HDL History – Another Chapter
Looking back over the past few weeks, the Hernando DeSoto Baseball league officers and managers went through many mood swings from the trials and tribulations of making a monumental decision that changes the dynamics of the HDL.
Thinking back over my 30 plus years of involvement with the HDL I started thinking about what the HDL went through when it expanded from 2 teams to 3 teams (late 80’s), then when the league expanded to 4 teams(1998). Each league structure had features that you could appreciate. After the expansion pains are behind us, we are relieved and satisfied to settle into our “comfort zone.”
When I first started in the HDL in 1978 there were only 2 teams. Tobey Park was in neglected condition. The mound sucked. The infield at one point was all dirt – NO GRASS. But irregardless of the playing conditions, the game was still about hitting and defense with a few pretty good pitchers on each team. During my early years I admired the players who made every defensive play look easy – routine. We used “wood” bats. I always wanted to swing the longest bat available. One of the most popular bats was a 35″ hunk of lumber. The sound of the bat hitting the ball could be heard all the way to Hollywood street. We were not professionals, just a bunch of players who wanted to emulate the plays we watched on TV. (Same as today)
As new players discovered the HDL, they wanted to be part of our unique brand of Sunday morning baseball. Similar to 2016, the interest of players continued to grow and pretty soon we would have as many players on the bench as on the field. As this problem magnified in the late 1980’s, a decision was made to add a 3rd team. We had plenty of offers from Sponsors to make it happen. Always during these early years, and before I arrived, the teams were always formed by league officers. They worked together to create the teams made up of officers’ favorite players. Similar to a “draft”, the two or three primary officers making the selections would take turns making their choices. There were some heated negotiations for certain players.
Making a two team schedule was easy – alternate Home vs Visitor and play ball. When we expanded to 3 teams, we had to decide to have a Bye or have one team play a double header so all teams/players would show up every Sunday to play ball. This was obviously a case of “eyes bigger than our stomach”. We had a vast hunger for baseball and thought playing double headers would be “more fun“. Well after the first year of these “marathon” Sundays, we realized double headers for one team was a mistake. In the majority of DH games, the team with DH, might win the first game but almost always would lose the 2nd game of the DH because a lot of players would “run-outta-gas” or have to leave early and the second game would be made up with a lot of “borrowed players.”
So in 1998 when the HDL and the FOY (Fountain of Youth) merged to form a 4-Team league, weekly scheduled games was back to “simpler” times. With some players refusing or unable to play Sunday games after 12;00 PM, we had to find two fields together, or in close proximity, for simultaneous game times. Our first choice was to play at Gagliano-Sowell fields. The logistics meant transporting equipment and water and grilles to Halle complex. Just like today, many of us would stay out there all day, cooking, eating, drinking and talking Baseball.
When Gagliano-Sowell facility administration started changing the locks and making use of fields a financial burden/hassle, the HDL elected to move back to Tobey park and use Bellevue Park (Jesse Turner) as our secondary game site. This worked for a few seasons before we realized some of our players preferred Tobey field instead of Bellevue, so we scheduled double headers at Tobey and made the best of it.
With the early four team format, we would select team managers before we held a draft. Managers drafting players would work if managers would avoid picking their “friends” before picking the best player available.
So in 2011, the HDL Draft format was revised based on allowing the top 4 or 8 pitchers to be designated as “Draft Captains”. This format works best when all “Draft Captains” are equally passionate about their responsibilities and challenges to select the best players who they would be comfortable having on their team that can best support their participation.
Obviously there are a lot of variables with any process. Since using the “Pitcher-Draft Captain” format, the 2016 draft was not as seriously supported by a few of the selected draft captains. Finding a draft date that was agreeable to all participants was not easy to agree on with key member’s work schedules and prior commitments. Another factor that made the draft a challenge was our list of players to include in the draft kept growing and growing. We were blessed with loads of “New” Players and “carry-over” players from previous seasons who always make HDL baseball their “hobby” career.
After the 2016 (4-Team) draft, we all recognized each team was over-filled with an average of 18 players. None of us thought all of the roster-ed players would stick-it-out and make their financial commitment. But we were/are pleasantly surprised. As we initially followed our traditional 4 -team schedule to get the season started, many players on each team were not seeing much playing time as team managers were prioritizing game time to their best and most experienced players. Seeing this potential problem (unhappy, paid players) required a solution.
Around May 1st, we realized the only viable alternative was to switch everything up and create a 5th HDL team. Deciding, and agreeing, on how this could be accomplished was agonizing because everyone has good ideas and input. The one thing we agreed on is the 5th team was needed and needed quickly.
In the end, we made it happen with 3 versions of proposed rosters and several negotiated compromises. Now every team has a core group of equally skilled (my opinion) position players and a distributed group of acceptable participants who want to play and live their dream of just being able to play their favorite game. Now we have a whole new set of challenges. We will collectively make this a special year in the history of the HDL. I believe if we can overcome the challenges we just went through, that any future challenge will be insignificant. As I have said before, the regular season is a “PROCESS” to allow each team and individual player to identify how they can improve their performance to become a better baseball player and a team that can compete with their opponent who is trying to do the same thing.
ARE YOU READY FOR THE CHALLENGE?
LET’S DO IT TOGETHER!