The Press Newspaper
A history of senior softball in Toledo written by Alvarado, the former league commissioner —
It is worth noting that prior to 1990 there was no senior softball in the Toledo area. The three Cs, Cleveleland, Cincinnati, and Columbus along with Dayton had established leagues. The local Senior Olympics was in its infancy.
Tim Yenrick, then director of the East Toledo Family Center and the Navarre Senior Center, saw the need for senior softball in this area. He asked his father, Bob, long time sports organizer, and coach, to undertake the task of recruiting older players and promoting interest in senior softball. The East Toledo Family Center would sponsor this endeavor to revive interest in the Great American Past Time.
Bob Yenrick contacted former players and friends from his old Fassett Street neighborhood for assistance. Forward came George Ritter, Whitey Merritt, Bob Slovak, Mike Dandar, Milt Boos, Norb Heban, Ed Locker and others. Bob Yenrick’s efforts to establish a sport for older men who desired a more strenuous activity started to take shape.
Initially, this group had to scrounge for local opponents yet opted to enter various tournaments around the state. In 1991, an official league was formed with enough players to have four teams. Most players were from communities east of the Maumee River except a group of men from Point Place.
The addition of the Point Place team brought a whole new influx of players from the rest of Toledo, Maumee, and Sylvania. Bob Brezinski, Irv Johnson and Jim Pardike led this new group of very good players. This team helped move the league to a higher level of competition.
In the early years, good ball fields were not available to us. We had to play games at Navarre, Pearson, Optimist, and in Oregon. Two new diamonds were then erected at Navarre Park. These diamonds were composed of crushed stone screening, which requires routine maintenance.
The Navarre Senior Center hired a part time groundskeeper who prepares the infield, lines the field, and at times has to cut the outfield grass. There is a constant need for improvement to both the infield and the outfield. Volunteers have registered much sweat hours each summer.
In a very short time, the league grew from a few old east siders to over 50 players. After a decade, the 50-plus year olds were now 60-plus year olds. New and younger men joined the league. It became obvious the skill level, foot speed, and strength of the younger guys presented an opportunity to form two divisions. It was decided that 60-plus would play on Mondays and the under 60 would play on Wednesday. The older division players were also permitted to play in both divisions.
The players’ fee has always been cheap. One would have difficulty playing a round of golf for the same price. The biggest expense the player undertakes is the purchase of one’s personal bat. There was a time when a team had a half dozen bats but now each player has one. These are not cheap. Some have been known to cost up to $300 for an aluminum compressions bat. Each player will tell you that the bat has enhanced his or her performance.
One player remarked, “All men were not created equal for the Miken Ultra II aluminum bat sure comes close to it.”
With these explosive bats there arose a need for protective equipment for pitchers. Shin guards and facemasks were common. It is a real frightening sight to see a player take the field wearing a mask, shin guards, knee braces and what not.
Each year, new teams are selected by a draft system. It is possible for a player to play with 10 new teammates each year. This allows for friendship and total familiarity with all players. Friendship, recreation, competition, and exercise are key factors of the league’s mission statement. The league has grown to the point where approximately 70 players play on Monday and 80 on Wednesday.
Five years ago, an athletically-gifted woman joined the league. This is remarkable since it is rare that a lady would admit to being over 50 years old. She has proven to be a good player and is well received by all the men.
After the games, played at Navarre Park, most players stick around and tailgate. This social hour allows the player to relax and enjoy the company of their fellow teammates as well as the opponents. The Senior Center cooks hot dogs, hamburgers, and brats for a low cost of a donation. Occasionally, there is roasted corn and watermelon available. The camaraderie and fellowship makes up for a less than perfect playing field.
In 2010, the City of Sylvania started a very successful senior softball program at the Pacesetter Athletic Complex. This new league does not conflict with the East Toledo Senior Center because they play on different evenings. Some of the players play at both locations.
Many of the players are retirees and winter in Florida and Arizona, thereby continuing their ball-playing without taking much time off. It is not unusual for these “softball junkies” to play well over 150 games a year, which includes tournaments.
Those who do not winter in Florida have the opportunity to play winter senior basketball and senior volleyball at the East Toledo Family Center to stay in shape.
Do not kid yourself. The modern senior softball league is very good and the only difference in some cases is the foot speed. To enhance the level of competition the 60 year old-plus group is now 58-years-old.
The question arises, “Why do these people continue to punish their body and/or risk a serious injury?” That requires a personal response but it is obvious that they are athletes who have never believed in quitting.
Most players would say, “Sure it hurts, and sacrifices are essential, otherwise every Tom, Dick, and Harry would play.”
My personal response? As a veteran of 21 consecutive years of playing senior softball, I have always looked to the next season and seeing old friends. Maybe it’s the spirit of competition. Maybe it’s a last hurrah. Maybe it’s just plain fun.
(Dave Alvarado is a past board member of the East Toledo Family Center and wrote this for the Family Center newsletter.)