Baseball season is right around the corner — not just for the professionals, but for the whole spectrum of ballplayers, from Little Leaguers to senior softball players 50 years of age and older.
Here in South Sound, the Olympia Senior Softball League is gearing up for another season, and it’s looking for new players, too.
The league has grown from five teams in 2003 to 12 in 2012, a sure sign that for many senior citizens, the itch to play baseball still needs scratching.
League organizers Tom Frare and Shane Verley are out on the recruiting trail, encouraging would-be ballplayers to give slow-pitch softball a try.
An open tryout and orientation is set for noon to 4 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey. No baseball team experience is required, and the league will try to find a team that’s a good skill-level fit for anyone interested.
“We want to grow the league,” Verley, 57, said. “More teams allow us to have closer age groupings, which makes the games more competitive.”
With enough players, the league will include 50-and-older, 55-and-older, 60-and-older, 65-and-older and 70-and-older teams.
The spring league, which includes doubleheaders Wednesday evenings March 6 through April 24, is a series of games similar to the old “work-up” games many of us played at recess in grade school. It’s kind of like spring training for old-timers.
For those who miss the spring season, another tryout is set for 2 p.m. April 14 at Yauger Field in Olympia in advance of the May 1 opener for summer league, which runs through July 31. There’s also a fall league Aug. 7 through Sept. 25.
There’s a reason for a baseball season that’s seven months long.
“By keeping the offseason short, it helps avoid injuries,” Verley said.
This offseason Frare, 66 and a retired City of Olympia project engineer, is busy rehabbing a shoulder surgery. Don’t ask me how, but Frare tore up his shoulder running to first base last season.
Frare, a pitcher, started playing senior softball in 1999. Like about 30 percent of the league members, he had no experience playing organized baseball.
Frare wears a face mask, a heart plate, a baseball cup and mini-shin guards to protect himself from baseballs flying off of composite bats at 100 miles per hour. A ball lined back to the pitcher — 50 to 60 feet away — arrives in 0.3 second, Frare said.
“I chose to armor up,” he said.
Verley, a state employee and Chehalis-area resident, has a more typical baseball resume. He played Little League ball and some high school ball, then got hooked on slow-pitch softball after graduating from Central Washington University in 1977. He has been playing ever since, switching to senior softball in 2005.
Frare’s and Verley’s teams play several tournaments each year, including some out of state. Verley’s 55-and-over team won its Senior Softball-USA regional tournament in Aurora, Colo., last summer and just missed the hardware at their national tournament in Las Vegas.
Verley, an outfielder, just learned his team has been bumped up a notch to the second-highest level of competition for its age group for the 2013 season by Senior Softball-USA officials. Tournament play is likely to be tougher than ever this year.
Traveling teams have team budgets of $5,000 to $10,000 a year, and that doesn’t include travel expenses, uniforms and equipment.
“It’s an expensive hobby,” Verley said.
But some teams are content with the roughly 28-game league season at the RAC.
Verley encourages senior softball wannabes to get in shape, stay in shape and take it easy at the start with throwing and running. It’s the best insurance against pulled hamstrings and torn rotator cuffs.
The league keeps a defibrillator stationed at the RAC during games in case a ballplayer experiences cardiac arrest. There’s also a tournament at the RAC each year — this will be the fourth year — played in memory of senior softball players around the Northwest Region who have passed away in the past year.
“We’ve honored 18 players so far,” Frare said. “We have six players to honor this year.”
Senior softball players aren’t getting any younger, but their love of baseball — the competition and the camaraderie — endures.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444