The boys of many summers – and still counting - gathered Tuesday to challenge their bodies once more.
Wearing uniforms of red, green and white, players with Tacoma’s JoeSeppi’s 75’s walked onto a Lacey softball diamond to begin their quest for the first leg of senior men’s softball’s Triple Slam – the Western Nationals.
The 10-day affair at Lacey’s Regional Athletic Complex will attract more than 750 senior players on teams from six states through the weekend. The tournament is put on by Senior Softball-USA.
As the Tacoma team came to bat in the first inning, the players – all age 75 or older – weren’t underestimating their opponents, the California Gold Rush 75’s, who’d scored five runs in their first at-bat.
Tuesday’s game was for practice, but there are bragging rights.
“Let’s be competitive; be selective,” Dick Payseno, 75, offered from the dugout. A University of Washington football running back in the mid-1950s, Payseno is one of JoeSeppi’s fastest outfielders and a power hitter.
He wasn’t worried about the 5-0 score.
“We’ll get going,” he said.
Another of the team’s power hitters, Norman Huletz, 75, of Seattle, played college ball at UW and professionally for the minor league Seattle Rainiers in 1957. When he wasn’t in the field or batting, he was walking slowly back and forth near the dugout to stay limber.
Now in his 20th year in senior softball, Huletz, like many on the JoeSeppi’s team, was a member of the Seattle-based Emerald City Masters team, which won numerous senior softball world championships in many age groups.
In 2008, JoeSeppi’s completed the Triple Slam – taking the Grand National Championship in its age category by winning the Western Nationals, the U.S. Nationals and the World Championship.
The team was formed a few years ago by Joe Stortini, owner of JoeSeppi’s Italian Ristorante in Tacoma. Stortini, who both plays and coaches, picked his team from the best players he knew and had played with.
JoeSeppi’s last meeting with Gold Rush was in June in Reno for the Rock and Roll Challenge Cup. The team won two of three games and the tournament, earning an automatic berth in the National Tournament of Champions next year in Florida.
In the dugout, John Furrer, 76, of Lacey watched Tuesday’s game but was a little worried at the lack of hitting. The score was low – not a good sign, he said.
“We are usually a good-hitting bunch,” he said.
The noisy dugout erupted in shouts when Huletz knocked one clear to the right-field fence.
“He must be batting .800,” Furrer said appreciatively.
Not all good senior players are former college athletes. Tom Foley, 76, a retired Boeing engineer and manager from West Seattle, never played baseball in high school.
“I was always too little at 128 pounds coming out of high school,” he said.
When he started senior softball, he began at the bottom and now is graded a “major” player.
“Age is a kind of equalizer,” Foley explained.
Bill Wheeler, 77, of Gig Harbor had never played baseball but played a lot of softball over the years in recreation leagues. He started playing senior softball ball at age 50.
“I’m the youngest guy on the team,” Stafford Jones of Issaquah said with a grin. “I just turned 75.”
Mike Archbold: 253-597-8692 mike.archbold @thenewstribune.com