ELGIN, Ill. - When pitcher Dave Shortz sticks out his glove and knocks a high chopper into the air, all second baseman Paul Dobkowski can do is wait for it to come down. When it does, it lands right in his brand-new glove. And, luckily, the guy who hit it looks like he is running in sand.
Mr. Dobkowski, 50, who resumed playing softball this year after taking 15 years off, is part of a growing and graying group of men — and a few women — playing at an age when their fathers and grandfathers long since had put away their mitts.
“It’s like riding a bike, I’m telling you,” said Mr. Dobkowski, a salesman who appeared to fall off that bike a few minutes later when another grounder left him sitting in a cloud of infield dust.
Senior Softball-USA estimates that, in the past eight years, the number of players across the country 50 and older has nearly doubled to 2.8 million. The number of organized teams that travel hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to play in tournaments has doubled from 500 to about 1,000 in the past five years, said R.B. Thomas, executive director of the International Senior Softball Association, one of 10 national senior softball groups.
“We have some 80-and-older teams now in the country,” he said. “Older people are staying more active, and senior softball fits into a lifestyle for seniors.”
With more and more baby boomers pushing their way past 50, senior softball enthusiasts expect the game to keep growing.
Senior softball is so popular that it has done the seemingly impossible: prompted grown men to lie about being older than they really are.
“We had a little scandal where one team out in California had three players on their team that weren’t 50,” Mr. Thomas said. “They got banned for a considerable period of time.”
The play can be so competitive that some players have been known to pull stunts one would not expect of grandfathers — such as a Virginia man who wanted to play in Florida so much that he bought a house there to sidestep a residency rule.