Se­niors still swing­ing on soft­ball cir­cuit

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - RICK FIRES

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.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

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.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

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.

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