When the Chicago Cubs ended over a century of futility by winning the World Series, I consoled my Northern Ohio Cleveland Indian buddies with the age-old Spring Training maxim that “pitchers-&-catchers report in 14 weeks.” But senior pitchers and catchers and infielders and outfielders already report every Tuesday and Thursday morning through April to the Bay Oaks Recreation Center fields to Play Ball at 10 a.m.
Ed Simons didn’t found the slow-pitch 12-inch softball get-together for men and women age 50 and over, but joined it around 7 years ago and is now the de-facto general manager. “Someone else started it but I keep it going. We are all so appreciative to not only play ball but here at Bay Oaks where they treat us great. It’s an excellent complex.”
As it is still so early in the Snowbird Season, with more players arriving every week, they have 6 or 7 players to a side, and bat two or three times through the order “so we don’t get hurt ourselves running on-&-off the field so often,” Rusty Wood says with a hearty laugh. “Our first motto is ‘don’t hurt yourself!’ There is no sliding, and if you can’t run, you still bat and someone else runs for you.” Because of six on a side this day, it was opposite field out, and the other team provided the catcher. There is a lady or two who plays, and all are welcome, with Ed’s daughter Sue joining the action next week while on vacation.
Pete Frink is a survivor of the bone cancer that cost him his right leg. Nimble on his artificial one, he says that “it’s always a perfect day to play baseball and I sometimes can’t believe I still am. There is something about the game that, no matter what you overcome or go through, still makes you feel like a little kid.”
Hey Batter Batter!
Good-natured chatter – a baseball tradition in a game full of traditions – abounds, with exhorts and cackles such as “bring the heat, Eddie”; “you’re a chick magnet in that Yankee hat”; “get down, get down”; “nice shot”; it’s gonna drop”; “third base – you got him”; and “bases loaded for Howie!” All the players laugh and smile, making the perfect Southwest Florida sky this early Tuesday seem all the more bright and cheery. “We always have a perfect day,” beams Ed, echoing Pete and sounding like a Chamber of Commerce president – “just another beautiful day in Paradise!” Rusty chuckles that “we play until the sweat touches the button on top of Ed’s baseball cap!”
As for me, the teams let me take my first swings in four years and I actually hit the first pitch hard back through the middle, reaching 1st base with a little bit of loose leather help from the shortstop. My time on the bases ended when the next batter hit a force out at 2nd base, but it felt good to have infield dirt on my socks again – Pete is right, you do feel just like a little kid!
My next time up my magic stroke temporarily deserted me. I swung and missed at the first offering, and barely ticked the second. Ed called out that l couldn’t strike out – literally! You remain up taking your cuts no matter how many times until you put the ball in play, but my head still told me “three strikes and you’re out!” I remembered all the way back to my first and basic instruction, taught by my late Dad, to “keep your eye on the ball” and hit the next one hard back up the middle again. This time, though, the pitcher stuck up his glove and snagged it, cutting my final at-bat short but leaving me feeling good I hit the ball hard a second time.
Dirt on Your Socks
Even though there are no formal teams, the players will get new 2016 shirts in the near future. No one keeps score; the idea is to play for the sake of play and exercise and comradery, not competition. Rusty says that “I play all winter long, and will continue to as long as I can walk.” Ed sums it up best by saying that “we play baseball for two hours, drink beer for 2 hours, go home and nap for 2 hours, then get ready for Happy Hour! That to me is a great retirement.”
So is dirt on your socks!
For information or other details call Ed at 248-891-8848 but just come out to Bay Oaks on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and join in on the fun and action. After all, no one is keeping score!