Junior managers meeting of Jan. 17, 2023

Attending were commissioners Ken Bradford, Steve Latzke and Adam Kroemer; treasurer Bob Gorny; managers Jerry AuFrance, Snookie Ferency, Jim Nace and John Rice; and Ron Betzer, representing TAG, and Steve Sporinsky, representing Palmer’s.

The important topics included preliminary player head counts, post-season tournaments and bats.

The early head count shows four teams close to full strength, with Palmer’s at half-strength and TAG’s numbers uncertain. If the season were to begin based on current numbers, we would reduce the number of teams to five. The logical way would be to merge Palmer’s and TAG. Additional players are expected to join in the next few weeks, which may allow us to have a sixth team. We have a target date of March 1 to make that decision.

The managers are leaning toward a double-elimination tournament that would begin during the first week of August. Dates will be determined after we decide how many teams will compete – Aug. 8 for five teams, Aug. 3 for six. The winner’s bracket final would be Aug. 15 with the “if necessary” game on Aug. 17. These dates depend on the senior division tournament schedule because we hope to have both division finals on the same night.

The managers decided to continue with last season’s bat rules – single- or double-walls for ages 64 and younger, composites for ages 65 and older. No bat should exceed a 1.21 bpf (bat performance rating). We will come up with a method of tagging bats for easy recognition.

Four additional issues will be voted on by all players, if possible, at a summer meeting:

  1. By-laws that would qualify our league as a nonprofit organization.
  2. Will we continue to play at the Byers Complex for the 2024 season and beyond?
  3. Will we continue to use the temporary home run fences at the 250-foot mark?
  4. Will the senior division games begin in 2024 at 5:30 with junior games beginning at 7?

Other decisions and discussions of note include:

No games will be played during the July 4 week. Everyone gets a week off.

If we have a five-team league, and if the Byers schedule allows, we will be able to fit 24 games into a 10-week period by playing some doubleheaders. A proposed schedule has games scheduled on two diamonds, e.g. 1 vs. 2 and 3 vs. 4 in the early game with 5 vs. 1 in a late game. This would allow each team to play four double-headers during the summer.

Also, if we have a five-team league, any short-handed team will be able to borrow players from an idle team. We’ll create parameters for that.

We are exploring the concept of an all-star game as a season finale. One idea is to play that game as part of an outdoor banquet-style event. We’re looking for ideas on that.

Commissioner Adam Kroemer has proposed an end to the “player of choice” tradition that allowed managers to recruit a new player directly to their teams. All newcomers, and free agents, will go through a draft on April 11. If we have enough newcomers to justify it, we’ll have a tryout/practice that night at the complex. Any player from last season will be allowed to declare free agency to join a new team with a March 1 deadline. Declare by contacting kenbradford@comcast.net.

Treasurer Bob Gorny presented projections that, with current fees ($60 for one division and $100 for both) and sponsorships ($400 per team), we’ll easily meet required league expenses. Any money left over could be used for uniform shirts, a banquet, league awards and sponsor plaques. The league is looking at fundraising ideas that could help pay for additional items.

Bob also is working with the former treasurer to get money out of our old bank account. Ideally, this gives us a final break with that group.

There is an areawide shortage of umpires. One way we can help is to get training to umpire on our off-nights. Presumably, by working a Monday or Wednesday we may free up an umpire for our league nights.

We are attempting in several ways to attract more players, both at the junior and senior level. Anyone with a friend or acquaintance interested in joining the league can contact one of the commissioners or their manager.

Jerry AuFrance hosted the meeting at Holy Smokes Pizza. The commissioners are grateful for that.

New season at Forever Learning

Play with us, learn with them

Have you heard about the Forever Learning Institute? FLI has been offering a wide range of classes for people in our age group for 45 years. It’s a chance to develop new interests and skills – from Hawaiian dance, to juggling, to speaking French, to understanding obscure Biblical prophets. Most classes are at the Little Flower parish center, 54191 Ironwood Road, South Bend.

We’re not exactly joining forces, but we’ve asked FLI to include information about us in their newsletter and course calendar. They serve ages 50 and older, so it’s possible that their students can become our ballplayers – and vice versa. We may need an influx of newcomers, especially in the senior division, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

As for FLI, the spring semester begins in March. Keep an eye on the website – foreverlearninginstitute.org – for class offerings, schedules and registration deadlines.

We all share the same mission – helping people find ways to stay active as they get older. If you have other ideas for outreach, please let us know.

Newsletter No. 7

Thinking about spaghetti?

Our first 2023 fundraiser is a spaghetti dinner Jan. 20 at the Francis Club at the Knights of Columbus lodge, 61533 S. Ironwood Road, South Bend.

Tickets are $14 apiece, with $4 going to our softball league. The menu includes spaghetti, salad, garlic bread and ice cream. The club has a cash bar for those who want wine, beer or other adult beverages.

The club has set aside 50 seats for our league members, from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Family members and friends are welcome.

If you want to reserve seats, contact kenbradford@comcast.net before Monday, Jan. 16. We’ll put your name on our reservation list, and you can pay at the door. Carry-outs are available for those who prefer to grab and go.

Issues for seniors

As we prepare for the January manager meetings, we’re looking at some policies related to the senior division. Some of these discussions are coming up now because, in past years, managers didn’t have much of a voice in how the division was run.

Mark Witkowski has two issues he would like to bring to the attention of players and managers.

Rosters: If a senior manager lists new players on his preliminary roster, the league commissioners will review those requested additions in light of overall team composition. One consideration will be whether all teams are able to field a reasonable number of players, that being approximately 14. A second consideration is to insure a fair and competitive balance between teams. If a player requests participation in the league without any team affiliation, the league commissioners may add them to any roster short of players. For newcomers to our league, the team assignment may be made after the April tryouts.

Bats: As far asthe senior division goes, any unaltered ASA, USSSA, NSA and ISA bats are legal. Miken Ultra II’s and similar bats meet this standard. If your bat exceeds 1.21 BPF, it will not be legal in Senior Softball.  A senior bat is any bat which complies with the 1.21 bpf standard.

Send comments to debmarkwit@comcast.net.

The junior division managers tend to change from year to year, but there is a proposal in place that the juniors follow the national standard. That rule gives players age 60 and older the right to use the higher-rated bats, which include composites. If you play in both divisions, the best advice would be to wait until after the January meetings before spending a lot of money on a bat.

Who’s in first?

It seems like a simple thing to keep track of wins and losses. But somehow, there always seems to be confusion about league standings at the end of every season.

We’re solving that problem this year, with the help of the Byers staff.

For their other summer leagues, the Byers crew has kept up-to-date records on a web site. Beginning this year, they’ll do it for us, too.

The site has a complicated address, but you can find it by searching for Byers Softball Complex – SBVPA, entering the Phil St. Clair Park site and clicking on Byers Softball Complex.

For now, because we’re in the off-season, most of the site is empty. But if you click on the Schedules/Standings tab, you’ll find the shell of last year’s South Bend summer leagues. Click on Summer Tues 2022, for example, and you’ll see options for Game Schedule, Player Stats, Team Stats and Standings.

Click on Standings, and you’ll see the Fire Breathing Llamas were 17-1, Imagineering was 14-4, SB Fire Local 362 was 9-3, etc. The standings also show runs scored and runs allowed.

We’re still refining what we’ll want to use on our page. We probably won’t want to run Player Stats or Team Stats. That could get really embarrassing.

But I’m guessing we’ll want a schedule page, a scores page and standings, and maybe home runs. My recommendation is that we post the rosters there. The way it could work is that you go to the standings page, click on any team name and the roster would pop up.

I think it will make us a better league if we know the names of our teammates and opponents. That’s especially true for people new to our league. When I was a rookie, I knew my teammates only as Woody, Coach, The Rev and Topper. We all knew Snookie but had no idea what his actual name was.

I would ask about someone and would be told, “He’s the short guy with white hair” or “the heavy guy who plays first base.” It didn’t narrow things down much.

We’re also hoping the Byers page will help us connect with potential players who don’t know that this league exists. We will have separate registration procedures and fee collections, but it will benefit them and us if we can trade inquiries back and forth.

By the way, the South Bend parks web site was posting an outdated statement that Byers was offering a senior league for ages 50 and older on Wednesdays. We’re getting that fixed.

We’ll be working with the Byers IT guy, Mike Sniadecki, on creating our page, probably as soon as we figure out our rosters in April. If you have ideas on what you would like to see there, please let me know.

The plan is to continue having newsletters throughout the season. Eventually, they’ll be less about league politics and more about cookouts, special events and roster additions. Eventually, we’ll be able to communicate about some league-wide votes we’ll have later in the summer. But, for now, it’s good to know that we won’t be wondering who’s in first place. You’ll be able to find out on our web page.

Send comments to kenbradford@comcast.net.

Out or safe?

John Walczewski, the Byers softball director, says there is a chronic shortage of slow-pitch umpires in our area.

Several of the guys in our league serve as umpires on other nights. They get $30 a game, which translates to about $30 an hour. If you work three games a night, once a week during a 14-week season, it adds up to over $1,000.

If you’re interested in giving it a try, let me know at kenbradford@comcast.net. If we get a group together, I’ll see if John can put together a training session for us.

Newsletter No. 6

Choose what’s best for you

Contact ssporins@nd.edu

Happy Holidays! We wish everyone safe travel and germ-free times with family and friends.  

Wow! The past few weeks have seen a flurry of phone calls, emails and texts about summer softball. With two leagues now available, players must choose one or the other for 2023 since both plan to play on the same weekdays. To that end, we hope you will find the following information helpful.

Factors to consider include location, teammates, field quality, park amenities and the level of play — the latter being more applicable to those of us with a fair number of candles on our birthday cakes.

Locations: The Michiana Senior Softball League (MSS) will play again at Byers Complex on Mayflower Road for 2023. Play was moved there a year ago when indications arose that Mishawaka had plans to repurpose Normain and Henry Frank parks.

The Mid-America Senior Softball League (the new league) will play at Normain Park in Mishawaka for 2023, and possibly at Henry Frank (other city plans have been suspended, at least for summer 2023)

Level of Play: The Michiana Senior Softball League offers two divisions. (You can play in one or both based on your age as of your 2023 birthday.

The 62+ Division (aka “seniors”) offers an age-appropriate level of play by tweaking a few rules to keep things enjoyable — a nice way of saying it’s for those of us whose reflexes aren’t what they used to be <wink>). Any bat permitted.

The 52+ Division (aka “juniors”) is for those looking for more competitive play. Bats are based on a player’s age (single wall, double wall or composite).

The Mid-America Senior Softball League announced plans for one division for 2023. It will be 52+ in general while allowing some players at age 50.

Amenities: This perhaps is more important to some than others. Byers is a dedicated softball complex with tournament-caliber fields, plenty of parking, shaded bleachers for spectatators, restrooms with running water and a concession stand. Normain presents a family atmosphere typical of most city parks … decent fields, plenty of space for pets and swing sets for the grandkids. For more information, here are some websites. 

Byers Complex: https://sbvpa.org/places/phil-st-clair-park/byers-softball-complex/

Normain Park: https://mishawaka.recdesk.com/Community/Facility/Detail?facilityId=47

How can we help?

If you have questions, ideas or rule suggestions, let us hear from you!  If you have questions about the new Mid-America League, we will be happy to get you in touch with one of their representatives. We were friends last year and we hope that continues.

We hope that everyone stays safe and healthy for the snowy months ahead.

Steve Sporinksy, senior commissioner, ssporins@nd.edu.

Mark Witkowski, senior commissioner, debmarkwit@comcast.net

Ken Bradford, lead league commissioner, kenbradford@comcast.net

How about more umpires?

Contact kenbradford@comcast.net

Yes, it would. But it likely won’t happen during the regular season this year.

Here’s a question that came up. It’s impossible for even the best umpires to get a clear view of the home run fences 250 feet from home plate. Wouldn’t it be better to have a second umpire who could watch the fences as well as trapped balls in the outfield and close plays at second base?

It’s hard to find umpires for the six games we play each Tuesday and Thursday at Byers. And, at this point, we couldn’t afford them anyway.

The Byers Complex pays our umpires $30 per game. Last season, we had 12 teams playing a 25-game schedule. Our goal is to have the same number this season. The math figures out to 150 games needing an extra umpire, so the additional cost would be $4,500 a year.

If this becomes a priority, we could handle it with two actions. First, we could find additional sponsors and donors to bring in that extra $4,500. Second, we could find players who would get training so they could serve as base umpires. A senior player might help umpire a junior game, and a junior player might umpire a senior game.

Dinner with 49 friends

Straightening out our finances is a major priority this summer. Once we get our steady on our feet, we can start looking at improvements like this.

The Francis Club is inviting our league to a spaghetti dinner on Friday, Jan. 20, at the Knights of Columbus lodge, 61533 S. Ironwood Road, South Bend.

It’s part of the club’s mission to help raise money for local groups. Dinners are $14 apiece, with $4 going to our softball league. The menu includes spaghetti, salad, garlic bread and ice cream. The club has a cash bar for those who want wine, beer or other adult beverages.

The club can set aside 50 seats for our league members, from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Family members and friends are welcome.

This is the first in an attempt to bring fundraising and fellowship into our off-season. If you want to reserve seats, contact kenbradford@comcast.net. This is a ticketed event.

Bob Torok says the spaghetti sauce is a special recipe and is the best in the area. Bob is well-known for his truthfulness. Please come enjoy the evening with your friends and teammates.

How is it looking now?

Contact kenbradford@comcast.net

This isn’t a normal off-season for our league. We’re busier than usual, positioning ourselves for the long-term future by formalizing our structure. That means having a transparent system where every member will know our budgeting, our bylaws and our rules. This will pay off ultimately in that we will be able seek donations and grants as a registered nonprofit organization.

In the shorter term, we have some opportunities for league members to step up.

In past years, our league would replace about 10 players, one manager and one team sponsor. This year, in part because of the creation of the Mid-American Senior Softball League, our challenge will be to do more than that.

Our goal is to have six teams again in both divisions in 2023. We’ll know better after our January manager meetings, but the preliminary expectations are these:

SPONSORS: We are expecting to replace two in each division. The sponsors we don’t expect to return are TAG and Access in the juniors and Christman and AIM in the seniors.

MANAGERS: It’s likely we’ll be replacing two in the juniors – with managers from Palmer and TAG not returning. In the seniors, we will be replacing one, for the former AIM team. Update: Jerry Aufrance says he’ll appoint a manager for Holy Smokes when he is absent.

PLAYERS: We won’t have headcounts until after our manager meetings, but we expect four of our junior teams to return almost completely intact. We’ll need to replace about half the players in the other two. On the senior side, it’s likely we’ll need to replace half or more of one team as well as two or three players on a few of the others.

It isn’t that hard to replace sponsors. The fee is relatively low at $400 per season. If you have a connection with a business or club that wants to support us, let us know. Otherwise, we’ll start knocking on doors in February.

It shouldn’t be hard to replace managers, either. At the league level, we just need someone to represent each team when we’re discussing rosters and rules. At the team level, most teams settle into a routine where the fielding spots and batting orders are close to the same for every game. If you’ve been on one of the teams that needs a manager, please consider stepping up. We can appoint someone else from another team, but if you like the vibe you have, it’s best to keep it within the team’s hands.

As for players, the early estimate is that we’ll need about two dozen if we want to continue with 12 teams. We have some strategies to help reach folks who haven’t heard of our league. The best method, though, is for those of us already on teams to spread the word to friends and neighbors. Keep in mind that our age divisions have some flexibility. If your friend isn’t age 62 yet but has mobility issues and hasn’t played softball for decades, we can give him or her a trial run in the senior division. That is part of the point of the April practice/tryout. One of our league’s goals is to make sure there’s a spot for anyone who can safely play. Let us know how we can help.

Newsletter No. 5

Questions? Contact kenbradford@comcast.net.

New leaders for the seniors

Steve Sporinsky and Mark Witkowski have agreed to serve as interim commissioners for the senior division for the 2023 season.

Steve plays with Wesolowski  in the seniors and Palmer’s in the juniors. Mark plays with OC Hardware and Holy Smokes Pizza. Both are highly respected for their enthusiasm and good sportsmanship, and they are committed to making the division even better.

Their immediate goal is to get in touch with as many senior players as we can in advance of a January managers meeting. If players have suggestions that would help us, we want to hear them.

We call these positions “interim” because they are appointed, rather than elected. When we prepare for the 2024 season, we will make these elected positions, just as they are in the junior division.

We need to thank Steve and Mark for stepping up, and we hope for good times ahead.

Road trip to Crown Point

Bob Fonseca has a group of senior players who rent the Sparta Dome in Crown Point for softball practices on Wednesdays.

He says the group includes some guys in their 50s but the majority are 60-plus. It costs $20 to join plus $5 for any practices you attend. The practices go from noon to about 2:30 p.m., Central time. It’s about an 80-minute drive from South Bend to Crown Point, so it might be wise to set up a carpool.

If you want to join, call Bob at (219) 210-0120.

A single-wall for Christmas?

A lot of us do some bat shopping during the off-season. If this is part of your Christmas list, you might want to ask Santa for a gift certificate instead, especially if you’re still in your 50s.

Every January at the junior managers meeting, some discussion occurs about bats. It’s no fun having commissioners serve as bat police, but the goal usually is to make things simpler while keeping the games safe and fair.

Composite bats are legal for all batters in the senior division. Almost certainly, they’ll stay that way.

The main reason we bring it up now is that good bats are expensive. The wise thing for juniors to do is to wait until after the January meeting to plunk down money for a bat you may not be able to use.

Play with us, learn with them

Have you heard about the Forever Learning Institute? FLI has been offering a wide range of classes for people in our age group for 45 years. It’s a chance to develop new interests and skills – from Hawaiian dance, to juggling, to speaking French, to understanding obscure Biblical prophets. Most classes are at the Little Flower parish center, 54191 Ironwood Road, South Bend.

We’re not exactly joining forces, but we’ve asked FLI to include information about us in their newsletter and course calendar. They serve ages 50 and older, so it’s possible that their students can become our ballplayers – and vice versa. We may need an influx of newcomers, especially in the senior division, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

As for FLI, the spring semester begins in March. Keep an eye on the website – foreverlearninginstitute.org – for class offerings, schedules and registration deadlines.

We’ve sent a similar inquiry to Mishawaka’s Battell Community Center and hope we get the same response. We all share the same mission – helping people find ways to stay active as they get older. If you have other ideas for outreach, please let us know.

Another look in the rulebook

In our fourth newsletter, we listed five rules that come from our league book. We’re including four more here.

In years past, our managers spent time at their winter meeting trying to rewrite our rulebook. Sometimes, the discussions would be about small issues that would apply to only one or two players, and we were trying to solve problems that could be handled with a simple discussion with the people involved.

Most of us learned about baseball by playing with neighborhood kids in a vacant lot or at a schoolyard diamond. We kept the game simple and resolved disputes among ourselves. The basic principle was this: Is the rule fair, and does it help us keep the game fun?

We should keep to that standard. No rule should favor one team or player over another. We’re here to have fun. Try not to argue. If you find yourself arguing, you’re missing the point.

Having said that, we need to have as few rules as possible. Most of what we need is in the national USA Softball handbook USA Softball – Features, Events, Results | Team USA or the USA Softball Indiana handbook USA Softball of Indiana (usasoftballindiana.org). In addition, the Byers Complex has rules Park Rules (sportsengine-prelive.com) and Safe Equipment Rule (sportsengine-prelive.com).

In most cases, you don’t have to know all this. Play ball. Stay safe. Be kind.

The order of determination starts with the umpire, whose decision is paramount. He or she enforces, first, our league rules, then the park rules, then the state rules and finally the national rules.

Our managers will look at league rules again in January. We’ll keep them together on the web page archives.

ROSTERS AND PLAYER ELIGIBILITY: Teams are limited to 18 players on their permanent roster. If new players join the league after the season begins, they may be assigned to a waiting list and can serve as substitutes until a roster spot opens.

Players in the junior division must be age 52 or older during the calendar year. The senior division’s age minimum is 62. Exceptions can be made by the commissioners based on a player’s physical abilities.

NEW PLAYERS: Prior to every season, the commissioners will decide on a format for adding newcomers to teams. A primary goal is to achieve competitive parity among the teams. Depending on the talent pool, players may be assigned to teams based on tryouts, an open draft or other means.

Players typically will stay on the same teams from year to year. However, all players have the option of declaring themselves free agents after a season is completed, and they would re-enter the new player pool. The deadline for declaring free agency will be determined annually by the commissioners.

EXTRA INNINGS AND MERCY RULE: If a team is leading by 15 or more runs after five innings or by 10 runs or more after the sixth inning, the game is declared over. Unless the game is running late, the losing team has the option of taking its final at-bat before the rule is enforced.

If the game is tied at the end of seven innings, play will begin in the eighth and any subsequent innings with a runner placed on second base.

FEES: The commissioners, with consultation from the managers, will establish player fees annually. Managers are required to collect fees, by cash or check, and submit them to the league treasurer. Any player who has not submitted a fee payment by the end of the second league game will be declared ineligible until full payment is made.

Dinner isn’t quite ready yet

We’re looking at a possible spaghetti dinner fundraiser sometime in January. If the plans come off as they should, details should be available in the next newsletter.

A personal look at our two-year agreement

Ken Bradford

Most of us don’t care about specifics of the agreement made in 2021 to move our league to the Byers complex. We’re happy at Byers. We had our best season ever here, expanding from 11 to 12 teams. We had the usual old-age injuries — pulled muscles, in particular. But the outfields didn’t have puddles or ruts and the infields gave more predictable bounces than we normally had at Normain and Henry Frank parks. Outfielders weren’t looking into the lights of McKinley or the headlights of cars leaving the lots during night games. We weren’t fighting briars or poison ivy to retrieve balls after home runs or fouls. For most of us, Byers clearly is a safer place to play.

At Byers, we had plenty of parking and behind-the-screen seating for families and friends. The restrooms were clean. The concession stands provided better food than we would get in a sack at drive-thrus. We had room to set up chairs and coolers after our games. We were all in the same place at the same time, so we didn’t have to run over to a park a mile away to socialize with friends on other teams. Mosquitos? Few, if any. Byers is a more comfortable place to enjoy our time together.

If the league grows, Byers has room for us. We’re at 12 teams now. If we work together to bring more friends in, we could accommodate 20 teams on the five diamonds every Tuesday and Thursday night without playing past 8 o’clock. If, someday, the junior division expands beyond that, we could have 30 teams playing at 5, 6:30 and 8. Do we want to bring in travel teams from 100 miles away for three-day tournaments? How about a state or regional championship? Byers is big enough for any dreams we have.

Still, some of us want to know about the shorter term. Did our league commit to a two-year get-acquainted period with Byers? The answer is yes, positively. Would there be consequences if we renege on that agreement? Again, yes, positively. We have an outstanding relationship with the Byers staff. It’s a pain in the neck for them, but they put up our home run fences at 250 feet twice a week. We’re the only league that asks them to do that. Our fee of $800 per team covers the costs of umpires, softballs, insurance and other stuff. That’s a discount from what they charge other leagues. The complex takes care of a lot of the league’s headaches. We can just show up and play because we have a great deal.

I have good friends who are planning on leaving our group to join an upstart league in Mishawaka. I wish they wouldn’t. As we get older, a lot of us try to turn back the clock. If we played better while we were in Mishawaka in 2011 or 2021, it doesn’t mean we’ll find some sort of magic back there somehow in 2023. I’ll be 69 years old next summer, whether I play at Byers, Normain or some pickleball court. I’ll run as hard but not as fast. It won’t be Byers’ fault. Our league is big enough that it has a place for me, even if I’m not quite as good as I was last year.

I’ll choose Byers because it’s safer, it’s more comfortable for my wife if she attends games, and it’s where the majority of my softball friends are. I can count on our league being there for many years to come.

I hope to see you all in 2023.

For those who want to see it, I’m attaching a copy of the notes taken for our two-year agreement. I’m willing to answer any question you have about our league at kenbradford@comcast.net.

Here’s how you can join the fun at MSSL

If you’re interested and need information about joining the Michiana Senior Softball League, please contact me at kenbradford@comcast.net. We have two divisions – the juniors (ages 52 and older) for those who want real competition, and the seniors (ages 62 and older) for those who want a greater emphasis on fun and exercise. We are flexible on the age requirement for seniors. If you are younger than 62 but your fitness level would make you uncomfortable playing with the juniors, let us know.

Typically, new players attend an open practice in April and are assigned to a team afterward. Fees are $60 to play in either league, or $100 if you play in both. All regular-season games are on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Byers Softball Complex on the southwest side of South Bend – near Mayflower Road and Sample Street. The seniors begin at 5 p.m. with juniors following about 6:30. The season begins the second week of May. Both leagues play a 25-game schedule followed by a tournament, ending in mid-August.

Our rules take age into consideration. We use 11 fielders on defense. We prefer that all players bat and play at least two innings in the field, but we are willing to make exceptions. Batters with mobility concerns can request a courtesy runner once they reach first base. If you feel it may be unsafe for you to play but you still want to be involved in the league, we will try to pair you up with a team that needs a base coach. We also can use help planning extra activities and fundraisers, if that is something that interests you.

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.


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.

Newsletter No. 3

November updates

The Michiana Senior Softball League’s third newsletter. If you have questions, contact kenbradford@comcast.net.

Fall league champs and runners-up

This is Adam Kroemer’s photo of the fall league finalists after Thursday’s showdown.

It all came down to a cold dark night at Normain Park with Helfman’s Thunder Bats and Price’s Ball Bashers battling for the fall championship.

 Helfman’s was more than up to the challenge, scoring in every inning to win the title, 18-8. Ron Carter’s long home run was a highlight for the champs.

To reach the championship, Helfman’s had to overcome a determined effort from Snookie’s Monsters With Bats. Tied 4-4 in the sixth inning, Helfman’s scored five times for a final score of 9-4. Rodney Smith’s two-run double led the winners.

Our sponsors

We all benefit from the generosity of our 12 sponsors. Last year’s junior-division sponsors were Access Sportswear, Holy Smokes Pizza, Palmer’s Funeral Homes, Powerhouse Electric, Putt Putt and TAG. For the seniors, they were AIM Water Treatment, Barnaby’s of Mishawaka, Builders Store, Christman Construction, OC Hardware and Wesolowski Insurance.

In some cases, these are local businesses that hope to create a positive impression for potential customers. In other cases, they are just good people who want to support our league.

The sponsor fee has been $400 per year for the past several seasons and will stay that way for 2023. Basically, that money pays for your shirts, hats and other incidentals.

On occasion, we lose a sponsor and need a replacement. If you know of a business or individual who may be interested in supporting our league, please let us know so we can put them on our list.

And if you’re buying a pizza or replacing a lost screwdriver, please consider supporting the local businesses that serve as our sponsors. Thank them for their support.

More to the story

Our mid-October newsletter told the story of Dick Martens, who founded our league in 1988. As it turns out, Bob Tajkowski of OC Hardware in the senior division is Dick’s son-in-law.

Bob was at the league’s first game at Merrifield Park and videotaped it, using equipment that Dick kept for his job as a wedding photographer. Bob also recalls that his daughter served as a batgirl and ran the bases for team members who needed a pinch-runner.

This wasn’t Dick’s only project, Bob says. He also was instrumental in starting Northside Little League, where he served as a coach for his son, Rick.

New treasurer

Bob Gorny will be our league’s treasurer for 2023. That means, basically, he’ll be collecting and disbursing funds, and he’ll keep us up to date on our bank balance.

We all owe a big thank-you to Pam Gosbin, who has been our treasurer for the past decade or so. We’ve asked her to take on other projects instead, and we hope to see her around the ballpark for many years to come.

The reason for the switch is this: We were putting Pam in a dangerous spot when she was keeping our books while also being the league’s No. 1 vendor. We function like a non-profit, and the rules are clear on perceived conflicts of interest. Pam and Rich Gosbin own Access Sportswear, the company that supplies us with shirts, hats and other items.

In no way are we implying that there has been a problem with our purchases in the past. It’s more likely that Access is barely breaking even or losing money in its business relationship with the league. We just need to comply with rules that are on the Internal Revenue Service books. The next time you see her, please thank her for her good work.

Do you hate your bat?

It might be worth a try to set up an off-season equipment exchange here. If you have a bat, glove, bag or other softball gear to sell or trade, or if you’re looking to buy something, send me an email at kenbradford@comcast.net. Maybe we can help each other out.

While we’re at it, the league is looking at new ways to raise funds. One idea is to have a spouses’ auxiliary that could organize raffles, 50-50 drawings or food sales. Would anyone be interested in getting this started?

Senior division update

At our October managers meeting, we asked Rich Gosbin for an update on his efforts to move our senior division back to Mishawaka. He said he’s still working on it and can’t estimate when he’ll have a decision or announcement.

In the meantime, we will continue to plan for at least four senior teams to play in 2023 at the Byers Complex. It’s essential that we have a seniors league at Byers for those players who wish to play in both divisions.

Most likely, we will recruit two senior players to serve on our commissioners’ board in advance of the 2023 season. Once we have them in place, we will begin collecting names of players who wish to be on those teams. We will keep last year’s teams as intact as possible but some reconfiguring of rosters will be necessary if we shrink from six to four teams.

Our ideal solution would be for the Mishawaka proposal to be shelved for a year. That would allow a more orderly transition, if there is one. However, that’s not our decision to make. We will get through this together and just have fun in May.