Tony Tiani, like many kids, grew up with a baseball bat in one hand and a glove in the other. He started playing tee-ball at the age of five and continued playing baseball until his freshman year at Anne Arundel Community College. In between, he played for Arundel High, winning a state title with the Wildcats in 1998.
But college isn’t where Tiani’s passion for the game came to a halt. At 32, he still loves the game. Like many others with a similar back-story to his, he’s now a veteran of the Chesapeake Men’s Senior Baseball League.
After playing the 2013 season with the Downtown Tigers, Tiani, along with his brother, Jason Tiani, and best friend, Austen Brandt, were looking for more out of baseball. They didn’t want it to be just distraction from everyday life.
“We were looking for a little more dedication and little more drive to win,” Tiani said. Luckily for the three, the Tigers faced the challenge of needing to add players to the roster for the 2014 season. The Tigers’ coach was Mike Bishop, who Tiani met playing summer ball before heading off to college.
The two decided to form a new entry in the league, the Odenton Ducks, whose roster is composed mostly of former Tigers, and the Ducks are currently enjoying a wildly successful first season. They’re 10-3-0 in the 25-and-over American Division of the Chesapeake Men’s Senior Baseball League, a competitive adult league in Maryland. As of mid-June, the Ducks hold the no. 1 ranking in the United States Adult Baseball League (USABL) 25-and-over rankings. The Ducks will compete in the USABL World Series beginning at the end of September in Myrtle Beach.
The Ducks want to make their name commonplace atop national rankings, and to do that, they’ll have to keep bringing new talent onto the roster.
“We do plan on taking this team national,” Tiani said. “That’s the whole goal – another reason that made me and my brother and best friend want to play with these guys. They’re more interested in the national spotlight than just the local tournaments and leagues.”
Bishop, 34, is the head coach of the Ducks and also doubles as a player. He’s also the junior varsity coach at Arundel High, but running an adult team brings different challenges to the table than teaching a freshman how to lay down a bunt.
“I like it because I’m very ambitious,” Bishop said. “I like to scout players that are coming into the league – younger guys that are just turning 25. I do a lot of scouting, especially using the internet. Coaching-wise, I like to be a team leader. I’m very organized. Being able to run an adult program like this, it’s definitely a challenge.”
Bishop recruits new players into his program in part by digging through newspaper archives online to find the names of former high school players in Anne Arundel County who are about to turn 25. He’ll try to contact them via social media and find out whether or not they played in college – and if they did, whether they’d be interested in playing competitively for Bishop’s squad.
“I’m able to go back in time,” Bishop joked of finding old high school players online. The Ducks’ roster is made up of men from Anne Arundel County and throughout Maryland. They’re mostly 27- to 30-year-old men, although some break the mold. Dack Coleman is 42 years old and, according to Bishop, still as competitive as ever.
Every year, Bishop’s teams begin indoor spring training after the Super Bowl, and start they train at Arundel High twice a week beginning in late March. The Chesapeake Men’s Senior Baseball League games began in May and last until August. The Ducks play games at high school parks across the county.
It’s not just for fun, either – Bishop says five of his seven pitchers top 80 mph on their fastballs. “The way the game is with baseball, you just can’t walk in and play,” Bishop said. “It’s a lot of competitiveness, and that’s what I like about it. Of course, I still play because I love the game and I play for fun. Again, it’s very competitive. Keeps me motivated and staying in shape.”
Still, there are obstacles that must be hurdled in order to play. Competing isn’t free. Jerseys need to be paid for and trips to tournaments like the World Series in Myrtle Beach need to be financed. The Ducks are sponsored by the American Poolplayers Association. Tiani’s father, Lee, operates the Washington, D.C.-area APA.
The APA bought the Ducks home and road jerseys along with team jackets. An APA patch can be seen on a sleeve of the jerseys. When the Ducks won a tournament six weeks ago on Memorial Day weekend in Myrtle Beach, they gave the four-foot high trophy they won to Lee and the APA as a token of their appreciation.
“It’s awesome,” Tiani said of his dad’s partnership. “I feel like we’re out there playing for him.” For Tiani, even though he loves to win games, the relationships with his father, brother and best friend that continue to grow stronger because of baseball is the best part of playing ball into his 30s.
“It’s indescribable to play with my brother and have my dad watch us play every day. Playing with my best friend, we know each other so well. We actually met through baseball about 10 years ago in this same league…We’ve just been best friends since.”