Interview With Stephen Hrabec, PBL President

Posted February 10, 2020

Interview With Stephen Hrabec, PBL President
As pitchers and catchers begin to report to their Major League Baseball spring training camps and the college baseball season has started, baseball buzz is back in the air with the feeling that spring is right around the corner. The 2020 Powerline Baseball League season will have a new President at the helm as Stephen Hrabec takes over in his first of three seasons in the role. Hrabec, from the Holden Blue Jays, will take over from Bret Keohane of the Camrose Roadrunners who saw his three season term end at the conclusion the 2019 season. 
Hrabec has spent most of his baseball playing days in and around the Powerline Baseball League. Growing up outside of Holden meant that Hrabec would spend the start of his minor ball days playing Holden before eventually having to play out of Vegreville. In 2010 Hrabec was instrumental in bring the Powerline Baseball League back to Holden as the Blue Jays organization was restarted after nearly two decades in hibernation. Since then the Blue Jays have played in five PBL Championship Series and have won two PBL Pennants with the best regular season record as well. 
Hrabec was given the opportunity during the 2019 spring PBL League Meeting when he saw an unanimous vote by the League Executive and league teams to accept his nomination as the new PBL President. Hrabec, who worked as Keohane’s Vice-President during his term, will inherit a league that has grown over the last few seasons, peaking with a total of nine teams for the 2018 and the start of the 2019 season. It is expected that seven of the eight teams who finished last season will once again return to the field in 2020. 
There are a few key things that the PBL President will be tasked with to ensure the league continues to thrive. First there is running the league meetings to ensure proper procedures are followed amongst the League Executive as well as the team reps. Then there are tasks such as creation of the PBL schedule, working with the umpire coordinator and handling any protests during the season. From there the PBL President is expected to be the ambassador of the league working with the Battle River Baseball League for the running of the annual Harry Andreassen All-Star Game Challenge as well as working with teams (current and potentially new ones) and Baseball Alberta to ensure that the league stays modern and viable for years to come. 
President Hrabec was able to spend some time and answer our questions about the upcoming Powerline Baseball League season and his new job title. 
When the time came for the previous President to step down, what was it about the role of PBL President that made you put your name up for nomination?
I wish there was a better explanation but basically I was Vice-President for a number of years and I decided that it was my turn to do my share.
Currently the PBL has vacancies in two League Executive positions. First there is the position of Vice-President and second the position of Treasurer. How will you ensure that these positions are filled with the right people and take us through the process of finding an interested individual to be nominated?
I think, or at least hope, that team representatives will step up and take on the roles. There are a few teams that have not taken on a role in a few years or not at all, so it might be their turn step up.
Over the last few seasons the league has seen both contraction and expansion with it’s franchises. Beaumont, Ryley and Bardo left after 2016 but Sherwood Park and Tofield joined in 2017 followed by the Edmonton Expos and Camrose Axemen joining in 2018. How do you expect the league to continue to grow or stay stable in the next three years of your term?
I think that what we have experienced over the past few years is nothing out of the ordinary with senior men’s sports teams. It can be extremely difficult to keep a team together for many years. If we can maintain seven or eight PBL teams over the next three years, I will consider it a success. If there are more, then that would be great.
On January 12, 2020 the Leduc Milleteers gave notice that they will be taking a step back from the Powerline Baseball League for the 2020 season due to player availability and commitment concerns. What were your initial reactions to this news? Do you feel that there is more that the league could do to help teams struggling with player interest in their communities to help ensure a team stays on the field?
Honestly, I was not surprised. Like I said, it can be extremely difficult to keep a team together and I had heard that the team was in jeopardy early on and over the course of last season, which was clearly evident near the end of the regular season with their forfeits. Perhaps the PBL could look at promoting our league as a place to play after 18U. Developing a relationship with minor baseball programs would certainly help.
Looking around the area that the PBL currently occupies and looking at some of the centres with decent size ball associations without a PBL team such as Fort Saskatchewan, Sherwood Park, North East Zone Edmonton, Beaumont, Wetaskiwin. Are there plans to try and expand the league and what are some markets that you would hope the league can begin to reach out to?
There are no plans to expand at the moment. However, we are open to expansion should a group come forward and the proposal fits the geographical configuration of our league and they can prove that they have dedicated individuals that will be able to play baseball every Tuesday and Thursday in May, June, and July.
There are three other baseball leagues that draw players from the same area that PBL teams currently draw from however there is still a fairly large baseball registration drop off between 18U baseball (formerly midget) and senior men’s baseball. What could the PBL be doing to try and be an attractive option for baseball players to continue playing baseball after their minor baseball days are over?
I believe that the teams in our league need to be more open in accepting younger players and accept that there will be some growing pains. I think many teams improved on this last season. Rosalind had a number of young guns out there and the Axemen are a young team as well. I know we will be trying to recruit a few graduated 18U players from the Holden/Vegreville area for this season.
One of the areas that hampered the league in 2019 was forfeits. The Camrose Axemen and Leduc Milleteers both suffered multiple forfeit losses due to player availability and the Sherwood Park Athletics did not finish the season which caused quite a debate and issue amongst the teams in the league. What can be done to ensure that the league tries to tackle issues with forfeits moving forward and how would you like to see forfeits addressed in the future?
I don’t want to go into too much detail right now, but forfeits will be addressed at the Spring Meeting. While it is unlikely that there will be a perfect solution, I was extremely dissatisfied with last year’s rulings as I felt it was detrimental and embarrassing for our league. I seriously believe our league’s integrity was compromised. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed and will be addressed. Ultimately, forfeits are inevitable, but we must address forfeits reasonably.
In 2018 the Holden Blue Jays scheduled a couple of games in Vegreville and in 2019 managed to schedule a few more including a playoff game against the Edmonton Expos. How viable is Vegreville for the Blue Jays and the league moving forward? (What is the support like? How do players, both from the Jays and opponents, respond to the games being played in Vegreville?)
It is time for the Holden Blue Jays to move to Vegreville. Don’t get me wrong, Holden has been great to us. We wish that we could’ve brought a championship there. The fact is that the majority of our team lives in or near Vegreville. Many of my teammates have been pushing for the move years. The majority of our fans are from Vegreville because our guys are not well known around the Holden area. Other than myself, we’re not from there so people in the Holden area do not know us. Vegrevillians have also been asking when we’re moving to Vegreville for years. The town of Vegreville has offered to take care of everything for us. While diamond will not be available for us every night of the week like Holden was, we will make it work. We also hope to gain some interest from minor baseball players from Vegreville. I think in the past, some were hesitant to join Holden. As for our opponents, I did deal with some displeasure with games at Vegreville last season, until they realized that it was not that much of a difference and that Vegreville has many more amenities to offer than Holden does.
The annual Harry Andreassen All-Star Challenge has been operating since the early 2000s and in recent years has seen some slightly tougher times regarding player attendance. What do you feel are the causes of this drop in player interest and what are some ideas that you would be able to work on with the Battle River Baseball League to make the game a marquee event for the two leagues?
The All-Star Challenge has always been a struggle for myself. When we used to have it in the middle of the season, I was often frustrated because it took away a nice night of league baseball and then we often fell behind in the season as a result of multiple rainouts. When we switched to holding the game when the season was complete, we found that very few guys wanted to attend. I think that many guys, including myself, book holidays, or are simply done with baseball once the season is over. Having the game on the weekend may also be an issue as it seems as though there is always something going on that guys can’t make it work. Perhaps we would have a stronger representation if the game was scheduled on a Tuesday or Thursday evening. I am not sure what the best solution is and will be looking for suggestions at the Spring Meeting.
Looking at the PBL during your time in the league, what are the areas of improvement and positive growth that you have personally seen the league undergo?
With the help of the website, Twitter, and radio stations, the league has gained some attention. I think the teams that have their own Twitter account do a tremendous job in acquiring and maintaining interest and although it can cross the line at times, we’re heard throughout Alberta. It’s amazing how many people across Alberta and Saskatchewan know about and even follow the PBL.
As someone who has been a player/manager/groundskeeper for a number of years with the Holden Blue Jays, you know about the challenges that a senior men’s baseball team can face over the course of a season. Heading into your first season as the PBL President and looking at the league in its current state, what will be a challenge or two for you and the league that will need to be overcome?
As I have stated already, we need to prepare for the unexpected. One of the great qualities of the PBL is that there aren’t too many rules. However, I think we’ve been exposed recently because we don’t have an official rules handbook/manual. It’s not essential that every potential situation be addressed, but for example, rules/guidelines on how to address a forfeit or a team ceasing operation during the middle of the season should be established.
I would also like to clarify the level of power that the President and Vice-President have over the team representatives. This has never been clear and the league has always put everything to vote. This seems like the most fair way to handle a situation, but does not always work well when the vote occurs during the middle of the season and the decision affects teams in different ways. Naturally, a team is inclined to vote in their best interest. This means that they may not vote in the best interest of the league. This is where the President and Vice-President should be able to step in and make a decision. Unfortunately, with team representatives serving as President and Vice-President, there is no guarantee that their decision will be unbiased and even if they do choose the decision that is in the best interest of the league there will still be backlash. If we continue to experience issues such as this, we may have to look at finding a President who is not a stakeholder in our league. In the meantime, while serving as President, I will do my best to make reasonable informed decisions that will be made in the best interest of our league.
At the end of the 2020 PBL season when we ask you for your ‘state of the league’ comments, what do you hope to have accomplished and what do you expect to see from the league this upcoming season?
At the end of the season I hope that I can say that we had a competitive season that did not deal with any major issues. Although it seems as though something crazy happens every year so I don’t want to make any predictions. Maybe that’s what makes the PBL so much fun.

Over the next few weeks it is expected that the PBL will announce a date for it's annual Spring Meeting where teams and the League Executive will gather to lay the ground work for the 2020 season. Rule changes and scheduling are often the key discussion points at these meetings as team representatives work to making the league as efficient as possible and move the league forward to remain sustainable for the future. 

Follow the Powerline Baseball League on Twitter @powerlineleague for updates and announcements. The Powerline Baseball League was founded in 1933 and is a competitive recreational wood bat baseball league located primarily east and south east of Edmonton. 

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