Find a League In Your Area
By Steve LaMontia, MSBLNational.com
It’s the birthplace of 11 former major leaguers including Horace Clarke, Jerry Browne and Elrod Hendricks – but the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands -- St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John – have given much more to baseball in America than those revered few.
For the past 22 years the Islands have produced scores of talented amateurs who have brought lots of Caribbean flavor to the MSBL World Series – the largest adult amateur baseball tournament in the country.
Beginning with one 40-and-over squad in 1990, dozens of teams and players have made the annual 3,100 mile fall trek from that tropical, Caribbean paradise to Tempe, Arizona – the epicenter of a desert baseball paradise.
Four teams from St. Thomas will participate in the 25th Annual MSBL World Series this year – one each in the 25, 35, 45 and 65-and-over divisions. That’s not too shabby for an Island chain with a native population of about 105,000 people.
"We look forward to seeing our friends from St. Thomas each year,” said MSBL Founder and President Steve Sigler. His affection for the island and its people was deepened through several of his own baseball road trips to the Virgin Islands over the years. "They are extremely good players,” Sigler said, "but more importantly they play the game with such joy. Win or lose it is always a pleasure to be on the field with St. Thomas. The relationships forged are life lasting,” Sigler said.
Hundreds of St. Thomas players and their families have helped bring what some characterize as a very special texture and flavor to the World Series – and it’s more than a metaphorical flavor.
"We used to give everyone on the other team a small bottle of rum from the island while we were shaking hands after the game, " said James Rhymer, 68, the team’s de-facto general manager. "Now we can’t take it on the field any more, but everyone knows we still bring the rum so our motel room numbers are becoming very popular,” Rhymer added. "The head of umpires still asks me for his rum before our games and if I don’t have it I know we’re in for a rough game,” he joked.
If Rhymer, 68, is the front office guy for St. Thomas, then Steve Parris is the field general and, in many ways, the face of the St. Thomas squad. Both men were inducted into to the MSBL World Series Hall of Fame in 2010 for their work in bringing teams to Arizona.
"I do all of the paperwork for our leagues and the World Series,” said Rhymer. "We have four teams going to Arizona in four different age brackets. By the time we go to Arizona I am worn out,” he said. Once the wheels hit the ground, Rhymer becomes a player. "That is my vacation,” he said.
Today, St. Thomas is 31 square miles of baseball passion, and they start them young, Rhymer said.
"We have over 600 kids playing in leagues here and in St. Croix and we start them out at in a 3-5 age,” he said. "When they get older they can start playing with us.” Baseball never ends on this island.” And, Rhymer added, "We never get snowed out.”
"Many players in Arizona ask for our phone numbers because they are going to visit the island and want to look us up,” said Rhymer. "They will call us and we will pick them up at the ship and show them around. The wonderful friendships we have made over all of these years are why we keep coming back, and of course the baseball,” laughed Rhymer. "We love meeting new people and making new friends. We get to see our old friends year after year. That is why we keep doing this,” said Rhymer.
met them at the ship. The guys went and played ball with us while our wives took their wives on a tour of the island and then shopping.
Then we had a big banquet and did plenty of eating and drinking,” Rhymer said.
"That’s what MSBL is all about,” he added. "The friendships you make along the way.”