Very few teams in Home Talent League baseball would argue that their business manager is the most important part of the organization. They raise money from sponsors to pay for team expenses, organize fundraisers and perform other tasks that keep the team functioning.
Mike Anthony has been the business manager of the Monona Braves since 1991, but his time with the team goes back to the early 1980s when he volunteered to get the playing field ready for games, kept score and organized the team’s annual bowling tournament, which has just marked its 40th year.
It’s Anthony’s way of participating in a game he truly loves with a team that’s reached the playoffs 24 straight seasons and the league’s final four round seven times.
“Baseball has always been my favorite sport. I played a lot of sandlot/neighborhood ball in my younger years, but the only time I played organized ball was in my sophomore year in high school at Madison La Follette. I was never very good at it, but I love the game and admire those who play it well,” Anthony said. “I’m kind of old school. A well-executed bunt or hit and run play, giving up one’s at bat to advance a runner, any great defensive play, a well turned double play and hustling everything out are things that I admire.”
Anthony grew up in Madison and graduated from Madison La Follette High School in 1966. He earned an associate degree in accounting from Madison Area Technical College and then spent a year and a half in the Army, including 10 months in Vietnam. He worked for the State of Wisconsin for 32 years before retiring in 2005.
Staying around a great baseball tradition for so many years means Anthony has seen many great players wear the Monona Braves uniform. One of them was Greg “Stretch” Strangstalien, who was involved with the team for two decades as player and manager.
“Greg was a great left fielder, pitched some and won a batting title,” Anthony said. “He played the game with great intensity and was a very good manager.”
Strangstalien was the manager of the Braves when the team won the Home Talent League title in 2007, one of Anthony’s more memorable seasons as business manager. The Braves topped Verona and Lake Mills in the final four round-robin tournament and then clinched the championship by winning the third week at Sauk Prairie, 5-2, in 10 innings.
Another Anthony favorite is pitcher Zac Najacht, who was a member of the 2007 champions and still active with the team.
“Zac joined Monona in 2006 and went the distance in that 2007 championship game,” Anthony said. “He was always an excellent defensive player. At plus-40, he’s still a bulldog on the mound.”
Anthony has worked with numerous managers in better than three decades, including Tom DeRungs, Rich Beld, Dick Flanigan, Chris Alexander, Jay Gugel and Spence Cattell.
Monona’s current co-managers, Vince Schmitz and Kody Parman, have kept the Braves winning tradition alive since 2016 and Anthony commends the duo for keeping the team cohesive.
Honored in 2013
Along with the different names and faces comes the changes that the Home Talent League has experienced since Anthony’s tenure. He was happy when the decision to switch from aluminum to wooden bats was made better than 20 years ago.
“The sound of a well-contacted ball off a wood bat sounds so much sweeter than the ping off an aluminum one,” Anthony said. “At first, there was a lot of breakage, but most players adjusted pretty quickly.”
One of Anthony’s prouder moments came in 2013 when the baseball diamond at Ahuska Park was renamed Murphy-Anthony Field in honor of Anthony and his wife, Nancy, and Jerry Murphy, who preceded Anthony as business manager, and his wife, Mary. Jerry Murphy still operates the scoreboard during games, and Anthony takes care of the scorebook. Nancy Anthony also runs the food stand during games and has for many years.
“Her brats are always a big hit,” Anthony said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced league officials to cancel the Home Talent League season for 2020.
Anthony will miss watching baseball this year, and he hopes league action will resume in 2021.
“In these unusual times, it has been frustrating not to be able to watch not only baseball but any live sporting event,” Anthony said. “But safety should remain the main objective.”