Over the hill and out of the park5/21/2014
As you arrive at the ballpark, you might think you’ve walked on to the set of a Cialis commercial — a mingling pod of over-the-hill gentlemen resting softball bats on their shoulders, smiling with silver-capped toothy (if they’re lucky) grins and patting one another on the back. You didn’t take a wrong turn and accidentally land yourself on the set of a magazine photo shoot for an erectile dysfunction ad. What these guys are really up to is far more provocative.
They’re actually there because they’re hard up for softball — a dose of the ol’ glory days.
“I would say the majority of players have been playing softball their entire adult life or played when (they were) younger adults and have stayed active and are now coming back to the sport,” figured Bruce Mankle of the West Des Moines Parks and Recreation. “ I would guess that a pretty small percentage of the players are true first-timers who have never played the game.”
While these gentlemen might not be in their physical prime, their love for the game — or nagging from their wives to be more health conscious — prevails and keeps them coming back. Speaking of back, never mind the abundance of back and knee braces. Those are necessary parts of the uniform in these golden years — keeps these fellas from going all Gumby. And while some days can prove difficult, many try to play through the pain.
“(We want) to create a fun-but-competitive, social-but-safe environment, where players, spectators and fans of the game will leave with the feeling that this hasn’t been just another place to play ball, but that it has been one of the best experiences they’ve ever had,” Mankle said.
Like any “drop in” event, there are regulars and newbies at every game. But the teams are comprised of mature adults, so newcomers need not worry about reliving the last-picked, shirts-vs.-skins nightmares from childhood sports.
“Players understand that they want to continue to grow this sport, so they really take new players under their wing and encourage them,” Mankle assured. “They understand that some of the rookies maybe haven’t played in several years and are a bit uncomfortable when they first show up to play. Plus the rookies are usually faster, and they may want to recruit that player for their league team.
“Games are very low-key and social, so yes there is a little bit of friendly jabs thrown around,” admits Mankle. “I would suggest that some of the veteran players who know each other very well do most of the kidding back and forth.”
While these guys may not be diving for fast balls or sliding into bases, most will be surprised by the spryness of the players. You won’t find many walkers out there — unless their parents are in the stands.
Locker Room note: The Capital Striders Run With the Animals began its season in April and meets every Monday at 6 p.m. at Campbell Park in Clive and goes through Oct. 20. … Don’t miss the Principal Charity Classic Golf Tournament, May 27 – June 1 at Wakonda Club in Des Moines. CV
David Rowley is an Iowa native with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and a master’s in film journalism from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.