Seniors still swinging on softball circuit
ROGERS — Elmer Grove took a big practice swing before he stepped into the batter’s box and lined an opposite-field single.
Minutes later, he made a running catch in center field that drew applause from a small crowd watching the game.
Grove plays for the Oklahoma Roadrunners on a senior softball circuit that came to Rogers last week. He is 87 years old.
“You never get that competitive vein out of you,” said Grove, who plays three nights a week with two different teams during the summer. “It’s something that’s bred in us as American males. But having fun out here is number one. I love softball and these guys do, too.”
The Kansas City Kids, the Chicago Grey Sox, and the Nebraska Silver Bullets are three of the slow-pitch softball teams that competed in the Midwest Championships at the Rogers Regional Softball Complex last week. Senior Softball-USA lists several divisions, starting with the “rookies” in the 50-plus age group and including the 70plus age category that Grove played in last week. The league, which was formed in Sacramento, Calif., in the 1970s, holds nearly 50 tournaments each year throughout the country.
Regional winners qualify for the World Masters championships, which attracted more than 500 teams in Las Vegas last October.
Rogers hosted the Midwest Championships for the second consecutive year after it moved from Kansas City because of scheduling conflicts on the fields where games had previously been played.
“It’s amazing to watch these guys play,” said Mike Hula, a regional director for Senior Softball-USA. “I’ve seen some guys hit softballs off the fence, 300 feet away. They can still throw, they can still run, and they have fun doing it.”
Boyd Metals of Fort Smith was one of the Arkansas-based teams at the Midwest Championships. The team has competed on the senior circuit for several years and is comprised of players from Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.
“I have people asking me ‘why in the world are you playing softball? You’re too old to be playing softball,’” said Donald Haney of Malvern, a player and coach for Boyd Metals. “I tell them ‘if I die on the field playing softball, I will die doing something I love to do.’ The skills are diminished, but we still love to play.”
Competition, camaraderie, exercise and some good-natured ribbing are all elements of the senior game. A catcher for the Texas Greyhounds shouts “you can’t wave a white flag. You’ve got to bat,” to a hitter who pauses to blow his nose with a white handkerchief near the plate.
Another player approaches an umpire in fake outrage after a close play and a runner shouts at his first base coach after being encouraged to hurry, hurry on an infield grounder.
“Hell, I am hurrying,” he says. “Can’t you tell?”
Both men smile before returning to the dugout to retrieve their gloves.
After the game, there are plenty of back slaps and handshakes among the players in the 80-plus finals, where the Greyhounds defeat the Roadrunners 18-2. There are even handshakes and compliments for the umpires.
“You did a good job, young fella,” the Greyhounds’ catcher says. “But don’t give up your day job.”
Grove has long been retired from his day job as a contractor who supplied food and equipment for the military. The passion he developed for sports while growing up in Wakita, Okla., in the 1940s and ’50s still endures, even if the recovery time from playing a game takes a while longer.
“It takes three times as long to recover than it did when I was 18,” said Grove, who graduated in 1958 in a senior class of 25. “But it’s worth it. Playing softball for 28 years has helped me live longer, I’m sure.”
Robert Radford (left), of the Boyd Metals team from Fort Smith, throws to first for a double play Thursday as teammate Michael Taylor looks on during the Senior Softball U.S.A. Midwest Championships at the Rogers Regional Sports Park.
Otis Rowland (left), tournament director of the Senior Softball U.S.A. Midwest Championships, presents awards Thursday to Elmer Grove, 87, of the Roadrunners of Oklahoma City.