- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

Allan Winer stopped to admire his single dropping over the third baseman’s head. The 84-year-old catcher was in no hurry to run the 65 feet to first base. That’s a job for a younger man, in this case a pinch runner in his 70s.

“That was a good hit,” said Mr. Winer, beaming under his Red Sox cap.

In this Montgomery County Recreation Department league, old age isn’t a state of mind, it’s a requirement.

Nearly 60 men and women meet each Monday morning during the season at Olney Manor Recreation Park for doubleheaders played among four teams. The men must be at least 70 years old and the women at least 50 — age requirements many meet with years to spare.

They are the children of the Great Depression. They fought in wars, raised families and retired, and now they are having fun in their golden years. Some play on several softball teams; others compete in basketball, volleyball, racquetball and bowling. Golf is for the less energetic folks.

“I tried golf for a few years,” said Ron Slatkin, 73. “Five hours on a golf course? That was the end of that. The game is so boring.”

The softball contests have the feel of the old gang reuniting at a neighborhood sandlot after dinner. Their ties are more generational than geographic. Common memories of decades long past bind them.

They remember New York Giants manager Connie Mack’s real name: Cornelius McGillicuddy. They listened to the 1944 World Series on the radio, when the Baltimore Orioles were still the St. Louis Browns, trying to beat the crosstown rival Cardinals.

And, the competitive juices still flow.

On this day, Cougars third baseman Gene Daniels hit a grand slam in the final inning to tie the score.

“Do we still like to win?” asked first baseman Ed Milligan, 83, after another run two batters later gave the Cougars a 14-13 victory. “Oh, yeah.”

But they don’t take it too seriously. Jaguars first baseman Ed Guillette dropped his bat and gestured to the pitcher after an inside pitch, prompting laughter from both teams.

Ground balls slipped past idle infielders, and second base wasn’t always covered. And with 12 players on defense, overlapping areas of responsibility can prove confusing.

“People can still do things even when they get a little older, even if it’s not perfect,” said Tigers coach Joe Rostkowski, 77. “The idea is to have some fun and get some exercise.”

The senior division once was for players 50 and older. Steadily, the minimum age requirement rose to 55, 60, 65 and now 70.

No group tracks the number of these “super senior” recreation teams across the country. However, Senior Softball USA — one of a handful of governing bodies — lists 52 touring “all-star” teams of 75-and-older players and nine of 80-and-older.

R.B. Thomas, founder of the International Seniors Softball Association, touts Manassas as the “senior softball capital of the world.” The group played host to 83 teams in a tournament in Manassas last weekend, including a 65-and-older club from Japan.

“There are some people at 70 who are still remarkable athletes,” Mr. Thomas said. “Down in Richmond a couple years ago, I saw a player hit the ball in the gap and come into third with a standing slide like they do in the major leagues. I said, ‘Can you believe this guy?’ ”

Montgomery County’s recreation department expects its 70-and-older league to double to eight teams in the next few years — and to grow further as baby boomers get older.

“We’re finding growth in those age categories,” said Robin Riley, an MCRD division chief. “More people in the last 10 years that haven’t played since they were younger are coming back.”

Some hadn’t played softball in a half century when they joined the league. But the feel for the game lingers.

“If you know the game, you can play it forever,” Mr. Guillette said.

Still, concessions are made to age: There are two home plates to prevent runners from colliding with batters. Sliding is prohibited, and players are allowed to overrun any base without being tagged out. The juiced bats known for turning pop-ups into home runs are banned to prevent line drives from hurting slow-reacting infielders.

There is some risk of injury — one player recently required stitches in his hand after catching a line drive — but players who have overcome heart disease, cancer, joint replacements or the loss of a spouse typically can handle anything on the field.

“Half of them can’t hear you,” said Jaguars infielder Susan Lake, 56. “Everybody has an ailment or a replacement. I just hope when I get [to be the men’s] age I can do as much as they do.”

Mr. Winer was so convinced he was going to die in the assault on the beaches of Anzio, Italy, in 1944 during World War II that he quit writing in his diary. What was the point?

Sixty-one years later, he played softball on a gorgeous morning, enjoying the moment with his teammates.

“A lot of people are thankful they can play another day,” Panthers coach Bill McVicker said.

And another season. After all, fall softball starts in September.

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