Bill Merritt ducks under the arm of Largo’s Guy Renaud in hopes of making it to third base before the ball does during a Jan. 16 game against Clearwater.
LARGO – Almost 20 years ago, Peter Aubry was skeptical of his ability to play ball anymore.
A friend asked him to come play for a new 50 and older softball league. Aubry hadn’t played in 15 years, but his friend assured him that the slow-pitch version of the sport wouldn’t be too taxing.
He decided to try it out.
“I remember getting a base hit. I stopped at first base (and turned to) a guy who ended up being one of my best friends,” he said. “God, this is like being 12 years old again. Six o’clock at night, you’re out on the ball diamond, playing ball. Just being kids again.”
Now at 69, Aubry said the feeling remains.
“For our age group, it is the American pastime,” he explained. “It’s being the ‘Boys of Summer’ again.
For the last seven years, Aubry has helped organize the Largo recreation 50 and older softball league, which started its new season this month. The league meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m., at Whitesell Softball Complex, 12555 119th St. N. Tuesdays are reserved for batting practice and drop-in games. On Thursdays, senior teams from other cities – Clearwater, Safety Harbor and Madeira Beach – come to Largo to play two simultaneous games in a more formal setting.
Largo was up against the Clearwater 60 and older team, who call themselves 3 Score, for the first double-header matchup of the season Jan. 16.
The camaraderie among the players in a laid-back setting is key, said Paul Parynik, 66, of Indian Rocks Beach.
“Everybody plays, regardless of their level of talent. That’s what makes it fun,” he said.
The Largo team, as the newer organization, was a bit surprised by their own level of talent, keeping 3 Score scoreless in the first game and to only two runs in the second.
“We didn’t expect this,” Parynik said. “They didn’t eat their Cheerios this morning.”
Largo’s oldest player, 88-year-old Billy Burdeyny was responsible for pitching a shut out in the first game. Burdeyny played with an even younger co-ed team until about a year ago. He’s been playing with Largo recreation team since permanently moving to the city in 2007, he said.
“As a pitcher, I encourage them. I don’t care how many times you miss the ball, as long as you’re trying and having fun, enjoying it,” he said. “We’re here for fun to the best of our ability.”
Consistent exercise and work around the house, like gardening, keeps Burdeyny in fit form enough to play, he said.
Bob Patton of St. Petersburg, who plays for Clearwater, said he made a goal to get back to a baseball field after undergoing a colon cancer surgery.
“I put this on my bucket list,” he said. “What’s amazing is how good the guys are. We have some very, very good players. They either run real well, or don’t run at all. There’s no middle of the road.”
Burdeyny, kept only to batting due to an injured leg, watched as his teammates tried to keep the Largo team from scoring any more runs.
“We’re not playing very well right now,” he admitted. “That’s what happens: it’s either feast or famine.”
3 Score just wasn’t able to make enough hits, said catcher Al Melendez, 68, of Tarpon Springs.
“We’ve done our job holding them to nine runs,” he said.
Besides, even losing, a morning on the field is better than “sitting home, watching TV,” Melendez added.
“The guys come out; they just want to have a good time,” he said.
Many of the players on both teams also compete in traveling tournaments. The recreation league offers more practice in a casual setting. However, the play is not immune to the occasional argument over the accuracy of strikes.
“This is what happens when you get old guys together,” said Melendez, chuckling as a 3 Score player angrily tried to make his case to the umpire.
The players usually go for a drink after the game.
“The camaraderie is just so important,” said Largo player Vince Nowak. “Nobody out here knew anybody until we just showed up. You meet some of your best friends.”
Aubry agreed that his teammates “are just a bunch of super great guys.” The part-time Canadian resident often meets up with different players he plays with in Largo and stays at their homes around the country when he travels.
He hopes to grow the Largo league to 45 players so the program can form more teams and play each other. About 21 players are currently involved.
Older guys often have excuses for why they can’t play, Aubry explained.
“You haven’t played ball in 10, 20, 30, 40 years? Come on out. It’s like riding a bike,” he said. “What are you doing at 9 o’clock in the morning when you’re retired?”
If you’re blessed with good health enough to play, you have to keep it going, he added.
“I’m thinking baseball’s keeping me alive,” he said. “So many people want to talk about getting old or being old.”
He shook his head and smiled.
“Nah. I want to be a kid.”
If you’re interested in playing for the Largo league, email Peter Aubry at firstname.lastname@example.org, writing “Largo softball” in the subject line, or call 366-2923.
To play for 3 Score at the Eddie C. Moore Softball Complex in Clearwater, call league president Gary Maasch at 593-9170.
To play with the Sons of Beaches in Madeira Beach, call Joe Scherrer at 513-791-7963.