WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - Shortstop Don Basinsky picked up a ground ball, stepped on second base and underhanded a throw to first to complete a double play at Rockwood Field.
You’d never guess that the Holden resident is 79 years old. Does anybody tell Basinsky that he’s crazy to be still playing softball at his age?
“No,” Basinky said. “They just say I’m crazy. Everybody says that. I tell them I have brains I haven’t used yet and they believe it.”
Basinsky is quite a character, and Worcester Senior Softball is filled with them. They’re true old-timers who want to compete and share a few laughs. The league is open to anyone age 55 or older. Many of the players are in their 70s and 80s.
At many games, Basinsky wears Superman socks with streamers attached to them, but not the day a reporter interviewed him at a game.
“This is the first time I’ve washed them in three years,” he explained. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to get them off.”
Each time Basinsky steps to the plate, he points his left hand toward the outfield fence like Babe Ruth once did. Basinsky said his wife, Isabelle, likes that he plays because it gets him out of the house.
“I haven’t talked to her the last three months. I didn’t want to interrupt her,” he deadpanned.
Worcester Senior Softball plays a game each Tuesday and Thursday morning at Rockwood Field. Usually, enough players show up to field three teams, so they rotate at bat, in the field and sitting out so they don’t overdo it. The travel team plays doubleheaders throughout the region on Mondays or Wednesdays.
Ray Lauring of Worcester formed Worcester Senior Softball in 1991 after playing in Florida. At 88, he’s the oldest player in the league, a year older than Dudley Bowker of Worcester.
During a recent game, Lauring answered a call on his cell - while he was playing in the outfield. He had to tell the caller to hold on a minute because a fly ball was hit in his direction. After he caught the fly for the third out, he resumed his phone conversation.
“We do a lot of unusual things around here,” he said.
But they can still play. Shortstop Ralph “Fuzzy” Fusaro still has soft hands and a strong arm at age 81.
“When Fuzzy goes in the hole, makes the play and throws to first base,” said Rich McMahon, 67, of Worcester, “you take it for granted. But I say, ‘Wait a minute, he’s 81.’ He makes it look easy.”
Former Worcester police chief Ed Gardella, 74, calls Fusaro “Brooks Robinson.” Fusaro can hit as well. In a recent game, he lined a home run over the left-field fence.
When the players sit on the bench wearing their shorts, you can see the scars running up and down many of their knees from replacement surgery.
Carl Forsman, 78, of Hampton, N.H., has two artificial knees and an artificial left shoulder, but he extended his arm parallel to the ground and kicked his hand with his right leg and then his left leg to show his flexibility.
“My back is ready to go at any time,” Forsman said. “I don’t know if today’s my last day playing or the next time is. I will keep playing as long as I can.”
Gene Genese, 72, of Paxton has had three knee replacements, including two on his left knee, and has an artificial hip. His surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Metzmaker, signed Genese’s glove when he informed him he planned to resume playing softball.
Bill Seaman, 73, of Spencer figures his Spalding glove is about 45 years old. Frank Birch, 73, of Worcester and Amadeu “Juni” Pavini, 80, of Worcester estimate their gloves are about 50 years old. So their gloves are older than some guys who have quit playing softball because they thought they were too old.
Art Brockelman, 81, of Lunenburg has been using the same Wilson glove since his golden retriever found it and plopped it on his welcome mat 25 years ago. Brockelman bought a new glove about five years ago, but he keeps it in his trunk because he prefers the old, well-worn one. His glove represents what Worcester Senior Softball is about all - there’s still a lot of life in these old gloves and old-time players.
Pavini had a hip replacement in March, but resumed playing softball two months later.
“My wife’s not too happy about it,” Pavini said. “She thinks I’m going to get hurt, but my daughters and my grandchildren are all for it.”
His daughter is an intensive care physician in Vermont and she paid for the uniforms for the Old News Bears, the 75-and-older travel team. That team won the Cape Cod Classic two years ago.
“I love the game,” Pavini said, “and you can’t be sitting on the couch all the time.”
Gardella wore his Yankees T-shirt and his Yankees cap with “Yankees” written in Hebrew across the front of it. Even the floor mats in his car say Yankees. One of his fondest memories was taking part in a Yankees fantasy in Tampa, Fla., many years ago. He called it his own Field of Dreams.
“This is kind of the same thing,” Gardella said of Worcester Senior Softball. “It’s kind of the Field of Dreams here. One of the guys said, ‘The older I get, the better I was.’ Whether we were good athletes or not, we all come here and compete. Guys still run out ground balls.”
Most of them run out grounders faster than David Ortiz does.
“Guys still try to make a play. If you don’t there are people who will scold you,” Gardella said. “You’d better at least try. It’s OK if you don’t catch it, it’s OK if you didn’t get a hit, but you’d better at least try.”
Birch has played in the league for 10 years.
“It’s not what people think,” Birch said. “They think it’s a bunch of old men with walkers with tennis balls on the bottom of them, but it’s really good softball.
“It’s also a really good time.”
“The teasing never ends here,” Gardella said.
“I’m the only Obama man,” McMahon said. “We have big arguments.”
Bobby Docimo, 73, of Auburn and all the pitchers pitch from behind a batting practice screen, but he got hit with a batted ball in the ankle the other day.
Sister Anne Marie Wildenhain, 84, who still works part-time at St. Richard of Chichester in Sterling, is the only woman who plays.
“When I first came, I said no more dirty language,” she said. “It’s 25 cents every time you swear, but they never give me any money. One guy owes me over 300 bucks.”
Bill Burnham, 85, of Holden plays catcher or right field.
“I just like to play,” Burnham said. “I’m not good at it anymore, but I like to play.”
The automatic sprinklers went off in the infield and the outfield a few times this year, but they kept on playing.
“Nothing stops us from playing except snow,” said Leo Quinn, 83, of Worcester.
The players had to yell to someone who was coaching third base that he was supposed to be batting.
“We all have senior moments about 25 times a day,” Quinn said.
Nearly all of the Worcester Senior Softball players are retired, but not Marshall Chervin. After a recent game, the 78-year-old Shrewsbury resident went home to shower, then headed off to work his shift selling furniture at Bob’s in Natick until 9:30 that night.
“We have a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s nice to be out here.”
After the games, many of the players head to McDonald’s in Tatnuck Square for coffee and, as Gardella put it, to tell lies. They play as long as the weather permits.
“If you show up one day and there’s only seven people, then you say the season is over,” Gardella said.
Then they head to the Saint Gobain gym to play volleyball and basketball throughout the winter. Some get together to bowl.
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