Senior Scene by Buster Grimm - 65+ Wonders - Got Us Wondering
By Softball West
Who ARE these guys? Well, basically they are a group of ballplayers who have been playing in the senior division for over eight years here in Boise who have taken the bold move to be the only 65+ team in the 60+ division. Furthermore, half of them are 70 years of age or older. What would inspire this squad of wise old-ballers to place themselves in such a precarious position? Part of that answer is found in a gutsy-part of each guy that is willing to step up and help their division and their senior league in the long range. Plus, it gives some of the guys a chance to play that otherwise might not have been picked up onto one of the existing 60+ teams.
This is what brought it all about, the urgent need to get a 65+ division for the blooming group of players who are well past 65. Presently, there are six teams (counting our 65+ team) in the division and within that bunch, at least one-third are 65+ or close to it. We NEED a 65+ division to accommodate the bulging growth. The managers of the 60+ division have met over this problem all year long, even going back to last fall and this seems to be the only viable solution: To first of all get a manager that will tackle the job, then work with the other 60+ team managers concerning some special rules regarding the 65+ team and then doing the leg-work to make it happen. The goal is to get this FIRST team introduced and then build from there. So far, what has happened with this plan?
First, the manager, Ed Riggs, gathered a dozen age-eligible vets together and then began hammering them into a unified squad. Ed says that it was not hard to do, as all of them had been playing for years in the senior league anyway and they were glad to give this innovative idea a shot. Next, the 60+ managers met together and worked out some special rules for these senior players. Here is what they came up with: They can play with eleven on defense and not be limited, as the other teams, to scoring only five runs per inning until the last inning.
The simplicity met with all the managers' approval and off we went. The name of this team is AAA Legends, which led to a lot of interesting acronyms around the division. Anyway, with a sponsor and an intense, competent manager, the team jumped in by having several pre-season practices in the early spring. We all watched with mixed emotions. Of course, we all wanted them to succeed to a certain extent, so that something could happen to begin this much needed 65+ division, but on the other hand, we didn't want them to be TOO good this time around---I mean we didn't want THESE guys beating us.
The most unique element of senior ball is its age divisions. Without it it's just a hodge-podge of old guys, letting luck have a lot to do with any game's outcome. Also, it can be dangerous to those seniors who are more than 5 years older than the younger ones, or even 10 or more years older. The motor skills just slow down enough to not match up with the quicker and harder skills of those "younger" players. If a player is much more than five years in age than those younger players, he becomes a detriment to his team-this is a hard fact. The age divisions MAKE the games more or less equal and, as in all of softball, that is what we are looking for. So, the step to attempt a way to break into another higher division is very necessary. Don't forget, there is always that spiraling factor of some of the ancient warriors being dropped off of teams because they just are not wanted anymore-a tragic but truthful fact in any softball league.
Ed Riggs is over 70 himself, so he is keenly aware of all of these problems brought up by not having a division able to accommodate the "older" players. He has been around the Boise senior league since its inception in '98 and has been managing for about that long. This first year, his 65+ team has been surprisingly rewarding for him, and for his teammates. In the first half of the season (ten games) they went 5-5. This is definitely acceptable, especially considering another special twist that the 60+ division has encountered: Two of the teams are much stronger than the others, and those two teams consistently beat the other four teams.
Riggs mentioned that the special rule which allows his team to use eleven players on defense helped quite a bit, as having that extra player out there (mostly in the outfield, sometimes just directly behind second base) helped stop those short hits or limited base runners from advancing very far. The five run rule "over-ride" only kicked in a few times but it did help, as they did have a couple of big innings in a few games. With the AAA Legends success this season, it has already encouraged the concept of another team to get a start-up squad together for a 65+ team next year.
Riggs said that the general feeling on his team this year is very positive. The players are happy with the games and are playing well. The main up-shot is that the guys are all able to go out there and play. They are up for the games and it is great to see so many 70's guys out there enjoying fairly close games.
One of the high points of their first half was that they turned a triple play. It was with men on first and second and no one out: A hot one-hopper to the third baseman, who touched the base, fired an on-target laser to second base, then over to first base for the astounding, finishing touch. I was there, as it was against my team, the Gezzers. But you know what, we were glad for them, we really were and after the game when we all got together, that was the main topic of conversation. This thing is working for us all; it is inspiring to be part of others' success somehow. And as we have said, someday we will all be there at their age level. Encouragement can sure make step climbing easier. For a brief time after that game (which they did end up beating us, by the way) we all somehow felt as if we were on the same team. Is that what it is all about?
Another hair-raising episode that occurred for these brash oldsters was when they almost won a game from one of the two strong teams. That's what we are talking about! That was a tight game all the way and when the AAA squad reached that level, they truly became of age. All of this, in their first outing ever! I can only imagine the feelings of elation in the AAA dugout after that game. They definitely will be around for a while now. Things like this help inspire the others who are 65+ to get onto a similar team next season.
"It's hard to say what our strongest point is," said Riggs, "Sometimes it's the hitting, we all just seem to hit it where they ain't and other times it's our defense. I see those guys scoop it all up and throw like 50 year olds. It's just softball. Sometimes it all flows together and it looks and feels so right. Of course it goes the other way too, but it does that for all of the teams. It's just softball, you never know what to expect."
As an outside observer, I can say that there is one sure thing to expect when you play those guys. Guts, not giving up and a little bit of extra hustle. That is something these oldsters have shown us. They have learned that in all of their years of playing to keep an "up" attitude; this helps you stay together, to keep focused on the coming play, to show your teammates that you are still with them and pulling for them, with all that you've got. This can win games. My team saw it. Those old guys beat us both times they played us the first half and we were half glad for them. They are bringing a lot not only to their game, but also to all of our game, and us whenever we are play against them.
One interesting fact is that Riggs said that they don't employ the courtesy runner very often. This means that somehow these guys are keeping in such good shape that there is no pressing need for a runner to sub for a batsman who has reached base. Can it really be possible that the older a player gets, the stronger he gets? Bring it on!
Riggs says that the future for his team looks very promising. After all, they are playing in the 2nd half of the season now, with an above .500 record and all of the guys are showing up and he is sure that they will all be back next year. Life is good when you take a chance that pans out. Could this really be the beginning of a 65+ division in our league for the near future? For our fall senior league (eight games), we decided to let the two strong teams play one another half of the games and then play each of the other teams once. In this way the win-loss record would only count for the upper division's games against each other and the win-loss record of the lower division teams against each other. Thus, only the record against teams in its own bracket would determine first place. Playing against the strong teams only once per go round is a relief to the lower teams and this way we can fight it out among ourselves to see who is the "best". It added some spice and a bit more contentment to those of us on lower division teams.
The next pioneer team of the 65+ division actually got its start by one factor: One man stepped up and said that he would manage this team. This is what it takes. Without one driving force, the engine can't get started down the track. The other 60+ managers will help him, but in the end it is up to him to do the details-and they can string out like entrails, if you know what I mean. A little bit of ummps, a lot of co-operation from other managers and the eligible guys stepping up to have the courage to join an expansion team-this spells success for an entire senior league in bringing about the next safe haven for us all. Another upper age division, where we can comfortably play against players our own age.
Now in the long run, isn't THIS what it's all about?