Welcome to our second newsletter for the Michiana Senior Softball League. If you have questions or comments, contact me at email@example.com
A little history lesson
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.
Fees and things
John Walczewski, who runs the Byers Complex, is a big fan of senior softball. Regular slow-pitch leagues are losing teams, mainly because younger folks grew up with a lot of alternatives. But here and in other cities, senior softball is on the rise.
One reason is that senior softball is a bargain for all involved, especially in our league. It costs $60 a season for you to play. For that, you get a hat and shirt ($18 value), a seat at our banquet ($15 value). That leaves $27 per person for actual softball. If you play in all the regular-season games and the playoffs, that’s $1 a game.
Compare that with what you pay for a round of golf or an afternoon at the bowling alley.
Here are some facts about how we pay for our league. Based on our 2022 budget, we collected $400 apiece from 12 sponsors (total $4,800) and about $9,400 in player fees. The fees broke down to 92 players paying the $60 apiece to play in one league and 39 paying $100 to play in both. Our total income was $14,220.
The cost of playing softball was $9,600. South Bend’s parks charged us $800 per team, times 12 teams. If all we do is play ball, that is all we need to spend. The complex uses that money to pay the umpires, buy the softballs, cover our insurance and take care of scorebooks and incidentals.
Where does the rest of our money go? In 2022, we budgeted almost $2,400 in net expenses for the annual banquet. We also set aside another $2,600 for various awards – shirts for league and tournament champions, home run balls, plaques for sponsors and league jackets.
We allot $18 for each uniform – shirts and hats – and we estimated 200 players, for a total expense of $3,600.
Do the adding and the subtracting, and we end with approximate income of $14,200 and expenses of $17,200. We have money in the bank to cover it, but we end up about $3,000 down for the 2022 season.
Our uniform expense was abnormal this year. Typically, uniforms are replaced every two years but for 2022, everyone got a new shirt.
If we decided to have a carry-in dinner instead of a banquet, reward our winners with hearty handshakes instead of shirts, and just wear last year’s uniforms in 2023, we would save $8,600. That would increase our bank balance by $5,000.
These are ideas worth discussing. We have a lot of other issues to address first. For example, if two or three teams break off from the senior division, we could end up with just four teams in our Byers senior group and we would be multiplying fees by 10 instead of 12. Ideally, that is something that won’t happen.
In any case, we don’t have to worry for now about our Byers expenses increasing. John says the $800-per-team fee is good for 2023 and three years after if we choose to commit to it. He isn’t making money off the deal, especially since he’s paying three employees $12 an hour for the three hours it takes to put up our home run fences before every game.
He likes softball and he sees a future in our senior leagues. He wants us there for a long time.
The rule book
Every year, the commissioners and managers tweak the rules with the hope of making our games safer, more fair and more fun. For the most part, we follow traditional softball rules. Over the next couple of months, we’ll post sections of our league rules here.
If you have suggestions for rules you would like us to address, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One last thing to think about: The managers will be meeting in a couple of weeks to discuss a range of topics. One of those will be how we fill our rosters for 2023.
In the past, we’ve had some inconsistency on players leaving one team to join another. Often, because we don’t have a strict policy, hasty decisions need to be made, causing unforeseen problems later. I’m hoping we can set a deadline for players to declare free agency. Most likely, you won’t be able to choose the team you go to. Instead, you would go through a preseason draft.
I’ve played on three different teams in the last three seasons, and I’ve enjoyed meeting new people. I know this sort of thing doesn’t appeal to everyone. If it might, please give it some serious thought. I’m guessing the free agency deadline will be something like Jan. 1.