Senior Scene by Buster Grimm - Review of Rules and Thrills
By Softball West
The senior playing rule which has worked the best this year in our local league is the ‘Runner From Home' rule: Simply stated, a substitute runner can begin behind home plate for the batter and run to the base(s) for him when the ball is hit. Several times this first half of the playing season, we have seen players who can still do everything but run. They can adequately play defense in the right position and their hitting is just as solid as ever. They, for whatever reason, just can't run. This rule solves the dilemma of not allowing a willing, normally ardent softball nut to function in a senior game. No more staying away from the ballpark, or even worse, sit on the bench and just watch. This slight adjustment to the running rules has liberated these ‘game gimpers' into the side door of the game.
A case in point is my 60+ team, the Gezzers, who have an outstanding third baseman, Jim Snyder. He had all five elements working smoothly for an entire season and then_whoops_a badly torn knee took him out over the winter and into this spring. With the aid of some medical gyrations he is able to come back onto the field, but without the runner from home rule, there is no way he could bat. Now he can slug away and another player on the roster can run for him. It suits everybody on both teams just fine.
A flip side to all of this maneuvering to aid in a hampered runner's case is seen in one of our more aggressive, ancient players. He is playing in the 60+ division, as that is as high as our league can presently stretch the age divisions. Coston Fredrick, is 74 years of age, and is literally becoming better at the game with each passing season. His play at second base has improved dramatically. He can pivot and fire to first on a double play just like the "youngsters". But to best watch Coston is when he is batting and running. After he viciously lines a shot up the third base line (he learned his technique after a few years and now lives off of it), he tears out of the box and stampedes down the line. He has gotten much faster as he consistently works out at the gym three times a week. We have actually moved 'Cos' up in the batting order. This is a thrill to see the retired professor Fredrick coming up to bat, whacking the ball on a line and then racing to first. If occasion allows, he wheels around the gained base and sprints to the next as if a bear were chasing him. The amazing thrill of all this is seeing a guy in his 70's excel in a sport that is very demanding, both physically and mentally. It is an encouragement to every player in the senior softball league. He refuses to use a courtesy runner and now we just leave him alone. Valor, inspiration and thrills are what you see out there with this player who is writing his own rules.
Often, the thrill of competition is best seen in the personal triumphs of others. Excelling now and then, seeing the tenacity of 'keeping on keeping on' can inspire those others who play along side of these special kind of dynamos. It's really something to see these players that will give it their all, even when using a special rule will allow them to reach these goals, if they chose to do so. Pick them up while you're out there with your words and support. That's the thrill that can be lived every moment we're out there in the uniform of a ‘Dream'. And when that bursting and mighty deed of actually attaining an almost super-achievement pops up, it is no longer a dream-clothed thrill, it's US_who we really are on the inside shining out. Many seniors live for attaining something beyond reason, some goal and triumph that only they have described on the inside. When it shows on the outside to the rest of us, it's truly thrilling, just awe-inspiring. This game offers that opportunity to us seniors: Use the rules, if needed, but never lose sight in the fact that the thrills are not in levels of skill, but in pure and simple personal achievements. In the little ways, it's always still out there, on our ‘Aging Field of Youthful Dreams'.
A rule that the senior softball world has tried but does not seem to have caught fire is allowing the pitcher to release the ball to the plate from further behind the pitcher's plate then the book rule allows. It sounds good enough, designed for the pitcher's safety from those occasional line drives that can seriously wound a pitcher. Basically, he can go back a comfortable distance and then chuck it from there. Sounds like a great way to solve the problem of being too close to a batter's smacked sphere. But here in our local senior league, it has not been employed at all. None of the pitchers in any of the divisions seem to care for it. And since this special rule has only to do with one player per team, there just wasn't any stir about it. Why is this innovative adaptation not used very much? I believe that it has to do with simple familiarity. Pitchers are used to concentrating on a very finely tuned zone in which to guide the ball. Even being one foot back of this physical and mental starting point when you do throw that slippery sphere can cause visual and motor-control fits. It is a game of inches. After years of practicing getting that hard to control round ball even close to where it is supposed to, is just too much to start messing with the exact distance already marked off in mind and motor control. I've survived this long out here; I'll be all right doing what I'm doing! But you do have to admire on the other hand, the nerve of senior pitchers who have this safety opportunity and opt to continue placing themselves in danger's way out there. Part of the game, they will tell you. If you can't handle the pressure of constantly being on the alert for a comebacker_don't pitch!
Some rules are tried and adopted immediately to stay around for always. Let's keep searching for those ways to make our game more safe, more accessible and most of all, more thrilling. Encourage your teammates and strengthen your team in the little ways. This is how thrills get born-one at a time. There is probably one for you waiting out there in your next game. Go get it!