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Minor league baseball at home in St. Petersburg

To appreciate the mission of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, Mike Moore quotes former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, who, in observing that he controlled 28 teams while Moore supervised more than 200, said, "I don't know how you do what you do."

"We supervise and organize all of minor league baseball," said Moore, president of the NAPBL since 1992. The office where he governs is within earshot of Al Lang Stadium, home to the St. Petersburg Cardinals.

Adorning the lobby walls inside the building at 201 Bayshore Drive SE are photographs of the presidents of the 19 minor leagues throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada and the Dominican Republic. Caps representing the 219 teams within those leagues decorate the walls above the inner offices, teams with vibrant names like the Carolina Mudcats, the Calgary Cannons and the Buffalo Bisons.

The NAPBL mission is a particularly quiet undertaking. Some players say they know little of its work.

"Not sure what they do," said Derek Hacopian, outfielder for the West Palm Beach Expos. Cardinals catcher Keith McDonald said, "I don't know anything about it."

But since its inception in 1901, the NAPBL has been busy assuming diverse responsibilities.

Under its concern is the Baseball Umpire Development Program, the training ground for the arbiters in blue; the Professional Baseball Promotion Corp., which operates an annual baseball trade show and NAPBL publications; and the orchestration of baseball's winter meetings.

"The majors grab the headlines with free-agent deals and trades at that time," said Jim Ferguson, the NAPBL's media relations director. "But the most important part of the winter meetings are the player drafts and the rule, promotion and interleague discussions that we direct."

The NAPBL also dictates the standards for minor league stadiums, governs operations for the entire minor league system and establishes the territorial rights of teams.

"In 1994, we instituted the On Fields Violence Policy, which involves automatic fines for players leaving the dugout in search of a scuffle," Moore said. "Fights have dropped off considerably."

Of all the NAPBL's accomplishments, Moore and Ferguson consider the economic stability among its 219 teams to be the association's most significant achievement. "Some 25 years ago financial stability wasn't a given, and it wasn't uncommon for a team to go belly up back then," Moore said. "The economic base among the teams is much stronger now."

When it was established in 1901, the NAPBL had a makeshift existence at the Leland Hotel in Chicago. Home also has been Auburn, N.Y., Durham, N.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

"The headquarters back then," Ferguson said, "were pretty much determined by the residence of the NAPBL president."

In 1973, the headquarters made the move to St. Petersburg, initially choosing 225 Fourth St. S. Five years later, under the leadership of Robert R. "Bobby" Bragan, the NAPBL leased the old clubhouse beside Al Lang Stadium from the city.

"Florida was an obvious relocation choice back then because of the tremendous amount of baseball affiliation like spring training and the Florida Instructional League that were already here," Ferguson said.

For more information on the NAPBL, call 822-6937.

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