The World Series may be the most famous baseball tournament in the world, but it's not the biggest. This one is. "I always tell people, think of the name of the game you're playing. Soft ball. Do you really want to play that game? The motto for our league in the first decade was, 'Don't go soft, play hard ball.'" I'm laughing and Steve Sigler is smiling after his comment. He should be.
What he started 20 years ago on his kitchen table on Long Island is now the largest adult baseball league in the world, and this tournament in Phoenix is the largest anywhere on the globe. "Playing in the Men's Senior Baseball League is like a Shangri La. It keeps you young."
Sigler started the MSBL simply because he wanted to play baseball again. He had coached his sons in Little League, had watched them play high school ball, and caught the bug to play hard ball. But he couldn't find an organized league, or even a team for that matter. So he put an add in the newspaper, started the MSBL with four teams that summer and figured that was it.
Today there are 45,000 players in 275 cities and this former CFO is the full-time CEO. It is a multi-million dollar market that major sports equipment manufacturers have taken note of, that's why there is a trade show right here at the tournament site.
"Big names you'll see here are Louisville, Easton and Wilson. And there are small companies too." Rich Rosenblum is the MSBL trade show director. One of those small companies is Dinger Bats. Owner Randy Drone is here in person. "Anytime you can plant the seed and get a bat in their hands it's a good thing for us."
Actually it seems to be a good thing for everybody here. There are over 5,000 players on 345 teams, including six from Australia. The three plus week tournament drops roughly ten million dollars into the local economy. The are age divisions ranging from 18 and over to 55 and up, with most talked about division being the 'Father and Son'.
"It gives me a chance to play with my son, to spend time with him. Away from the Blackberry and cell phone. It's a very special time for us both." So says Dave Smith, the CEO of building supply company from Atlanta. His son is in his early 30's and runs a real estate investment company.
Steve Sigler's son Brian is also involved. At 31 he's the national coordinator, but his most memorable moment came not in the front office but on the diamond, the very first time he played in a game with his Dad: "I singled, stole second, and then I hear, 'Now batting, Steve Sigler.' and I mean, I'm going, 'Come on Dad, drive me in, Come on Dad'. He singles, I score, I mean, how special is that?"
It doesn't get any better, except maybe if Dad had hit a double. "I did, but I ran it into a single," Sigler laughs. His son laughs. You can smell the new mown grass. You can hear the crack of the bat. Softball? What's that?
You'll be able to see the video version of our story on MSBL this Friday on "Power Lunch." Other 'Mike On America' offerings will appear on Monday and Wednesday this week. MOA will be in the Twin Cities and then Detroit this week.
See you along the road. Anyone seen my mitt?
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