It’s a softball game in which players cannot strikeout, ever, home runs can cost you dearly and nine-person teams are not exactly required.
Each Tuesday morning, since early June, a group of central peninsula senior citizens has gathered for a morning of softball at the Little League complex at Soldotna’s Centennial Park. Loosely organized, they call themselves the Senior Softball Players of Soldotna.
The pick-up sandlot game is organized by 70-year-old Soldotna resident and former center fielder in the Boston Red Sox professional minor league system Paul Montenieri.
“I’m still competitive,” said Montenieri. “I’m still the fastest guy on the field.”
Still in a state of inaugural infancy, the senior game is set up so that the it can always be played no matter how many show up. Playing ball is the important part, said Montenieri, who expects the numbers to stabilize following the close of sockeye season.
The group of players oscillates in size from five to 14 or more and when they can’t form two full teams, which happens often, the players set up a “three-up” game that has three players batting and the rest playing the field. Players rotate from the batter’s box to left field, then center, then right and then around the infield. Pitchers transition back to batter.
“We call our own plays … there is no arguing and no cussing,” said Montenieri.
The average age of the Soldotna players is 58, with many on either side from 50 to 70 years old. During a 45-minute pre-game warm-up and batting practice, senior-centric jokes bounce across the infield: “Anyone have a defibrillator;” “I had rotator cuff surgery last year;” “I assume it’s slow pitch;” “Retirement is awesome!”
“These are kind and gentle people, but they play like animals,” said Nikiski resident Rose Pilatti.
A loyal Minnesota Twins fan, Pilatti joined in on the weekly game as a way to get out and meet new people. Past 50, but under 55, she last played softball in high school and a little baseball when her kids were in Little League 15 years ago. As she runs bases, Pilatti tends to lift her arms above her head for a joyous flight.
“It just feels good to be out here,” said Pilatti.
Like those games of youth, gear is not needed. To play in the game only desire to be there one the field of play is needed. Tuesday, one player showed up needing a glove, they all shared bats and most of the balls are left over from Montenieri’s former weekly game held in Arizona.
“Whatever we got we use,” said Montenieri.
Used Tuesday was Pal Marquez’s “Pal” classic wooden bat. Marquez said he sanded it down and refinished the lightly bronzed bat himself. During batting practice, he could be heard talking about a garage sale softball glove. “Fifty-cents,” he said.
No “whiffers” stepped to the plate Tuesday and the crack of the bat was constant as batters hit the slow pitch with control and power.
Action on the field was quick as the ageing Baby Boomers played with heart and seasoned talents. Innings did not lag, a result of quality defensive players shagging hard-hit grounders back handed or fly balls on the run.
Conversely, the bruisers who like to crank the ball past the fence find themselves out for each homerun hit after their first.
“So we don’t have to go chase the ball all the time,” said Montenieri.
Players in the Soldotna game encourage each other to not go to the ground for a play. It’s a way to stave off age-related injuries. So far this summer, there’s only been a couple of little hamstring pulls, said Montenieri.
Part of his message behind the game is that seniors are no longer confined to rocking chairs on the porch. He wants to show the community that life in the golden years is not akin to those of his parents’ and grandparents’ generations, when most people were deemed or literally felt “old” at some point in their 40s.
Helping keep the momentum of the first season going is the incredible streak of fair to great weather the Kenai Peninsula as seen since Memorial Day.
“What a year to break it,” Montenieri said. “We refuse to let it rain on Tuesday.”
For more information on the Senior Softball Players of Soldotna call Paul Montenieri at 907-394-6061.
Reach Greg Skinner at firstname.lastname@example.org.