Month: November 2022

Who we are and how we got here

In April 1988, Dick Martens began looking around for people his age who would play softball with him.

A World War II veteran, he was 65 years old, had just retired from Uniroyal and finally had time to do whatever he wanted. Dick had played and coached in local leagues when he was younger and decided to start a slow-pitch league here for folks his age.

His dream had a slow start. Early on, senior softball was a program, just like art and cooking classes, offered through Mishawaka’s Battell Senior Center. Players would gather to practice and maybe have pickup games at Merrifield Park.

For some, the exercise was nice, but so are wheelchair races. Some of these 65-year-olds were expecting to actually compete.

That first group of players recruited friends, some of whom hadn’t thrown a ball since Eisenhower was president. Finally, in 1990, the league had enough healthy candidates to field three teams.

A South Bend Tribune story from that season reported that players often brought along children and grandchildren to serve as base-runners.

A lot has changed since then. The Michiana Senior Softball League, as we’re now called, plays real games, with real equipment and we don’t need any kids to do our running for us.

Much of this progress is because of people like Bob Torok. He and others in his age group realized there wasn’t much of a future for a league that was limited to players in their mid-60s. Unless they added younger players, it would be an annual challenge to find new players to replace those whose aches and pains were forcing them to quit.

The obvious answer was to lower the age limit. But the question was, how much lower? If we let 55-year-olds play, would the 70-year-olds still be able to compete and have fun?

This question has been debated, in different forms, ever since. The league’s leaders have found themselves bumping the eligibility ages lower to attract more players. And to keep things fair and safe, they divided the league into two divisions.

Currently, the junior division’s rules allow players who will celebrate their 53rd birthday within that calendar year. In reality, though, teams have been able to add soon-to-be-52 players nearly every year. The senior division age minimum is 62. 

Our goal is to include players, not exclude them. Both of those limits can be bent to allow players whose physical skills fit within the league’s standards. A younger person unable to run, for example, or with a disability might have fun in the senior division without upsetting the competitive balance.

Last year was our biggest and best ever. With 12 teams split among those two divisions, we kept more than 150 senior adult athletes and their families active and entertained twice a week from May through August. It also was the first season at the Byers Complex in South Bend, after three-plus decades mainly at Henry Frank and Normain parks in Mishawaka.   

If you watch a senior game at 5 p.m. and a junior game at 6:30, you’ll usually see a difference in attitude as well as skill level. The juniors tend to compete more passionately, and it can be a bit intimidating for newcomers. The seniors traditionally are more forgiving or each other’s errors and weaknesses. It’s probably more like what Dick Martens envisioned in 1988.

Dick passed away in 2008, and most of us playing now never met him. His vision for a high-quality senior league has been taken up by dozens of players, coaches, umpires and sponsors.

We’re better because of the talents and ideas that come every spring from newcomers, many of whom have been looking forward to their 53rd year when they finally can join us.

Tell your friends about us. The Byers Complex has five fields, which means we can have 10 teams playing at a time. We have room to grow. We’ve come a long way since Dick had the idea. But at our core, we’re exactly the same.

We still want people who will play softball with us.

League Newsletter No. 4

Mid-November updates

Welcome to our fourth newsletter for the Michiana Senior Softball League. If you have questions or comments, contact me at kenbradford@comcast.net

More ways to play?

One of the things that happen when softball seasons ends is that most of us won’t see our teammates for five or six months.

Some leagues in other cities have figured out ways to keep the fellowship going. It’s something we can think about for after the 2023 season.

Would anyone be interested in helping schedule some off-season off-the-field competitions that also could serve as league fundraisers?

An example would be a post-season golf scramble where foursomes are created within existing teams. Powerhouse Electric might rule the roost in softball, but can they defeat Access or Holy Smokes at golf?

If there’s interest, we could have showdowns at bowling, Punt Pass & Kick, basketball skills and tennis. Pickleball? Cornhole? Pole vaulting? You can decide.

Give it some thought. It would take a little effort to organize, but a monthly get-together of some sort could be good for the league.

Ready to move on

We can’t wait until May 1 to find out whether portions of our senior division will be moving back to Mishawaka. We are prepared to start forward with Plan B.

On Dec. 1, we will appoint two current senior players as interim commissioners. We will work with them to get at least 50 to 60 others to commit to playing in a four-team league in South Bend. Last year, 95 players were on six senior teams.

With four teams instead of six, we’ll need to do some combining. That would be done in mid-January. Once those teams are drawn, we may be close to capacity. If so, we may be limited as far as accepting additional players. One suggestion we’ll make to our interim commissioners is that they create a waiting list or permanent substitute list for those joining late for 2023.

We in the junior division leadership are unanimous in recognizing how essential the senior division is. We also are unanimous in our commitment to honoring our two-year commitment to the Byers Complex.

Please be patient. This will be another great year for softball.

Plan that ocean cruise now

Many of us have spouses, family members or golf buddies who are trying to get us to commit to vacation trips during 2023.

A word of warning: Do not schedule yourself to be out of town during the middle two weeks of August. If you do, you may miss the league playoffs and end up carrying blame and shame for the rest of your softball career.

We’ve set tentative dates for next season and are awaiting final approval from the Byers Complex. It’s safe to reserve these dates, as long as you write them down in pencil.

We plan to have new-player tryouts on April 11. If you’re going to be a free agent for 2023, we may ask you to attend those tryouts just to refresh the managers’ memories before the draft.

Opening night would be May 9 with games scheduled for 6:30 p.m. nearly every Tuesday and Thursday until the end of the regular season on Aug. 8. We’re planning on a double-elimination tournament. Ideally, our tournament finals will be Aug. 22 with the seniors playing at 5 p.m. and the seniors at 6:30. We’re hoping to turn that into a gala event with P.A. announcers and maybe some concession stand specials.

Our end-of-the-year awards likely would be on Aug. 29. We may continue the tradition with a banquet or we might change it to a final cookout accompanied by an all-star game.

July 4 falls on a Tuesday, so there would be no games that night. We may take July 6 off as well, giving everyone a full-week break. If that’s the case, we could have our Home Run Derby on July 6, or we could do it on Wednesday, June 28.

Another thought is to have occasional double-headers, possibly as a game-of-the-week format. There are 12 Thursdays during the season. We could take six of those Thursdays and choose two teams to play extra games on those nights. Each team would be involved in two of those double-headers during the season. So, after the regular games are over, your friends on other teams could relax and watch you play in that second game.

For now, that’s just a thought. If you have opinions on it, let us know.

Too many rules?

Nearly every year, league commissioners and managers get together in January and add to our rule book. Our goal is to do less of that this year.

One way to do that is to reclassify some items as procedures, some as policies and some as rules. And ultimately, the goal is to make the rules simple enough that we can just play games and have fun.

We follow USA Softball rules. If you have time, you can download the 220-page book by googling Participant Manual Official Rules of Softball.

In this newsletter, we’ll list five or our rules, and we’ll list five more sometime later.

LINEUPS: A team must have at least eight rostered players to avoid forfeiting a game. In regular season games, any team with eight or nine players may pick up two non-rostered players, as long as the opposing manager agrees. A team with 10 rostered players may pick up one. In tournament games, teams cannot pick up any substitutes. A team’s batting order must include at least the same number of players who occupy fielding positions.

BATS: In the junior division, all players may use single- or double-wall aluminum bats. Players ages 60 or older may use any ASA-approved slow-pitch softball bat. In the senior division, all players may use any ASA-approved slow-pitch softball bat. Any player using an illegal bat may be called out by the umpire if an appeal is made before the next live pitch.

SCORING AT HOME: Rules about plays at home plate are covered in the national handbook. In our league, the runner is safe if his foot touches the ground on or beyond the alternate home plate line before the fielder catches the ball and touches the home-plate board. All other ASA rules for senior slow pitch apply.

COURTESY RUNNERS: Any batter who achieves first base may request a courtesy runner after a time-out is called. That new runner may not be replaced by another unless it is necessary because he is injured. If a courtesy runner is still on base when it is his turn to bat, the runner is declared out, but he can take his turn at bat.

HOME RUNS: Teams are allowed a total of four over-the-fence home runs per game. Players are allowed two home runs apiece. Neither the hitter nor any runner is required to touch any base after the home run is declared. Home runs beyond the limits will be considered dead-ball singles with runners advancing one base.

A league quite like ours

This can seem like really boring stuff if all you want to do is play softball.

However, our league is at a stage where we may need to become legally organized. That means registering as a non-profit 501(c)7 organization. We’re putting some information out there because this is your league and you might be interested.

For the past 30-plus years, we’ve operated as an independent league. Unlike most leagues, we do not have a city parks department telling us what to do. But we also are somewhat vulnerable if someone challenges what we do and why.

If we become a 501(c)7, we will have bylaws that tell who our officers are and what their duties are. It also will give us protection from state and federal taxes in case some person or agency becomes concerned about how we earn and spend our money.

Our research has led us to a senior league remarkably similar to us in Wilmington, North Carolina. Wilmington has 12 teams divided into three divisions, and it has registered as a 501(c)7 since 2001.

We’re attaching a link to the WSSA’s web site, which is impressive. If you have some time, please look at it. On the home page, you’ll see a lot of useful information, including a link to the league’s rule book/players manual.

There also are minutes from the October managers meeting. It sounds like they have some of the same issues with fairness in rosters that we have. The site also tells how much they charge sponsors ($800 for a first year and $500 annually after that) and how much they charge for extra shirts and caps.

Click on About WSSA to see how the league is organized. It’s really cool.

www.wilmingtonseniorsoftball.net

The IRS instruction booklet is 76 pages, but most of it doesn’t apply to the organization we would form. Ideally, the forms will not require any professional consultation.