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Their favorite pastime Amherst mothers finding community in softball league

Lisa Wishman can't wait to see her parents sitting in the bleachers during all her softball games this summer.

Wishman, of Amherst, is a 46-year-old rookie in the Snyder Moms Softball League, also known as "CALL Mom Softball."

"I'm still their kid, and it's still their job to watch their kid play," Wishman said.

The league was started last summer by a group of mothers who became friends while watching their children play in the Central Amherst Little League, or CALL, program. After a while of watching, the moms decided they wanted to be part of the action.

"It seemed like all summer long we were there watching our kids," said Mollie Ciocca, 38. "Pretty soon we said, 'Hey, we can do that, too.' "

Every Monday evening for six weeks during the summer, six teams of CALL Mom players take the field on three baseball diamonds under the big blue water tower in Amherst.

Last summer, 80 women from Amherst and the surrounding area joined the league, most of them mothers of little league players. They ranged in age from women in their 30s to those in their 60s.

This year, CALL Mom coordinators had to cut the registration period short because of an overwhelming number of requests. The league has swelled to 120 players, all of whom discovered it by word of mouth.

"Every player came back this year but one," said Sheila Walsh, one of the league founders. "We already have a waiting list for next year."

Walsh, Ciocca and fellow co-founders Jean Comer and Kathy Thielman -- who all play -- said that the league is like a support system to a community of moms. They said it brings women together and provides a much needed escape from daily routine.

"We told the women that once they delivered their check, they would be in," said Walsh, 45. "The treasurer told us that a few moms rushed to her house with their checks almost in tears saying, 'You don't know how badly I need this.' "

During the games, husbands and kids become the moms' No. 1 fans. Some who sit in the bleachers hold signs reading, "Go Mommy!" and "Mom Rocks!"

Mary Merrill said that by playing she is setting an example for her three daughters.

"It's important to show them that you can be a woman and still play," said Merrill, 41.

Occasionally though, it is the children who give lessons to the moms and their teammates.

"My 14-year-old son gave a 20-minute lesson on how to catch grounders at one of our practices," Walsh said.

A few of the women have surprised spectators with their athletic abilities.

"My son said to me after a game, 'Mom, I didn't know you could run that fast,' " Ciocca said.

"The umpire was laughing during one of the games," said 37-year-old Thielman, who has seven children. "I asked him what was so funny and he said, 'You guys can really play.' "

Even Wishman was shocked after watching Comer round the bases.

"The last game I saw Jean slide into second base," Wishman said. "I thought about it, too, and then I said to myself, 'You're 46; you're not sliding.' "

The team rosters are mixed up every year through a random selection process. League coordinators said that is what differentiates the Snyder Softball Moms League from bar league softball.

"With bar league, you usually get together 15 of your friends to play on a team," Thielman said. "Here, you make new friends, and everyone socializes together."

"Most of the time there is a division between mothers whose children go to different schools," Ciocca said. "In [the Snyder Moms Softball League], you can't tell what mom belongs to what school district. . . . Our mission is really to have fun and bring people together."

Before each game, players gather on the field to sing the national anthem and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

Every player is allowed to have a pinch runner. This allows for some of the older players to enjoy their at bat even if they are physically unable to run the bases.

If a player strikes out, she is allowed to hit the ball off a tee, although coordinators said most don't need to do that.

And if a line drive is hit at you, feel free to jump out of the way. Any woman who is at least 21 years old is eligible to play in the league. Players don't need to be from Amherst -- and they don't need to be a mom.

But coordinators don't deny that "mom qualities" of many players have helped.

"The organization in the league is stellar because we are moms," Thielman said.

Thielman added that the end-of-the-year parties have "mom" written all over them.

"If you leave it in the hands of moms," she said, "there is going to be great food."

e-mail: lmariacher@buffnews.com

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