A league of their own: Adult league keeps `passion of baseball alive in the Berkshires'
But after high school, if you wanted just to keep going in the game, the opportunity to play competitive baseball in the Berkshires was non-existent — until 2011.
That's when Lou Orazio, who coached bowling and baseball locally for more than 50 years, realized no adult baseball leagues existed between Springfield and Albany. So, he made it his job in retirement to bring a successful adult baseball league to Berkshire County.
"The first year I was advertising for players who are 21 and older in the paper and on the radio," said Orazio, the commissioner and founder of the Berkshire Adult Baseball League. "People didn't trust it because it would cost about $150 for each player. So I put $6,000 on my credit card to help establish the league. I eventually got most of it back [as the league started to grow]."
In its first year, the Berkshire Adult Baseball League started with four teams.
In its sixth season this summer, the league now has a 20-plus division and a 35-plus division with 13 teams. While it costs about $1,000 for each team to join the league, adult players flock to the league for the opportunity to play competitive baseball.
The league has attracted both college players and minor league prospects to the point where Orazio had to limit how many college or professional players a team could have in order to keep the league balanced.
Orazio ended up creating a league culture that combined the fun of playing baseball and a high-standard of professionalism.
Players joke and have fun, but they also show up early and stay late to make sure the fields are in good condition. As the league has grown, they have even improved the fields that they don't own by building dugouts and replacing fences.
"I love watching the guys play," Orazio said. "There is so much talent in the Berkshires, there were guys in the minor leagues. To watch them play with guys who didn't get the opportunity to play after high school is great."
Rules keep the league orderly. If a player argues with an umpire, they're suspended. If a player gets ejected, they get suspended. If a player runs into another player instead of sliding into a base, they get suspended.
Orazio is the cool uncle who shares laughs and jokes with everyone on the field, but he is not afraid to be the strict parent, holding his players to a high level of professionalism
"Simply stated, Lou cares about his players and the overall success of the league," said Justin Hopkins. "Before every game, he makes a point to see how I am doing and he does it for all his players. It is a great feeling knowing that the commissioner cares about your personal success and the league's success."
Hopkins played high school baseball at Pittsfield High School and is currently a member of the All-Academic team at The University of New England. He joined the league to improve as a player while still having the opportunity to play with his friends.
"The league has definitely provided me with that," Hopkins said. "The attitude among the players is to have fun and compete. It is a great opportunity to play ball with your friends in a competitive, yet fun environment."
The league features players not only from Berkshire Country, but also from New York, Connecticut and Vermont. The reason why the league has grown so quickly is simple: the love of the game.
"They take the game seriously, but have fun," said Connor Lein. "We keep the games competitive and end each game with a handshake from the other team."
Lein played high school ball at St. Joseph High School and graduated in 2013. When he saw how the league was run, it was an easy decision for him to join.
"What appealed to me is how the players love the game of baseball," Lein said. "Lou is always asking us if we are happy with how the league is running and if we have any concerns. In return, he just asks us to be respectful. With this league, he has kept the history and passion of baseball alive in the Berkshires."
Since most of the athletes in the league are busy, games take place on Sundays, with an occasional Wednesday or Thursday night game if there is a rainout.
Games are at Memorial Field in Great Barrington, War Memorial Field in Lenox, American Legion Field in Dalton, Maple Street Field in Lee, Renfrew Field in Adams, and occasionally at Clapp Park in Pittsfield.
The final regular game of the season is this Sunday, at 10 a.m., at Clapp Park in Pittsfield.
If you are interested in joining the league, visit the Berkshire Adult Baseball League at leaguelineup.com/orazl. The website features the schedule, statistics and information about the league.
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