The Retired Boys of Summer didn’t let a pandemic or a small rain interrupt them.
They had already taken a break from their season, similar to most professional leagues, as a player had a positive test for the coronavirus.
When the first official game of the new year arrived on January 4th, there were around 90 players in seven teams Golden Years Senior Softball League were ready to go, drizzle damn it.
“I’m not as good as I used to be, but I’m alive,” said my 83-year-old father, Sy Ellin, as he wrapped a support belt around his waist like a corset. He has played for 60 years, 25 years as an enthusiastic participant in the Golden Years League in Florida and with EMass Senior Softball In Boston.
The virus can rage, but in Senior leagues Softball is an important lifeline across the country.
According to the International Senior Softball AssociationThe United States has 5,000 teams of players aged 50 and over, around 1,800 of whom take part in tournaments.
Many of these tournaments have continued to attract dedicated athletes over the past year. End of January the World championship tournament, co-sponsored by ISSA and played in Tampa, Florida, attracted 172 teams.
“The virus stuff is out there and we still managed to get it to 172,” said RB Thomas Jr., 79, ISSA executive director.
On my father’s team in Boston, the catchers, batters, and umpires are required to wear masks, and players are only allowed to use their own bats. But as my father pointed out, “it seems strange since we all handle the ball.”
In Florida, however, the vast majority of players go maskless. The negligence had consequences: The league officially closed three times for two weeks because the players tested positive.
When I saw a game in Boca Raton in early January, few players wore masks, although my father wore one throughout the game.
Baseball was an escape, but talk of the virus still circulated around the bases.
“You got the vaccine?”
Apr. 25, 2021, 5:13 p.m. ET
“I keep trying, but every time I go to the site it crashes.”
“The Democrats keep the vaccine for political reasons.”
“That’s a conspiracy theory!”
Then there was movement on home plate. “I need a runner!” shouted batsman Carl Slutz, who at 86 is one of the oldest players in the league. It was a good day for Slutz (“It’s pronounced ‘Slootz’,” he said). If he got a hit in that stroke it would be 5 for 5.
“It’s been a long time since that happened,” he said.
He hit a grounder. His prize runner landed on first base, but another player was forced on second base. Slutz put his palms up. “That’s how it works,” he said.
My father was next. He swung. Striiiiike. Another strike. Two balls. Eventually the bat struck the ball with one stroke and it trotted first. The bases have been loaded.
“Fine, Sy!” his teammates called.
My father was always athletic. Trophies from the 1950s onwards are on my parents’ shelves: shelves for football, tennis, basketball, baseball, table tennis. I suspect the best day of his life wasn’t when one of his children was born, but when he got a hole in one in golf.
“He can run, he can hit. He’s a really good outfield player. “ said his friend and teammate Rich Bloom, 73, who heads and referees the EMass league and is also a referee and player in Florida. “Some people, you can see they never played as kids.”
Not my father.
Sport has been the focus of attention for eight decades. He has been voted Most Valuable Player a number of times. He was out in the field the day after one of the worst moments in his life when my sister died. The camaraderie and the oxygen were more critical than ever. Besides, what would be the point of staying home?
“It won’t change anything,” he said. “I didn’t play well, let’s just say that.”
It reminded me of something that Neil Lewis, 87, one of the Golden Years Commissioners, told me last year. “When you get old, if you just lay around and watch TV, you’re going to go to hell in plain English,” he said. “You have to keep your thoughts going.”
A few months later, Lewis suffered a debilitating stroke.
That Monday morning, my father’s team won 17:11 and moved up to first place. The playoffs are scheduled for April; If God willing, they will actually take place this year. Hopefully everyone can do it.
But it is a strange thing to watch the infallible hesitation. Bloom remembered the time my dad ran for a pop-up and his hearing aid fell out of his ear. The game stopped while everyone was looking for it.
“We have 12 people looking for the hearing aid on the floor,” recalls Bloom. “ON Man says: “I got it!” I think, “Well, that’s good teamwork.”
As a kid I went to almost all of my father’s games, but as an adult I hadn’t seen him play much. In my head he’s still racing through the bases like a young Carl Yastrzemski. (Of course, I’m still 10 years old in my head.) If you don’t have children, the only way to watch the passage of time is to watch your parents age. Compared to other guys his age, my dad is in great shape. And yet.
A few years ago he injured his thumb and then his wrist. His shoulders hurt. Cartilage is missing in one of his knees. Without his hearing aid, the world would be silent. His memory is bad and he knows it. It gets wiped out after a tough game – especially if there is a double header.
My dad estimates his batting average is 0.400, but he’s not sure. And it doesn’t matter. “Some managers keep statistics and some don’t,” he said. “I do not care. What for?
“You are doing your best. It’s not important. Staying active and playing is important. “