Carolina Senior Sports’ weekly morning pick-up softball games at Park Road Park make an impression on spectators with what is present and what is not.
Men in their 60s and 70s still capable of smashing line drives to all parts of the outfield, stabbing a ground ball to stop a run from scoring, or stretching a double into a triple are likely to be welcomed with a good-natured rib about one’s age, weight, or lack of talent.
But these players have too much fun and are too respectful of one another to allow certain negative aspects to creep into their game, namely criticism of another person’s effort, the need for an umpire, and a disabled list.
“I’ll have to say, when you get to be 80 you get all these aches and pains,” said 80-year-old O.K. Spence, the league’s oldest player. “But the only time they don’t hurt is when I’m out here. It’s a good time. This is more relaxing. I don’t think half the people even know who wins.”
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Carolina Senior Sports was founded in 2007 and has grown into a competitive Tuesday night league with hundreds of players older than 45 years.
The Wednesday morning pick-up games offer another opportunity to play for those who can’t fit the Tuesday games into their schedule or those who believe that their age or health is not conducive to a competitive league or playing at night.
They call the Wednesday gatherings BOOM for Bunch Of Old Men. There are 45 players registered and usually a couple dozen show up each week, some from as far as Asheville and Augusta, South Carolina.
Each week, organizers split participants in to two teams, hoping to keep them fair and balanced. Substitutions are made freely. They don’t use umpires, meaning no one strikes out and safe/out calls are made by the players.
The score is kept but it seems it’s only because it would be a betrayal of the game if it wasn’t. Few are interested in which team is winning or losing. For many players, there is much more to gain than bragging rights, especially when the teams change each week.
For Spence, who lives in Weddington, finding Carolina Senior Sports and BOOM came at a critical point in his life.
In 1997, complications from gall bladder surgery kept him in the hospital for four months and out of work for three more. He lost 53 pounds and the trauma of it all led to years of depression.
Spence’s wife died in 2001 and he remarried four years later. He had retired from his career in chemical research and development and he was looking for something to keep him busy. His daughter found Carolina Senior Sports on the internet.
“It’s just something I wish I never quit doing,” said Spence. “Sometimes I think I’m going to quit but it makes me feel so good to come out here. I just hate to quit.”
Spence plays Tuesday nights but has recently told his coach to switch him from infield to catcher because he “didn’t want to hurt the team.”
Carolina Senior Sports president Bill Barrett, a 64-year old Mint Hill resident, says that about 95-percent of the BOOM players are retired. He added that about half of the 45 BOOMers don’t play in the Tuesday night league.
“No one gets too serious about it,” said Barrett. “The ones who wouldn’t get too many running opportunities on Tuesday nights come out and actually run the bases. They feel like they’re 25 years old.
“A lot of people out here at this age don’t want to play at night because of the lights.
They have trouble seeing or they don’t want to drive. They don’t want to leave here at 10:30 at night. So this is a big way for them to fill a void of softball.”
One such player is Steve Denison. He played in a Charlotte-based senior baseball league until his pitching shoulder gave out at age 55.
Denison, still a strong and athletic 69-year old who lives in Mint Hill, joined CSS in 2008. But a retina tear in one of his eyes and cataract surgery on both of them has limited his eye sight. Two years ago, he stopped playing the CCarolina Senior Sports Tuesday night league and began playing BOOM.
“Now we’ve got new lights (at Park Road Park),” said Denison. “Before, the lights were (lower to the field). I’d be playing first base and looking into those lights and a lefty’s up and I’m thinking ‘Am I going to lose my teeth or not?’”
Of course, at these men’s age, dentures are always an option.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
For information, contact Carolina Senior Sports president Bill Barrett at 704-619-1218 or email@example.com.