When I was a kid, baseball was the sport. It wasn’t like today, with the myriad of sports and other leisure activities that are available to kids. Other sports were just something to do while waiting for spring and baseball season to roll around again.
Thanks to a combination of effort, good medical care and luck, I still play my favorite sport regularly, only now it’s softball. Thanks to the fact that a lot of other “kids” my age have stayed with it, too, there’s a thriving softball culture in many parts of the country for those of us over 50.
In the last few years, I have had the pleasure of playing softball in Hawaii, Florida and for a USA over-50 team that plays all over the world. We love the traveling and I love the softball but what really tops it off (and I think my wife, Mindy, agrees) is the people we meet, the friends we make and the fun we share with them.
A few anecdotes:
We had just spent a week playing in and touring Hawaii. Waiting for our flight home at the Honolulu airport, Mindy and I were sitting in the gate area with another player and his wife.
Two elderly women were sitting nearby and, hearing us discussing softball, the older of the ladies told us she had played softball in high school. However, she played against her parents’ wishes. So when she broke her middle finger during a game, she hid it from her parents and never saw a doctor. “And it’s still bent to this very day!” she proudly exclaimed, as she held that bent middle finger up high for us in the gate area.
The first overseas softball trip we went on was to Spain, and on that trip there was a group of Southern California players and their wives. An element of star quality permeated that trip; one of the wives was actress Mariette Hartley. She is relatively tall and carries herself with a sort of elegant class. Well-educated and multilingual, she was warm and friendly and enjoyed a clever joke.
This is lucky because her husband, Jerry Sroka, is an actor, playwright and comedian with a wickedly sharp sense of humor. And his impersonation of famous Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard is spot-on.
While in Spain we traveled by bus to our games and on sightseeing tours, and Jerry had a habit of getting on last, almost always with a loud wisecrack that would get the bus cackling, such as blaming his late arrival on the lousy bed at the “Uncomfortel.”
Another of the SoCal guys, John Fournier, is retired from being the events director at UCLA. One of his job duties was to help put on the annual LA Special Olympics. John told us that every year he and his staff would place a bet on when the first cry-able moment would come. I asked him what he meant by a “cry-able” moment, and he told us this sweet story:
“It was a 50-yard dash, with a group of kids all about 10 years old. The gun sounds, they start running, but about halfway into the race one of the kids stumbled and fell. All the other runners stopped and helped the fallen child up, and when they saw he was OK, they finished the race.”
Lastly, at one of the tournaments in Hawaii was a little food stand selling hot dogs, hamburgers and its “cheeseburger in paradise.” Someone asked the cook, “What’s on the cheeseburger in paradise?” He replied, “Cheese. You’re in paradise.”