In the summer of 2005, Duane Cordrey was playing in the Chesapeake Men's Senior Baseball League, founded in 1989 as a league for players 28 and older.
The league was small, just six teams in one age division.
During one particular game, Cordrey noticed some unsportsmanlike behavior by some of his teammates and players on the other team. One player struck out and threw his bat against the backstop. Another got into an argument with the umpire.
"People started to lose the perspective of, 'It's just a game,'" said Cordrey, who had played in the league since 1996. "I also discovered, too, that people, in the heat of competition, they forget that they're people just like them. They're just in a different uniform. They all have day jobs. They all have families. They all have a passion for the game of baseball. I felt like there was something missing in that these guys didn't get to learn about each other off the field."
Cordrey approached the league president and offered his opinions on how the league might be improved. Instead, the president let Cordrey take the job. He started in 2006.
From 2006-2016, Cordrey turned the Chesapeake MSBL into one of the top men's senior baseball leagues in the country, according to Steve Sigler, the founder and president of the Men's Senior Baseball League, a nationwide organization that represents more than 50,000 players across hundreds of leagues, including the Chesapeake MSBL.
"First of all, three decades is a testament to the leadership of the league and the willingness of men to continue to play baseball," Sigler said. "The Chesapeake MSBL is for sure in the top 10 -- not only in its continuation of stabilization and growth but the outstanding leadership that they have had."
"Their standard of excellence is just wonderful," Sigler added. "They exude leadership, which these successful leagues need. They need leaders in order to sustain and have an opportunity to grow."
This season, the Chesapeake MSBL is celebrating its 30th anniversary. There are between 500-600 players on 29 teams across three age divisions. Teams play at parks and high schools in Anne Arundel County. Most of that success is thanks to Cordrey, Sigler said.
Cordrey said his goal when he took over in 2006 was to "change the culture" of the league. The next step was incorporating the league as a tax-exempt nonprofit that could accept donations and raise money for the league. He then modeled the league's three current age divisions -- 22 and older, 35 and older as well as 45 and older -- off of the national leagues championed by Sigler.
"That opened a lot of doors for us, so now we're a community service-based organization," Cordrey said. "It gave us credibility as having proper oversight, governance and a vehicle to raise funds to help offset the expenses associated with the game while at the same time helping improve the fields that we were playing on."
One of the first projects the league undertook was replacing the dugout roofs at Annapolis High School's baseball field. In ensuing years, the league has fixed other fields in Anne Arundel County, donated equipment to military serving in the Middle East and awarded several scholarships.
"As I got more and more into it, I really invested a lot of my personal time and energy into it because I saw a vision where I could take this," said Cordrey, who, like most of his teammates in the 45-and-older league, have been playing for more than 20 years.
Though some of the core players are starting to get older, that doesn't mean the competition has begun to wane. Jeff Wolf, 58, has played since 1998 and manages the Chesapeake Braves in the 35-and-older division. The Braves have won more than 100 straight games, a national MSBL record.
"I've always felt it's always kind of competitive no matter what," Wolf said. "You have guys who played in college, guys that played in high school, some that played professionally. Nobody likes to lose."
The league features a range of players who played at various levels of competitive baseball. Bob Englemeyer, who pitched two seasons of minor-league ball with the Kansas City Royals, plays in the 45-and-older division. Ian and Ryan Hendricks, the sons of former Orioles catcher and coach Elrod Hendricks, play in the 35-and-older division. Both spent time in the Orioles' farm system. Former Towson University star Casper Wells, who spent parts of four seasons in the majors, plays in the 22-and-older division. Former Orioles players Ken Dixon and John Stefero played in the league in the past. Brunet attended spring training with the Atlanta Braves in 1982.
And while there are players with professional pedigrees in all three divisions, anyone is welcome to play, Brunet said.
"We encourage anybody to come out. We've got guys that might not have made their high school teams that are playing in the league," he said. "It's a recreational league. We do encourage anybody that wants to come out, we find a spot for them."
Now three years since Cordrey stepped away from the league he adores and helped grow into a competitive and financially solvent organization, the 52-year-old said he couldn't be more proud of what he helped build and the brotherhood that's developed among the hundreds of players in the league.
"The thing I've really learned from baseball is a lot of life lessons," Cordrey said, "but more importantly is the friendships and the camaraderie and the network of people you play with and against."
The Chesapeake MSBL conducts tryout sessions in February and March, and a league draft determines rosters thereafter.
Those interested in learning more about the Chesapeake MSBL can visit the league's website at chesmsbl.com.
A previous publication of this story, which also ran in print, stated the league began all-star games under Cordrey. That has been removed. All-star games had been played prior to that.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Chesapeake MSBL
Issue 255: June/July 2019
Originally published June 19, 2019