FORT WAYNE – Every Monday during the summer, retired softball athletes gather at Fort Wayne Turners to relive the glory days, but it comes at a price.
The men’s senior softball league is home to athletes who are past their primes, but the only things stopping them from playing the game they love are their joints.
We just can’t run like we used to, nine-year veteran Ron Lenwell said, but we have braces on every limb so that helps.
The man who runs the senior league, Jim Baker, has also played for 10 years. Pizza Hut and Standard Pattern Co. sponsor his team, which plays to win just like the eight other teams.
These guys were all athletes back in their day, Baker said, which makes this league very competitive. It’s just like regular softball, just slower.
The rules have been tailored to best suit the ailing joints, while still maintaining the competitive spirit of the game. Players can overrun bases, and innings are limited to five runs per team so nobody is out in the field too long.
Even with the slower pace, players are reminded of their age come Tuesday morning.
You realize very quickly that your 16-year-old brain took over your 60-something-year-old body for a few hours the night before, Lenwell said.
For many of the old-timers, playing softball once a week is a way to get out of the house and keep up with friends made on the diamond.
Lenwell has played softball with teammate Brian Netherland since his days in high school and continued playing with him in travel leagues.
I’ve known Brian for most of my life, and he’s always been great to play with, Lenwell said.
Nobody in the league is a superstar, but there are some players who have had more experience than others.
Bruce Miller, a Fort Wayne native who played for the San Francisco Giants from 1973 to ’76, has been playing in the senior league for 12 years.
The game becomes enjoyable again, you can compete again, and it’s very social, Miller said. Before and after games, players will often heckle one another, Miller explained, but all in good fun.
Having only nine teams is unusual for the league. There used to be 10, but one team quit midway through the season. Even then, that number is small compared with decades ago.
When I first heard of this league, I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough to compete. After playing for a while I realized skill level doesn’t matter, Lenwell said.
Though it is too late to sign up for this season, Lenwell is always encouraging more seniors to stay active by playing softball.
We should be very blessed and fortunate we are out here getting to play every Monday, Lenwell said, playing through the pain is still worth every minute with these guys.
These summer nights will soon come to a close as the double-elimination tournament begins Monday, where the nine teams will compete for bragging rights for next summer.
For more information on playing in the softball leagues at Fort Wayne Turners, call Jim Markland at 260-580-3280.