Sports

Kids at Heart: B’ball League Brings All Ages Together

The Industrial Baseball League gives children of all ages the right to play ball at a high level.

The Industrial Baseball League gives children of all ages the right to play ball at a high level.

Looking in one dugout at a recent game played in Vienna, there is no player over the age of 21. In the other dugout, things look a little different; there are more than a few gray hairs coming from beneath their caps. Almost every player on the latter team, the Senators, appears to be twice the age of the Falcons.

In fact, The Industrial Baseball League of Northern Virginia (IBL) often hosts this kind of match-up. Among the five teams participating in the league this summer, more than half the players could be considered past their prime. Why would college kids still dreaming of making it to the “show” be interested in competing against them? The answer is simple: these guys are good.

The IBL is composed of active college players, ex-college players and even former professionals. Some familiar names have come through the league, including Orioles and White Sox slugger Harold Baines and the 1995 National League Cy Young Award runner-up Pete Schourek, who is still active in the IBL today.

The league is affiliated with the National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF) and participates in post-season tournaments run by that organization. Among the tournament sites are Buffalo, Orlando, Las Vegas and Greensboro, with the adult league World Series capping the season in Louisville, K.Y.

In 2001, the local Northern Virginia Industrial Baseball League’s Fedlock team was the World Series runner-up, losing to the Chicago Clout. Since then, Fedlock has been a regional runner-up in 2003 and 2005 through 2007, losing to the eventual World Series Champs in 2005 and 2007.

One man who has seen Fedlock through it all is current league coordinator Joe Antonellis, of Burke. He has been on three teams that have won the NABF regionals, once as a player and twice as a coach. Team Fedlock has been so successful in its recruiting that it added a second local Fedlock team, the Falcons, in 2008 and a third this spring, the Grays. Currently, Antonellis coaches the Fedlock Falcons. While during the summer the teams compete with one another, they are collapsed into a single Fedlock Club tournament team at the end of the regular season.

The 46-year-old Antonellis began playing in the league in 1983, when it was known as the Credit Union League. He became a player-coach in 1988 and only recently hung up his spikes to become a full-time coach.

“The Clark Griffith League only let kids play who were 19 or younger, so when you turned 20, the Industrial League was all there was to play in unless you wanted to go to the Cape Cod League or to Alaska so the Industrial League was huge,” says Antonellis, who played middle infield at George Washington University in D.C. and before that was a standout player at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church. “When I was 20, my coach at GW, Jim Goss, got me to play in the Industrial League, which he also played in at the time.”

As a result of the league’s stellar reputation, it has drawn a lot of local talent over the years. Schourek, for example, still plays in the IBL.

Schourek, who was drafted by the New York Mets in 1987, played for the Mets, Reds, Astros, Red Sox and Pirates over an 11-year career in the big leagues. He was drafted out of George C. Marshall High School. “I still think about my coaches and teammates that I had such a good time with. In fact, I’m still friends with them to this day,” says Schourek.

In 1995, Schourek enjoyed the greatest season of his professional career while pitching for the Cincinnati Reds. In that year, he led the Reds to the playoffs, going 18-7 with a 3.22 earned run average. He finished 20th in MVP voting and was runner-up for the Cy Young Award to perennial all-star ace Greg Maddux. Behind Maddux’s pitching that year, the Atlanta Braves brought home a World Series Championship, sending Schourek and the Reds home along the way.

After retiring at the end of the 2001 season, Schourek, who grew up in Falls Church, turned to the IBL in 2002. Even now, at the age of 40, Schourek scratches his baseball itch by continuing to play for the Senators. “Some of my friends were playing in the Industrial League and said I should come out. The league is competitive and it gives me a chance to stay competitive, stay in shape. It also gives me the opportunity to do what I like most – hitting,” says Schourek, who now resides in Clifton.

Despite his career in the majors as a pitcher, Schourek ordinarily plays outfield for the Senators and bats in the number three slot. After nine years in the National League, he has had plenty of experience at the plate and it shows. Schourek is one of the Industrial League’s most feared sluggers.

Other talent continues to be drawn to the league and its down-home brand of baseball. For example, Bobby Stefanowicz of Annandale, a 2007 Falls Church High School graduate who moved on to pitch at Shenandoah University, now plays for the Falcons. In the 2009 collegiate season, Stefanowicz and the Shenandoah Hornets advanced to the Division III College World Series in Appleton, Wisconsin after winning the USA South Regional Championship. They boasted a ranking of sixth in the nation before falling to Carthage College 9-8 in an 11-inning thriller.

Now in his second year with the Falcons, 20 year old Stefanowicz learned of the IBL through a teammate at Shenandoah University who had previously played in the league. According to Stefanowicz, “it’s a great league, it really is. It’s helped me get a lot of innings of work, which is what I really needed. It’s such competitive baseball, but we aren’t playing every day like in the Clark Griffith League, so it gives us all more time to relax and to be able to work during the day.”

“I can see myself playing in this league down the road. It’s a lot of fun and I get to play a lot of guys from rival colleges as well as against a lot of guys who have had a lot of experience and good baseball careers,” he said. Smiling sheepishly, Stefanowicz adds that one of the greatest highlights in his Industrial League career was striking out Schourek, whom many of the Falcons have dubbed “The Pro.”

With so much talent and competition within the league, the IBL continues to draw ball players of all ages. And with their continual success in tournaments, a few young kids here and there may just give the veterans the spark they need to take home a championship. After all, regardless of age, they’re all kids at heart living their dream.

This year’s NABF Regionals will begin on Thursday, August 6 in Buffalo, N.Y. If the Fedlock Baseball Club can triumph once again, they will move on to the World Series in Louisville.

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