Through the City of Sparks Parks and Recreation Department, many take part in the senior softball league with five separate age divisions. With groups broken up into 50+ 60+, 65+ 70+ and 75+ leagues and the oldest player being Ken Anderson at 86-years-young, there is plenty of playing time available for everyone. When the question of why they still play the game was posed, a quick answer was thrown out.
“Because we don’t know if we’re going to get up in the morning,” Joe Marshon shouted.
Although Marshon may have been joking about why he plays, the majority of answers related a large part of the softball diamond’s draw to the camaraderie.
“It’s just being with the guys,” said Bud Fujii, manager of Casale’s Halfway Club in the 70+ division. “It gets to be like a family. All the teams are about the same. A lot of wives come and a lot of our kids come, grandkids come. It’s great. It’s just nice to come out and see all the guys that are here. Everybody feels better and everybody’s happy.
“It’s just the pleasure of still being able to play. You don’t get the hardcore stuff like you get in the younger leagues. We’re just out here to have fun.”
George Skillicorn, 71-years-old and manager of the 70+ Bobcats, shared the same sentiments.
“Guys are out here because they love the game,” Skillicorn said. “Plus we all like staying active. I just like doing something. You can’t just sit around. You die that way. I’ve been retired now for seven years and you just can’t sit down. You have to keep moving. I bowl twice a week and I play on a 65+ softball tournament team too.”
Tony Pehle, City of Sparks Recreation Supervisor, said Rail City senior citizens have been taking advantage of the leagues for longer than he can remember and continue to do so.
“I couldn’t tell you when it all started. I’ve been doing this for 19 years and they’ve been going strong ever since I started, Pehle said. “I know the senior division originally started with a group of guys just getting together and playing each other and then they came to the city and said, ‘Hey, we want you to organize this.” The city took it from there and added additional divisions. We now have 50+, 60+, 65+, 70+ and 75+. Everyone seems to love it.
“In the 75+ we only have two teams because it’s hard to find that many players in a 75+ division but they’ve all been going strong for years. They’re a great group to work with. We just keep seeing the same faces year after year. Some of them I’ve seen since they were in 50+ and now they’re in 70+, so it’s been a great program for us to continue to serve those senior citizens that want to stay active and continue playing softball.”
While players enjoy their time on the field, that does not mean that they are taking the game less seriously.
“Don’t think we’re not competitive out here,” Skillicorn said. “We’ve got some good ball players. We have guys that can hit hard and play defense. Some guys run better than other guys, like me. I don’t run very well. We want to win, but we don’t get fighting or anything like that. Heck, we know all these guys. I’ve always said if it wasn’t for these other guys playing, we wouldn’t even have a league. People get arguing about something every once in a while, but it’s pretty rare.”
Every once in a while, Skillicorn said he will get someone new on his team that wants to prove their worth, which may not be the best idea.
“I tell guys when they come out, ‘Be careful, don’t hurt yourself.’ Especially the new guys. Five times out of 10 they do end up hurting themselves because they want to show how good they are and they’ll end up popping a hamstring or something. They don’t realize they need to take it easy.”
Taking into consideration the physical strain the game may cause for the older players, Fujii, who has played 50 years of adult softball, said some rules have been changed to accommodate the athletes on the field.
“The rules have been adapted a little bit. You can overrun the bases. You can’t slide. When you’re running to a base, you don’t have to touch the base because the defensive player has the base and the runner has to give way to that player so they don’t collide,” Fujii said. “When you come home, you don’t run to the plate. There’s a line from the corner of the batter’s box to the fence and you have to run to that line. You can’t run toward home plate. The catcher, in order to get you out, has to have his foot on the plate when he catches the ball. We’re just doing everything to try to avoid collisions because if old guys run into each other, something bad is going to happen.”
The fun for the players keeps going off the field for the seniors after games as well. If the players are fortunate enough to avoid any injury by the time the final out is recorded, Fujii said he and his team rewards themselves afterward.
“After the game, win or lose, we will go down to Casale’s Halfway Club and grab a beer or maybe dinner. So it’s always a good time.”