Summer has come, and gone as quickly as she came. The air feels cooler and the leaves have a hint of fall color to them. Yes, autumn is here — signaling the end of the summer sports season and the start of school athletics and after-school programs. The boys of summer are gone, except for one last contingent: Old Tymer’s softball.
Their summer league came to a close the week prior to Labor Day, but with about a month of good weather ahead, the Old Tymer’s over-70 softball division will start a fall league that will meet every Monday, at 9 a.m. behind the M&T bank in Millsboro.
The over-70 division has had some difficulty recruiting enough ballplayers to play regularly, and just the week before they were able to play their first game. Their division’s slow beginning has its roots in the area, where organizer Roger Howard started the over-55 league, upon his permanent arrival in 1994.
Week to week, they were unsure if they would play a game or just toss the ball around and take batting practice. However, slowly but surely, the league began to grow. The combination of advertisements and word of mouth has caused the over-55 league to brim with eager ballplayers and now they have a very competitive league.
Many players in their 70s still play in the over-55 league but at this juncture are unconcerned with winning or losing and more interested in having fun and enjoying the company of friends.
Bob Stack, 76, was a great ballplayer in his prime and had a chance to play professional baseball a few times in those years.
Stack and others still compete on a national level and have earned numerous medals for softball and other sports, but for the most part they’ve had their fill of competitive play and now only want to keep doing what has made them happy for so many years.
“Playing at this age gives you a new perspective,” said Stack. “We’ve all played enough competitive ball in our time, and right now it just feels good to be able to play at this age.”
“When you’re 45 you think, come 70 years old, that you’ll be in a wheelchair. So I’m so blessed and thankful to be able to get out and stay active,” said Howard.
New players coming to play for the first time might be confused when they first arrive because the atmosphere at the diamond is so relaxed. Rather than a super-competitive win first attitude: players exude a barbershop, shooting-the-breeze, good-natured-ribbing style of play. If you closed your eyes, you might think they were kicking a few back with some friends in a garage somewhere.
“The camaraderie amongst the guys is great. The guys cheer for the other team when they make a great play,” continued Stack.
Not everyone who plays in the league is the best athlete anymore or maybe ever was, but the common thread that binds them is that they want to stay active and they are all similar ages.
Morrie Feirburg was one player that didn’t fit the best-athlete bill but made up for it with attitude and hustle. Feirburg’s contribution to the game has been immortalized — every year the Old Tymer’s league issues the Morrie Award.
The award is a 12th-player award that acknowledges the moral support that an individual provides.
Having fun and enjoying the game is precisely what league organizer Roger Howard had in mind when he began the over-70 division this past summer.
“We didn’t want a league that was so structured,” said Howard. “At this age, you want to be able to enjoy yourself.”
Howard has implemented a few rule modifications to cater to the age of his players. Base runners cannot be thrown out from the outfield. There are two home plates, to avoid collisions. And the first base is twice as big for the same reason.
Recreational options have increasingly been created for growing number of retirees in the area. While some of them move south to other vacation homes in the colder months, many do not. And winter on the shore can be a desolate place. It’s almost as if the wind comes to the shore for winter vacation.
For those unaccustomed to such isolation, adjusting can be difficult. But Old Tymer’s softball has given many new residents the opportunity to meet people as they start their new life.
Pete Rendina moved from Philadelphia to the Mallard Lakes community near Fenwick Island eight years ago, and adjusting from the hustle and bustle of a big city to a virtual ghost town was tough.
“My wife and I moved down here after retirement and she wanted to live down here permanently. The first winter down here, we were the only people who were living on our block,” said Rendina.
“The next year I saw an ad in the paper for a softball league and joined. I had no pressure of a job and it improved our social lives. (Now) we (Rendina and his wife, along with some friends) go to Harpoon Hanna’s some nights, and parties. These guys are a great bunch of guys. I’m so glad I stayed down here through that first winter.”
“It’s gotten to be a fraternity,” added Howard. “We bowl together, go to VFW dances, and our wives have become good friends. It’s great because I never would’ve met any of these people before without softball.”
Howard, Rendina, Stack and other local residents, as well as Old Tymer’s up north, will combine efforts to play in the Senior Olympics this weekend. Delaware will be represented in the over-65, over-70 and 75-and-up divisions.
The Old Tymer’s over-55 softball league will play this fall at the Dagsboro Church of God, every Tuesday and Friday at 9 a.m.