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These guys go to bat for good causes too

It's minutes before the game and the lineup is still undecided.

But no one is moaning _ except when they stretch and feel their groins pull.

Finally, someone puts a piece of scratch paper on the fence and yells out the lineup.

It doesn't really matter who is in charge or what players are there. It's the purpose more than anything for most of those playing in the 30-and-over Men's Senior Baseball League.

"Sure, we're all here to play baseball and we're here because we enjoy the game," said Jim Valenty, who shares managerial duties for the 39ers with Tom Zimmer. "But we really play because we want to give back something to the community and help promote baseball in whatever way we can."

They have been doing that since 1986, when the MSBL was founded and the 39ers became its first team.

Sports agent Jim Neader spearheaded the drive to create a team and eventually a league. Soon, San Francisco Giants scout Zimmer became involved, as did long-time St. Petersburg resident Valenty, who owns a liquor store.

"We had always wanted another alternative to the perception of potbellied men playing third base on a softball field," Valenty said. "This was our outlet and it has taken off ever since the beginning."

Nationally, the MSBL was founded by Steve Sigler of Jericho, N.Y. It began with four teams in Long Island, N.Y., and since has expanded to 1,500 teams in 1,100 cities in 42 states and Canada. It also has teams in Holland, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

"What we've done is prove that guys over the age of 30 can still play baseball and have fun," Sigler said. "We've provided a creative way for the whole family to enjoy the game of baseball."

But the 39ers have gone further in developing everyone's passion for baseball and helping others.

Last year, the players produced in excess of $30,000 to renovate the baseball field at St. Petersburg Catholic. That included replacing lights and sod, and general maintenance.

In return, the 39ers had a place to call home.

"This was a place for us to share with the school and help at the same time," Valenty said. "Our guys wanted to chip in and we had help from sponsors like Al Estes to bring us along.

"If we have the means to offer our assistance in establishing a competitive program at SPC, then everyone does well by this deal. One of the players' goals was to help baseball on the high school level."

However, an immediate objective was to find a field and call it home.

"The city (St. Petersburg) didn't help at all in the past," Valenty said. "The rates for city parks were ridiculous, sometimes $150-$200 a game, and the city never helped with any maintenance. That's when we decided to share with someone and do it ourself."

That also has helped pave the way for St. Petersburg to host the second annual Fall Classic Nov. 4-8. In the past, teams from around the country have had to fly to Phoenix to compete in their World Series. However, because of the growth of the MSBL, that is no longer feasible for teams along the Eastern Seaboard.

Now, the MSBL has created two tournaments _ one in Phoenix and the other here _ that carry the same weight. Next year, the winners from St. Petersburg and Phoenix will meet for the overall title. Each year, they will switch sites, according to Sigler.

"We have a chance to save money now and put on a competitive show of men's baseball," Valenty said. "That is certainly a lineup we never thought possible when this first started."

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