Fighting for Value: Lessons and Insights from My Experience on an International Baseball Team

Created via | Images by Chris Kelly

There are no liabilities on this team! - Warren De Lima

The statement above was made by one of the skippers of the Ireland Buccaneers 35+ team that recently competed in the 2022 MSBL World Series. I was quite dismissive when I first heard him say it, because he was saying it to me.  You see, I had made a couple errors one inning, thus, I was partially getting down on myself, but also partially facing the reality of my condition.  I wasn’t a hundred percent going into the tournament this year, but who is, really? Regardless, I was already feeling a bit beat up entering into this tournament.  I have been dealing with an inflamed lower back and elbow issues since last December.  It didn’t take but a couple games in this tourney before those injuries reared their ugly heads.  After the game, I expressed to the skippers that, “I was a liability” and needed to rest.  They agreed to let me rest but insisted “liability” was not the correct word to describe my existence. They were right!

The purpose of this article is to share some insights and experiences with you that were somewhat profound to me from playing on this international team of misfits.

ireland buccaneers team photo  msbl world series
Ireland Buccaneers Traveling 35+ Team | Image by Chris Kelly

Our team included the following players:

1.       Chris Kelly | 1B | Ireland

2.       Liam Stokes | LF | Great Britain

3.       Ryan Turtill | MGR, P | Great Britain

4.       Neris Tamasiunas | UTL | Lithuania

5.       Edvinas Jurgelenas | CF | Lithuania

6.       Giedrius Janulevicius | C, OF, P | Lithuania

7.       Darius Cypariunas | 1B, P | Lithuania

8.       Alberto Moscatelli | 2B, SS | Italy

9.       Andrews Assuncao | SS, P | Venezuela

10.   Maher Silva | 3B, SS, P | Venezuela

11.   Warren De Liam | MGR, RF | Canada

12.   Ryne Miller | C | USA

13.   Jon-Mikal Moody | LF | USA

14.   Joshua Nichols | 3B, 1B, P | USA

Disclaimer: For my international teammates reading this, I know that some of you don’t live in the respective countries listed.  For example, Warren De Lima is Venezuelan descent but lives in Canada. Maher Silva is Venezuelan descent and lives in Portugal. Alberto is Italian descent but lives in Germany.  Please forgive me if you weren’t properly represented.

This is the team! If I had to pick one take away for you after reading this article, it would be this: there are two ways to almost guarantee you to become a liability to your team – (a) when you think you are one, and/or (b) when you aren't one, but someone else is.

Resetting Expectations

I’m all about encouragement, but not at the expense of the truth.  The hard truth and the ability to encourage can co-exist. The truth is that American baseball seems to be played at a higher caliber than in other countries, but not all. Most of the players on this team haven’t experienced the level of play or skill that is seen regularly in this tournament from American teams.  However, this reality didn’t cause this team’s sense of belonging to waiver in the slightest.  In fact, one of the last things out of the mouth of our fearless leader, Ryne Turtill, with a lovely British accent, was, “Remember, we deserve to be here. Baseball is not just an American sport.” (loosely quoted) I couldn’t agree more!

We got murdered our first game by a great team called the Tucson Tribe.  It would have been really easy to allow myself to get down and stay there, potentially bringing the whole team down.  As we all know, it only takes one bad apple. After that first game, I took a moment to myself. One of my teammates overheard me say under my breath, “I’m tired of getting murdered out here.”  “Just have fun, bro,” is what came next out of his mouth.  It was in that moment that I thought to myself, “he’s right!”  As I looked around the dugout, not one of my other teammates was down or upset, from what I could tell.  They were happy to be in their mid-30s and 40s playing baseball on MLB spring training ballparks! From that moment on, I worked at staying positive and being grateful for the experience and opportunity to play a game that is near and dear to my heart with others that share in that same love for the game. It wasn’t always easy, but I believe I was successful in that effort, nonetheless.

 Alberto Moscatelli

Alberto Moscatelli | Image by Chris Kelly

Alberto is only one of two players that gets his own section in this article. I think that Alberto would agree that his physical presence doesn’t scream “baseball player.”  However, mine probably doesn’t either anymore. But this man was a delightful surprise, and not just to the American players. I had a few discussions with other international players that seemed to agree that Alberto did more than his share of weight pulling in this tournament.

Alberto makes the fake catch!
Alberto is of Italian descent but has been working in Germany for some years now.  In fact, to me, his accent sounded more German than Italian.  But what do I know?  Most of my education and experience with the Italian culture comes from Hollywood. Alberto has a Ph.D. in chemistry and works in a science-related field.  No, he is not breaking bad. Out of respect for his profession, I will refrain from trying to explain what he does out of fear of misrepresenting him.  Off the field, Alberto came off very scientist-like.  I know this culture better as I am married to a scientist.  He was quiet, reserved, but always paying attention.  However, on the field prior to games, he was a clown; and during games, he was all business.  Alberto was the most impressive player on the field in my opinion.  I would respectfully say that he is not the most athletic of the group, but he plays with a confidence and ferocity that is something to be envied.

Like most of us on the field, Alberto wasn’t without error.  He did make a couple, but not many.  The key is that he never let it get him down.  He’d kick the dirt a little and then get back to it.  He made several good and crucial plays, mostly at second base.  I don’t have his stats, but I’m fairly certain his batting average was somewhere around .500 for the week.

I don’t know if our paths will ever cross on the ball diamond again, but this man taught me a lot about what it means to grind, defy the odds, and that our value isn’t something granted to us, it is something we create for ourselves.

Ryne Miller

Ryne Miller & Josh Nichols | Image by J. Nichols

I know this blog is supposed to be about the international experience whereas Ryne is a good ol’ American boy. But, in my opinion, the team is what makes up the international experience; and Ryne was part of that team. 

In case you aren’t aware, Ryne is my teammate from right here in the Oklahoma City metro area. Ryne was a blessing a disguise. He originally wasn’t going to be joining us on this team. But, with about a week to go before tournament play, Hungarian ball player Csaba Szilagyi (C, 1B) and American ball player, Carl Cox (P, C, OF) had to drop out for personal reasons.  I know it killed both of these quality ball players to not join the action.  As you can imagine, we were scrambling to find replacements.  Ryne was the first person I called; and with only a few days' notice, and a hilarious discussion with his “cooler than shit baseball wife” (inside joke), Ryne was on a plane to Phoenix, AZ as an official member of the Ireland Buccaneers traveling baseball team.

Ryne Miller - Catcher | Image by Chris Kelly
I think most of my teammates would agree that no one worked harder than this man. Ryne caught five of our 6 games in their entirety.  Four of those games were double-headers.  Additionally, he would often run his own bases if a curtesy wasn’t available. He took a beating, nonetheless.  Check out this TikTok video of Ryne getting mowed over at the plate and then kicking the ball out of play. It’s hilarious! Any time you heard Ryne barking at the team, as a good catcher should do at times, it was out of respect to his pitcher who is also working very hard on the field. Ryne didn’t throw any runners out; and like the rest of us, he wasn’t without error, but his stamina and determination as the defensive leader of the team was impressive to say the least. But the story doesn’t end there.

When Ryne and I arrive to Phoenix, we knew we would be staying in a house with four other guys.  What we didn’t quite understand was the sleeping arrangements.  The house was actually a sweet pad.  It was 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, and a living area that had two sleeper sofas. Chris Kelly, Liam Stokes, and Ryne Turtill had the rooms. Alberto Muscatelli had the love seat sleeper sofa; and the plan was for Ryne and me to share the other sleeper sofa. However, what wasn’t accounted for is that Ryne has had two back surgeries that cause him great pain, so a sleeper sofa was a “no go” for him.  As a result, for five straight nights, Ryne Miller, the man that caught five full games in four days, slept on the floor!  Oh….it gets better!  Due to a shortage of blankets and Ryne not wanting to put anyone else out, he used a beach towel as a blanket! What?! Stay with me, because here is the most important piece of information from this story – he didn’t complain once!  He was just grateful to be there and part of the team.

Theragun Time | Image by J. Nichols
I am truly grateful that Ryne was able to come on this trip. I am thankful that his wife worked magic or her end to help make that happened.  Those of us in committed relationships know that our partners are truly special people in what they have to agree to in order to allow us to play this game.  But Ryne helped me see a bigger picture in all this.  Yes, winning is fun.  Winning a ring is even more fun! Losing sucks. Losing by 20 runs sucks balls! But, I’d rather get slaughtered every time on a team that loves the game and loves being together any day over a team that only values their players so as long as they haven’t lost their edge.  Again, winning is fun and being competitive is important. In fact, I hope someday I’ll get to have the experience of winning the whole darn thing and taking home a championship ring.  However, if winning a ring requires me to be a bystander in uniform instead of a contributor, then count me out.  Playing ball is what is meaningful and therapeutic, not the memories of watching my team win a ring while I stood idly by hoping to get a chance to play.  Again, value is not granted by another; it is a gift we give to ourselves. Ryne showed me that this week.

Camaraderie and Respect

Final huddle of the week | Image by Chris Kelly

When a team like this is put together, it takes a bit for the team to find their rhythm and collective personality.  As difficult as that is for all teams that are pieced together, I would imagine it to be especially difficult when there are cultural and language barriers.  The single most uttered word in the dugout was, “huh?”  It’s one of few words that is universally spoken and interpreted correctly.  However, these barriers didn’t stop the managers from facilitating an environment of encouragement, determination, and fun.

One of the most impressive components that facilitated this camaraderie was the reading off of the lineup prior to every game (see TikTok video).  As each name is read, the team follows with a brief applause to encourage and inspire their teammate. It is something small, but significant nonetheless; From my experience, this is rarely seen in American baseball.  I don't know why I thought this was special. Maybe it’s because I’m a middle child who is constantly looking for evidence of validation.  I don't know.  I just know I really liked this small gesture of appreciation.

One common ritual we experience in baseball is lining up after the conclusion of the game and shaking hands with the opposing team saying, “good game.”  Some players will even make sure to hunt down the umpires to say “good game” or “thanks” for their work and sacrifice.  Something that was a bit different for me on the international team was the level of respect they had for each other.  Many times, I’d hear another player or manager thank a pitcher or catcher for their performance or contribution.  It was different than ritualistically saying “good game.” It felt much more authentic.  This game is often a grind and sometimes isn’t very kind to those that grind the most.  To be singled out by another player or manager in semi-private setting for the sole purpose of expressing gratitude has the potential to change one’s entire experience.  These types of experiences keep us in the game in my opinion, especially at times when the baseball gods seem to be toying with us.

Shifting Value

Josh Nichols on the bump | Image by Chris Kelly

The last thing I want to share regarding my experience on this international team of misfits is that I learned I can still pitch! That’s right! I pitched about seven innings total as a relief pitcher.  Aside from one inning I pitched a few years ago for my local team, I haven’t pitched since I was a junior in high school.  To be honest, given the issues I had been having with my elbow, I truly didn’t think I would be able to help much. Once again, I was wrong.

Pitching always seems to be the main challenge for baseball teams across the board.  We certainly were not exempt from this reality. One of the funniest moments looking back had to do with a miscommunication regarding our “ace” pitcher.  After our team practice at the beginning of the week, I was talking to manager, Ryne Turtill, about the pitching plan.  He said he is going to start our one true ace, Jon-Mikal Moody, an American baseball player from the St. Louis.  Late that evening, co-manager Warren De Lima sent his customary encouraging text via WhatsApp which happen to mention Jon-Mikal staring on the bump.  The first message we all woke up to that morning was from Mr. Moody himself, simply stating, “I don’t pitch.”  I’ll never forget British ball player, Liam Stokes, walking into the kitchen looking down at his phone and calmly and comically stating, “Huh, so our ace pitcher doesn’t pitch.” I could have fallen out of my chair at that moment.

If we weren’t feeling the pain of our pitcher shortage, then we most definitely were now.  So, when our skipper asked the team, who else can pitch, I reluctantly spoke up, “I’ll pitch if you need me.”  And use me they would.  I pitched a total of seven innings in four games. To my surprise, I loved it! I found myself looking forward to pitching.  Oddly enough, my elbow pain seemed to have subsided. That might have to do with a combination of ibuprofen, Aspercreme, and Icy Hot.  No, I did not consult my physician before I combined the three. 

I would not consider myself a fastball pitcher. My best guess is that I consistently threw between 65 and 68 mph, maybe on occasion I’d crack 70 mph.  Although my elbow wasn’t hurting that much, I was dealing with an extremely sore bicep and inflamed lower back.  But, even if I was completely healthy, I’d do good to hit 75 mph.  Although my fastball wasn’t very fast, I seemed to do well with painting the corners.  My only off-speed was a curve ball.  It was a very helpful pitch because it broke well and at if needed, I could throw it for a strike.  With only these two pitches in my arsenal, I was able to keep my run count down to about seven with only two or three BB and no HBP.   

Andres Assuncao | Image by Chris Kelly
The reason I wanted to bring this up goes back to value.  I love playing third base.  I like knowing that I’m playing the hot spot and still can make the throw across the diamond.  But, with my arm and back tightening up as I stood out on the field, I had trouble fielding and throwing.  I hated admitting to myself that it would be better for the team if someone else was at third base, at least for a couple games. This is when I told the managers that I was a liability.  I wasn’t a liability at all. I just had to shift my value.  With a tweaked back and throbbing arm, hitting became somewhat difficult as well. And if you know me well, swinging the stick is where I truly shine.  For those reasons, I consider pitching to have been a lifesaver for me in that tourney.  However, if pitching wasn’t available, I would be challenged to find another way to be of value. 

As a side note, I wasn’t the only one who realized they could pitch.  Andres Assuncao (as seen in the picture to the right) pitched our one and only win of the week. Maher Silva started two games and was most certainly cracking 80 mph at times.  Neris Tamasiunas pitched one heck of game, too. If it weren’t for one error-filled inning, he potentially would have thown and entire game, maybe even for the win.  When it was all said and done, we come to realize that we actually had some descent pitching on the team. 

In conclusion, I am truly grateful for this experience afforded to me by the Ireland Buccaneers. Being on this team taught me how important it is to remember that although winning and competitiveness are to be desired, they should never trump our love for playing the game.  The love and  joy was ever present among these players, so much so that on many occasions the other teams would comment on the positive energy coming from our dugout.  As a result, we often found ourselves getting pics with the other teams. That’s what is all about.

I will close by reiterating one final thought. The only ways to become a liability to your team is by believing you are one, and/or believing someone else is.  We shouldn’t be pushing people out.  We should be helping them find their value even if it looks a little different. The worse thing we can do is think we don’t belong either because we aren’t good enough for the team, or because we think we are too good for the team.  Either direction is not good for you or the team. One direction makes you a Debbie Downer and the other simply makes you a dick! Neither are desirable by teams or teammates.

My challenge to you is to find where your value lies. Write it down. Share it with someone.  Feel free to share it in the comments of this blog or on whatever social media platform you were perusing when came across this blog.  Tell us your story of baseball and value!

Managers Ryne Turtill and Warren De Lima | Picture Taken by Chris Kelly

Joshua Nichols is the founder of the social media experience known as Baseball Training for Older People, otherwise proudly referred to as "BTOP" (BEE-top).  Take part in the BTOP experience by like, following, and subscribing to all the BTOP social media accounts.  However, if you really want to get the full experience, then make sure you join the private facebook group called BTOP Legends. Now, let's get to get'n!




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