For aging athletes, it’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times. They’ve got it pretty soft … and hard.
By midlife, midsections typically run a little softer and getting out of the easy chair is a little harder.
Organized sports also are a little harder, even softball.
Some, however, old age “burns and rages” and they prefer to stick the harder, path-less-traveled rather than go “gentle into that good night.”
Local participants in the Central North Carolina Men’s Senior Baseball League may walk a little softly but they still carry a big stick to the plate at Carrboro High School for games of good old-fashioned hardball.
“We don’t want to play softball,” said Brad Ward, 37, a Carrboro police officer who plays “down” for the 21-plus age-group’s Raleigh Woodpeckers.
Teams in the CNCMSBL are grouped by the minimum age of their players.
Other teams playing home games at Carrboro High this summer, thanks to an agreement with Jaguar coach Nat Tyndall, are the 35-plus Carolina Red Birds and the 45-plus Apex Athletics.
“The 45s are playing at a little slower pace,” Ward said during a recent game, “but there are some 35s that are really pretty good.”
“This is more competitive, and softball just isn’t challenging enough,” said Eric Smith, 48, a player / manager of the Red Birds.
“Most of these guys played college ball, pro ball or at least high school,” added Smith, who played at Kansas State University and gave professional baseball a try before joining the CNCMSBL in 1995. “Plus, just being our here breaks up the monotony of the workweek.
You play with your peers, and it gives us something to do.”
“When players of all skill levels seek an alternative to softball, they almost always find their way to (our leagues),” the MSBL website ( www.msblnational.com
The Central North Carolina league ( www.cncmsbl.org
) has been a member of a national organization since 1989.
The Men’s Senior Baseball League has 325 local affiliates, 3,200 teams and 45,000 members who play organized amateur baseball in local leagues, the MSLB site said. In addition to league play, the MSBL offers 30 regional and six national tournaments.
On average, teams in all divisions compete in approximately 20 regular season games and post-season tournaments. Champions are crowned in each division, and all-star games are held annually in each division as well.
The CNCMSBL has sent teams to tournaments in Atlanta, Charlottesville and Orlando, Fla. The 35-plus Raleigh Red Sox won the Fall Classic national tournament in Florida in 2007.Showcase
The regular season will end later this month for all three teams who play home games in Carrboro.
Despite the popularity of the league among current players, the league has seen diminishing numbers during the past few years.
Cost might be a factor, Ward said.
“Rec league softball costs maybe $50 or $100 for a season; this is more like $350. We have to buy the balls, rent the fields. It’s a national league, so we have to pay league fees too.”
Ward said that the seven-team league showcases a wide range of talent and experience.
“We have the best shortstop in the league,” he noted. “We have three guys who wrestled at N.C. State, and they’re flat-out athletes. … It’s a mix from former high school players to former pros."
With minor exceptions, the rules are those of major league baseball.
“You can put a runner in for a pitcher or catcher with two outs, just to help the game move along,” Ward said. “If you’re a starter, you can come out of the game and go back in. You can’t start off batting ninth and then bat fifth though.”
But while hard balls, wooden bats and long, hot summer days are the stuff of the MLB’s “boys of summer,” these factors aren’t always as kind to elders.
“You see mostly minor injuries,” Smith said, “but I do remember back in the early 2000s though that two guys died playing on another team in this league. One got hit (by a line drive) right in the head, and another got hit in the Adam’s apple. There’s a monument at their field now.”
“We just lost three or four of our better players too,” Red Birds’ pitcher Tim Kenny said. “One tore his hamstring, another broke his collarbone, and another moved away. I just had a little arthroscopic surgery, too. It takes me a good solid five or six days to recuperate after pitching.”
Bob Robinson, 51, more known as radio personality Bob “the Blade” of 96 Rock, mans the hot corner at third base for the Red Birds on weekends. For Robinson, author of the book “There’s Nothing Louder than Dead Air,” it’s the temperature that takes the biggest toll on players.
“It’s the heat, and it’s also a six-hour day, really,” said Robinson, who played high school baseball in Fayetteville and got involved in the CNCMSBL in 1990. “You’ve got to watch for heatstroke.”End of the day
After the end of their regular season, tournament season will begin for many.
“I think we just put together an all-star team and go to tournaments,” Ward said. “I go with a 35-plus team in November down to Florida to play at the (MLB) spring training parks. Scott McCreery’s father pitches in this league. He actually went down to Florida with us, but since Scotty’s singing, he hasn’t had that much time.”
Both Smith and Ward said those interested should check the MSBL website for more information.
Those players best be wary, however, that those interested in a kinder, softer brand of play need not apply. But for those truly intrigued, it might be best to get into the action early.
“At the end of the day, the older you get, the heavier the ball gets,” Robinson said.