 2015 MSBL Honor Roll member Ron Huck.”
We were able to catch up with Midweek coordinator Rick Crain and asked him to shed a little light on how this year is going and how the virus has impacted the league and what the league’s future holds.
“We are fortunate in that because of our wonderful relationship with local school officials throughout the years we were able to start up on July 11th on quality fields,” said Crain. “Don and I work hard all year to stay in front of whom we need to so that we can be assured of quality fields and stay on top of the integrity of the league.”
Smyrna, Georgia seems to be the hotbed of fields accessible to the league. Campbell High School and Osborne High School are only a few miles apart and are wonderful facilities. The league also utilizes schools in Mableton and Norcross. To add to the excitement, the league has secured a day at State Mutual Stadium, home of the Braves ‘A’ affiliate located in Rome, Georgia.
“The league is extremely excited to partner with the Minor League’s Rome Braves, class A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves in the South Atlantic League, to host a series of games on Saturday, September 5th at the Braves’ State Mutual Stadium in Rome, Georgia,” stated Don Etheridge. “We also look forward to a partnering with the Rome Braves for more opportunities in the future to provide some special events for our teams. We will be play three games back to back to back and have added a league game to the schedule to allow us to play in that stadium. We are very excited about this partnership.”
Back to the subject of the coronavirus and its impact, what precautions has the league taken to remain compliant with any state or local health mandates?
“Everyone in the country is attempting to promote social distancing and sanitizing and we are no different,” said Crain. “There are a few things we instigated, however, that are specific to our league. Our batters wear masks and there is no stealing. However, you still have to pitch from a stretch with a runner on first. If you wind-up, he can go. We want to stay as close to the real game as possible. The first baseman plays behind the runner but if you get too far off, he can still creep up behind and pick you off. We thought this was a nice compromise to the integrity of the game while still promoting social distancing.
Our umpires play behind the pitcher for balls and strikes. The second umpire stands 10’ behind the batter to one side to call the lines and cover third and home. The ump in the field calls first and second.”
Rick came into the league in 2006 and remains active in the league on the field, as he continues to play for the 45+ Spikes in midweek and manages and occasionally plays for the 35+ Redbirds, whom he manages and has been in the championship game the past six years, winning twice.
“I have had a few injuries over the years that have diminished my time on the field but it has allowed me to embrace the administrative side of the league. I’m happy with how things have turned out. We are looking to get up to possibly 16 teams in 2021 as things hopefully get back to normal. We continue to recruit teams that are more competitive oriented, so the future looks bright.”
In a normal year practices begin on March 1st with an invite to all teams to come and workout and use two fields throughout the month of March to get in baseball shape. The league begins in mid-April for the Saturday division and then May 1st the Midweek teams. They are usually done by Labor Day, barring rainouts, then there is a three-week layoff before the fall league begins on October 1st for a casual five-game session.
“It’s a good fall league for the tournament players to stay sharp before they head to the World Series or Fall Classic.”
What has been the biggest challenge in getting ready to hit the field this year?
“The pandemic hit in the middle of organizing and collecting fees for the year. People were uncertain in what to do. So, we decided we needed half the fees to keep things going and the teams that couldn’t pay we collapsed their players onto other teams, if they wanted to play individually. We didn’t want to turn away any player. They’ll all be back on their regular teams next year.
You never knew from the local officials if they were going to approve our submitted schedule so you could never relax. Securing fields was always tough but fortunately we have good relationships with a lot of fields. Don Etheridge was a huge help in securing fields. It gives me great satisfaction to see our players enjoying themselves and knowing I had something to do with that, as they rekindle old friendships. We all do this for the love of the game.”
Added Don Etheridge, “We are proud to offer a midweek alternative and some early games on Saturday when it is a little cooler,” expanded Don. “We want to expand our 55+ division further and have no doubt we will. Seeing the camaraderie among the players makes it all worthwhile. We try to be consistent in our approach and lead fairly while creating a family atmosphere. I’m happy with our finished product.”
“It is very satisfying to see our friends bringing in their friends to play,” said league president Ron Huck. “There are also new friends being made by our league members. Everyone gets the exercise they need. We have guys playing into their 70’s. It is great to see.”