Passion drives players in 80 and older division
By Scott Oxarart
Tiodize D99 infielder Wayne Ellithorpe stopped a hard-hit grounder, sprinted toward second base, stomped his foot on the bag and gunned the runner out at first to complete the unassisted double play.
Ellithorpe was up to bat the ensuing inning and blasted an inside-the-park grand slam. Not bad for an 80-year-old. His team, Tiodize D99, won the the 80-plus division of the SSUSA's Rock 'n Reno Challenge Cup on June 2 in Sparks, Nev.
"At our age, it's just nice to be out here," Ellithorpe said. "We're grateful. We still enjoy it, that's the main thing."
In an 80 and older division, everything is a little different and modified to keep everyone happy. Each team puts 11 players on defense with an added rover position parked behind second base. There's also a five-run-rule each inning in all senior play. Outside of the rules, the main emphasis is getting some exercise and having fun – which generally involves harmless bickering between teams and praise or demise of the current weather conditions.
The round-robin bracket had four teams: Scrap Iron from Colorado, Redwood City CA. Chiefs 80's and Northwest 80's from Washington.
Tiodize D-99 is airplane degreaser company that has sponsored the team for the last 12 years. The team is based in California, but has players from both the Golden State and Arizona and together they've won three of the last four 80 and over World Championships. The team was formed by Spider Pitzer. He couldn't be with the team during the tournament because of health concerns. But interim co-manager Jerry Simon called Pitzer to inform him that his team took home the crown.
"We gave him a call after we won and we put him on speaker phone and he was so excited," said Simon, who pitched in the New York Yankees minor league system from 1947-56. "He's the greatest guy in the entire world."
John Rawlings, a minister from San Diego, is the oldest player on the team at 86. But despite their age, the players still have the hand-eye coordination to rip the ball to the fence and the toughness to stay in the game despite being hit by a hard line drive, which pitcher Bob Warmack did after getting hit in the thigh. Shortstop Jay Lavarway broke his thumb during the tournament diving for a grounder. Most of the guys push the limit of the body and constantly test the threshold.
"I'll play until I can't walk," Simon said.
VIEW FROM BEHIND HOME PLATE
The umpire in the game was 32-year-old Kat Carpenter, who's umpired for four years. The men are on their best behavior when around Carpenter, constantly treating her with respect and praising her for calls that go their way. It's also because she won't take any crap.
"I've learned over time that if you enjoy it like they do, it makes it fun for everybody," Carpenter said. "A lot of them just say ‘I'm happy to be here. I'm just happy to be alive.'"
Carpenter said that the biggest difference between 80 and older leagues and others is the passion.
"Sometimes, they've got 12 chiefs in the dugout," she said. "They don't just have one coach. They have 12. And that can be challenging."
CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY
If old age has taught them anything, it's that softball is about consistency. The players don't hit it to the fence every time, in fact the outfielders play about 15 yards past the infield, but they do hit hard line drives nearly every at bat. The swings are easy and fluid, simple and graceful, pure and engrained. That's the reason the senior tournaments have run rules, not because the players have trouble on defense, it's because they hit gaps with accuracy.
"When you play for so long, you can put it pretty much where ever you want," Simon said.
The Tiodize D99 squad took a team picture at Field 2 of Shadow Mountain Park after claiming their trophy. It was like a blast to the past for some, bringing back memories of younger years when they were kids taking a knee for the photo. This time around, some needed help back up. But the one thing that was the same: the smiles and the gratification of taking home a trophy.