By Amber Dowdy
At first glance, these two young men don’t seem to have much in common.
Until they step onto the baseball field, that is. Fialek and Davis are both members of the Loggers, a team in the Muskegon City Baseball League.
The league features six teams and an eclectic mix of players, ranging from current high school and college players looking to stay sharp in the summer, to former prep and collegiate athletes who just want to keep playing the game they love.
The teams play a 15-game schedule at historic Marsh Field in June and July. Their regular season extends through this week and next.
“I’m not sure if I’m was going to be playing any baseball in college, but I’m enjoying playing for fun right now,” said Fialek, a varsity baseball player at Holton. “I like the city league because it’s great offseason work for me.”
“I’ve been playing here since 2010 when I was 17,” Davis said. “Back then it was really a men’s league, now it’s more of a college league. I enjoy playing with the younger guys because we are able to learn things from each other. We have a lot of fun out here.”
Ironically the top team in the league, the Blue Jays, are not a bunch of current college hot shots or high school stars. It’s a collection of former college players – some just out of college, a few others well beyond – who stay on the diamond, summer after summer, due to their permanent love for the game.
“I’m 31, and there’s one other guy on the team, Aaron Gowell, who is about the same age,” said Blue Jays player Brandon Bard, whose teammates include recent Grand Valley grads and former Muskegon Clippers Jamie Potts, Connor Seymour and Jason Ribecky. “I would say the majority of the guys are probably between 21 and 25.
“We’re a bunch of guys who all share a passion to continue to play competitive baseball. This is as close as it gets to maintaining that competitive level. If it weren’t for the city league, there would be nothing for a lot of us.
“It’s our common goal to keep playing, and keep playing at a high level.”
The Blue Jays are currently 12-0 in the city league. They clinched the league title with a victory on Tuesday night and secured a berth in the upcoming National Amateur Baseball Federation regional tournament at Marsh Field the last weekend in July.
Top teams from Kalamazoo, Lansing, Flint and other cities around the state will also be competing in the NABF regional. The winner will qualify for the NABF World Series in Battle Creek, which attracts some of the top amateur baseball teams from throughout the Midwest.
The Blue Jays, who have been known by other names in previous seasons (they change names whenever they order new uniforms), have dominated the city league in recent years, but have never advanced to the World Series.
They came close last weekend, finishing second in a special World Series qualifying tournament in Battle Creek. The Marsh Field regional will give them a second chance to find their way in.
“Hopefully, before I finally hang it up for good, we’ll make it to the World Series,” Bard said.
Besides being undefeated in league play, the Blue Jays have a pair of exhibition wins this summer against the Muskegon Clippers, the dominant team in the Michigan Summer Collegiate Baseball League. The Clippers are current college players, mostly from four-year schools, who play a lot more baseball against tough competition than the Blue Jays do.
“Any time you can play against a team like that, with 300 or so people in the stands for the first one, and almost as many for the second one, it’s pretty fun,” Bard said. “Especially for us older guys, it was great.”
The second place team in the Muskegon City League, heading into play this week, is the Astros, who are 8-4. They are followed by the Riptide Dirt Bags (6-5), the Loggers (4-5), the Riptide 18-and-under squad (2-8) and the Orioles (2-9).
It’s yet to be determined whether the team that finishes second in the city league will also qualify for the Marsh Field NABF regional, according to Bard.
Whether city league players are on winning teams or not, they all seem to get something out of the experience.
Jordon Fairchild, who plays collegiately for Hope College, is the shortstop for the Riptide Dirt Bags.
“It’s great competition, for sure,” he said, “I’ve been with the Riptide for six years, and it’s nice because the city league gives me a chance to come back and work on the little things for next season at Hope.”