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Refusing to Quit

No one is ever too old to play softball

Story by Lynn Hobbs, photos by Leigh Lofgren

Morgan County and Putnam County's Senior Softball teams enjoy friendly competition. Photo by Leigh Lofgren

Bats, balls, gloves, bases, pitchers, fielders, umpires – the typical senior's involvement with these is watching the game from a recliner or bleachers, and later chatting about it in line at a store or restaurant.


Unless they play Senior Softball.


Morgan County and Putnam County each have a Senior Softball League that provides men over 50 and women over 40 the opportunity to play each week.


“Whether we’re playing a game or just practicing, it’s just great to be out here throwing, catching, and hitting the ball,” said Mike Bean, who pitches for Putnam’s team. “It’s a great group of people and we just love being on the diamond and playing ball. That’s just fun.”


Photo by Leigh Lofgren

Until they joined Senior Softball, many of the teams’ members hadn’t played on the diamond since college, high school, or even Little League.


“When I got here, they asked me ‘when was the last time you swung a bat,’ and I said, ‘it’s been a while,” Amos Branson chuckled. He was the newest member of Putnam’s team, having been to only two practices. The Lake Oconee resident said he saw it advertised on social media and decided to try it. “It’s fun,” he added. “The guys all kid each other and it’s just a fun environment. And I might lose a few pounds, too; and that wouldn’t hurt anybody.”


Senior Softball is played like regular slow-pitch softball, but there are a few different rules to accommodate aging bodies and prevent injuries. The primary difference is “the commitment line,” explained Madison coach Pete Shockley.


The commitment line is a visible line in the dirt stretching across the baseline between third base and home plate. Regarding “home plate,” it’s quite noticeable that the home plate where the pitcher throws the ball to the batter and the catcher is positioned to catch it is not a white, house-shaped plate in Senior Softball. Instead, it is a black mat that resembles a rectangular doormat. A few feet away, parallel to the black mat is the customary white home plate.


When a runner is leaving third base to go home, the runner must go to the offset white home plate and tag it. To get the runner out, once the catcher fields or gains control of the ball, the catcher must tag the black mat before the runner tags home plate. The catcher never touches the offset white home plate, and the runner never runs across the black mat that’s in the traditional location of home. So, there is never a chance of collision, no need for the runner to slide, and thus, the possibility of injury is prevented.  The catcher never tags the runner at home, only the mat.


“But that rule only applies once the runner crosses the commitment line,” Shockley explained. “Once he crosses the commitment line, the runner can’t go back to third base, he is committed to go to the scoring plate.”

This picture shows Senior Softball’s two home plates, which prevent collisions and injury. The catcher must tag the black mat (in the bottom far left of pic) while the runner must tag the white pentagon-shaped plate (pictured under the player on the right's foot). Photo by Leigh Lofgren

Some other rules seem to be the local leagues’ preference. Putnam’s team chooses to allow base runners to run through second and third bases, but Morgan’s team chooses to follow traditional baseball/softball rules and the runner must stop on the bag.


“We don’t want people having to slide in to base to avoid being tagged out because they may get injured,” Putnam coach Bill Warren explained.


Also, Senior Softball allows “senior regulated” bats, which are composite bats which “give a little more pop to the ball and the ball travels farther,” according to Putnam player Mike Shoemaker. “You can definitely feel a difference with them,” he said, noting that the Morgan County uses only senior regulated bats, but the Putnam team uses whatever the players bring.


The Morgan team members all wore matching shirts funded by a local business sponsor. Shockley said they’ve been playing for four to five years and they travel to play in tournaments. The ribbing and laughter between the players and coaches of the two teams on the field, on the sidelines and in the dugouts was as constant as the song of the cicadas that invaded Middle Georgia recently. The shirts were one of the repeated subjects of the jokes.


“Somebody offered to sponsor us but I’m waiting until we have enough people to make a team,” Warren said.  The Putnam team is newer, starting last year with what Warren described as “pick up ball” once a week. “Whoever shows up plays and if we don’t have enough, we just have batting practice and fielding practice,” he explained.


Both teams are seeking players, but Putnam’s really needs them. Warren said they’d like to have enough members to play regular weekly games against Morgan County as well as other teams.


“We need to get more people out here,” Putnam County Recreation Director Scott Haley agreed. “I think what they’re doing is great; it’s awesome for the community. Bill spearheaded it and is trying to get the word out to promote it. It’s good to have two counties doing it so they can play together.”


Kim Muschaweck encourages other women to join the Senior Softball League in Putnam or Morgan counties. Photo by Leigh Lofgren

Putnam’s team has the lone female player. Kim Muschaweck played last summer and continues this year. “I’m a professor at the university, so it gives me some release from work, really relieves stress when I’m out here,” she said. “I grew up playing Little League with my brothers and then in high school I played softball, but in college I played field hockey.”


Putnam team’s name matches their fun, relaxed style – the Putnam Coffin Dodgers. Warren said years ago, he read in The Washington Post about a fisherman who was in his 80s and continued to go out fishing on his old boat even though all his friends had died. When asked why he continued, the elderly angler replied, “because if you have something to do tomorrow, you won’t die tonight.”

“I’ve always remembered that,” Warren said. “That’s why we’re the Coffin Dodgers. I was looking for a weird name, and I thought it was great. You can’t sit around whining and complaining when you could be out doing things.”


Putnam County’s Coffin Dodgers are Bill Warren, Perry Weston, Dave Tiedman, Ed Wetmiller, Tom Smith, Mike Shoemaker, Kim Muschaweck, Randy Goemer, Amos Brandon, and Mike Bean. Photo by Leigh Lofgren

Both teams consist of players from surrounding counties, and anyone over 50 (over 40 females) is invited to join the competitive fun.

Although the Madison team seems to have just as much fun, its name is more conservative – Middle Georgia Senior Softball. Coach Shockley proudly pointed to a man sitting behind the fence on his team sidelines. “Charlie Holbert played with us until very, very recently,” Shockley said. “He was our senior player, 87 years old.”  Holbert nodded his head and said “I played around with them a couple years. They were in the 70 league and they let anyone who could pick up a bat swing it.”

Morgan County’s Middle Georgia Senior Softball team members: Pete Shockley, Steve Hathorn, Chris Stratton, Nick Nicholson, Larry Bunn, Steve Arnold, Mike Smith, Andre Sparrow, Marshall Davis, Stacy Carver, Greg Malcolm, Jimmy McDade and Rick Lockridge. By Leigh Lofgren Photography

Holbert’s daughter, Charlene McDade, said she remembered when her dad first considered playing in the senior league. “He said ‘I can’t do that anymore. I can’t see, I can’t run,’ and I said ‘Daddy, look at every one of those men out there, they’re 50 to 75 years old. They all can’t, either, but once you get out there and get limbered up again, you can,’” she recalled. “I think a lot of men and women when they go past an age, they think they can’t do it anymore, but then they go out and once they start it, they love it.”


The many happy faces and lively banter on and around the diamond proved her right.


~ ~. ~. ~. ~. ~

This story appeared in Lakelife magazine, Volume 18, Issue 3 and is the property of Smith Communications, Inc. No portions of the story or photos may be copied or used without written consent from the publisher. 


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