By Stephanie LaFevers
Photography by Ralph Younger and Greg Roach
This article appeared in the Winter 1996 issue of HardBall Magazine
Robert Stay, manager of the Sand Springs
Liners, during the Tulsa MSBL's 1996 All-Star Game.
Photo by Ralph Younger.
Since 1989, Robert Stay has managed the Sand Springs Liners of the Tulsa MSBL. Stay, who has spinal arthritis, can no longer play baseball competitively, but he has not let that deter him from participating in the MSBL.
An average high school ballplayer, Stay also played football, ran track and rode in the rodeo until 1973, when he injured his back while pole vaulting. Arthritis ensued, causing his vertebrae to fuse. His neck and back became rigid and his spine developed a forward curvature.
"The first ten years after the accident, I could still do just about anything,” Stay explained. "For the last ten years though, I've just been too stiff to do many things. If I really want to do something I put up with the pain. Medication helps,” he added.
Stay says he misses playing ball. "But I'm still involved in coaching and that keeps me happy. A lot of people with arthritis stay home and sit around. Doctors told me the best thing I could do was keep active,” Stay said.
He does play occasionally. "Every once in a while I practice with the team—take a few cuts and ground balls. If we have a big lead in a game, I'll bat and play first for a couple of innings,” he said. Besides managing the Liners, Stay referees high school basketball, and umpires high school baseball and softball. He also coached his three girls--Kenya, Traci and Kimberly--in baseball and basketball until they reached the seventh grade. Wife Sandy cheered them on at every game.
Sandy and the girls have watched Robert and his team win the Tulsa MSBL championship four of the last seven years. In 1996, the Liners went 20-0 in regular season play, then swept four playoff games to record their second undefeated season in four years.
The Liners have made the trek to Arizona every year since 1989. "Our best Series was '92. We were 5-1 in the round robin, but lost in the first playoff round,” Stay recalled. For the past six years, the Liners have also competed in the Midwest Regional in Kansas City, winning in 1993 and finishing second four times.
The '93 KC Regional was a big thrill,” said Robert. "We were down two runs in our last at-bat of a 3-inning tie-breaker and scored three to advance to the playoffs. We defeated the KC 40A team in the finals.”
"Our first year in Arizona was unforgettable too,” Stay added. "The fields, the organization, the quality of the competition.” To defray tournament expenses, the Liners held fundraisers throughout the year, including a golf tournament. Stay plays golf at least once a week with teammates or customers at Darr Equipment, a Tulsa Caterpillar dealership where he was inside salesman for 20 years.
"Robert is an inspiration to all of us,” said Tulsa MSBL Commissioner Joey Klementovicz. "In spite of his physical limitations, he's more active than most people. When our league was looking for a charity to support, we naturally thought of the Arthritis Foundation.”
In March 1996, the Tulsa MSBL, with Stay as a spokesperson, sponsored a segment of a local Arthritis Foundation Telethon. During the broadcast, Stay was featured on a video umpiring a ballgame and in a live interview. Twelve league members and umpires staffed the phones during the MSBL segment of the program.
In September 1996 the TMSBL was a presenting sponsor for "Strike Out Arthritis,” a fundraiser held in conjunction with the league All-Star Game, Home Run Derby and a Media Exhibition Game. Stay managed one of the teams.
Though hampered by chronic pain and immobility, Robert Stay has refused to give in. A look at his active lifestyle and his accomplishments gives new meaning to the phrase "staying power.”
||Robert Stay tells Arthritis Foundation Telethon host Travis Meyer about living with his arthritis. Helping Robert man the phone lines are Tulsa MSBL members (clockwise from rear left): umpire Brad Taylor, player Scott Dougall, and umpire David Crawford.
Photo by Greg Roach.