For Mike Biagioli, it’s always baseball season. At 66, he pitches, umpires, is president of the Land O Lakes Baseball Old Timers Association, and co-commissioner of the Land O Lakes Southwest Division.
For 25 years, he played ball in Pewaukee, where he had a career batting average of .348. But his real gift is as a left-handed pitcher—a rarity in the game.
“What I like about baseball is the one-on-one with the pitcher and the batter. I love that combat. Because the pitcher is trying to outthink the batter, and the batter’s trying to outthink the pitcher,” he says.
It’s also a sport you can play at any age. “When you step between those lines, you’re 12 years old, no matter what age you are. You’re still as competitive as you were when you were younger,” he says. “Obviously, you don’t run as fast or throw as hard,” he adds laughing.
Biagioli played ball from first grade on and joined the Western Division of the Land O Lakes Baseball Association (LOL) as a freshman in college.
Founded by Martin Weber of Merton, LOL began in 1922 as an amateur baseball club with six teams from Hartland, Sussex, Monches, Pewaukee, Lannon and Menomonee Falls. Today, the LOL has 10 teams competing with men of all ages playing.
Biagioli stays connected to the league as president of the Land O Lakes Old Timers Baseball Association, a group that nominates LOL Hall of Fame members and raises funds to support youth baseball.
They sponsor local tournaments “because, eventually, we hope, (these kids) are going to want to come play Land O Lakes ball,” Biagioli says.
While the Western Division, where he played, withdrew from LOL two years ago, Biagioli hopes for a reconciliation. “This is the 96th year of Land O Lakes in Lake Country, and I want to see it back together, healthy, and strong, when it hits 100,” he says.
Today, Biagioli plays with the Milwaukee Men’s Senior Baseball League (MSBL), where he competes in two different age groups: over 55 and over 61.
Practice kicks off in March, and games start the third week of April.
“We practice before the season. Once the season gets going, we don’t get any better, so why practice?” he says lightheartedly. He plays two games each week, one for each team, through September.
In October, he travels to Arizona to compete in the Men’s Senior Baseball League World Series. The first time his team won was in 2012, when he was playing with an over-55 team from Milwaukee. “That was great because it was all guys I played with here,” he says.
Since then, he’s been playing with the St. Paul Saints, an all-star team of sorts. “Players of our age, everyone gets to know you around the country,” he explains. The Saints approached him a couple years ago, and it was a great fit.
“You have one practice the day before the series starts, and that’s basically to shake hands, get to know everybody, pass out uniforms, and find out where you go tomorrow,” he says.
In 2016, the Saints made it into the semifinals, but, the year prior, they brought home the trophy.
“We went into the championship round not having lost a game in 2015. Matter of fact, we had won by double digits in almost every game,” he recalls. Biagioli pitched three complete games that week and was the relief pitcher in another.
At the time, a sports blogger joked that “Biagioli” in Italian translates to “I’m ready to pitch again.”
Biagioli’s son and daughter, sisters, girlfriend and other relatives were there to see it happen. “We had a Biagioli rooting section,” he says. “It was phenomenal.”
The highlight of Biagioli’s baseball career, however, came when he was 27 playing for Pewaukee.
The other starting pitcher got injured and was out for the season. “From that point on, I lost one game for the rest of the year. I hit .400 for the year. I had my best year for home runs,” he remembers.
He was named Most Valuable Player of the LOL Western Division that year, 1977, and he was elected to the LOL Hall of Fame in 2010.
“When everything clicks, you just feel real good about it,” he says.
While he could never quite find that special magic again, Biagioli was voted the MSBL Pitcher of the Year in both 2011 and 2015. He also found other ways to contribute to the sport: He became a youth coach and team manager and, later, an umpire.
Biagioli has been an umpire for two decades now, having worked his way up the ladder to become a WIAA Master Level Varsity Umpire. He typically calls between 12 and 16 varsity high school games each year, as well as LOL games as his schedule permits.
He loves “being engaged in the game,” he says. “In amateur baseball, you’re the only person on the field being paid, and you might as well do a good job,” he adds.
Being an umpire has its fair share of challenges. “You’re wrong half the time,” he jokes, explaining that the other side always disagrees. And the toughest call, he says, is the balk, a move the pitcher makes to deceive the runner on base.
“It’s an extremely complicated rule that lays out exactly what a balk move is and what a balk move isn’t. My rule of thumb when I umpiring is, if it looks weird, it’s probably a balk,” Biagioli says.
The job carries other risks — like getting beamed. “You have to anticipate where the ball’s going to go, you have to react appropriately, and you have to make sure you stay out of the way of the play,” he says.
Being an umpire is as physically demanding as being a player. “It’s tough on your joints, tough on your neck, and the equipment you’re wearing is heavy,” Biagioli explains.
“If you’re doing home plate, you want to get in a position to properly call the pitch, and that’s a low position,” he says. During a high school game, that’s approximately 200 pitches; for a men’s league, it’s closer to 240.
In February, meetings start for the Wisconsin Umpires Association, and Biagioli pitches for new umpires a couple hours each week. “That starts to get my arm in shape and body moving in the right direction,” he says.
To stay in shape, Biagioli rides the elliptical and weightlifts on a regular basis. “I work heavily on my arms because when my arm goes, I will stop playing baseball,” he says.
It’s hard to imagine Biagioli ever truly retiring from baseball because it’s more than a game to him.
“You develop some great friendships — some of my best friends from Pewaukee are my best friends because I played baseball with them,” he says.
It also serves as a connection to an earlier time, when he was 4 years old, learning to play catch. “Whenever I go out there (on the field), it’s a connection between me and my grandfather,” he says.
The basic rules of the game have remained unchanged for more than a hundred years, and Biagioli has an undying love for America’s pastime. “It’s a pastoral game, it doesn’t have a clock. You go out, and you play,” he says. It’s as simple as that.