Gene Thomas, 88, slugged the ball to left field, dropped his bat and returned to the dugout Wednesday at Cantiague Park in Hicksville.
“The swing’s a little slower, but the stroke’s still there,” a spectator said as he stopped to watch the softball game. “It’s amazing.”
But Thomas, of Valley Stream, can’t get around the bases like he used to, so he instead let pinch runner Al Bonfardino, a sprightly 75 years old, beat the throw out to first.
“He’s a baby,” Joe Ditaranto, 79, of Bayside, Queens, said of Bonfardino, a retired Nassau County cop.
Two teams of players, all 69 and older, met to play in the annual New York Senior Softball Association’s all-star game on Wednesday. The game pit the Yankees, managed by Ditaranto, who doubles as the league’s commissioner, against the Dodgers.
The Yankees-Dodgers match followed this year’s all-star game theme, commemorating the 40th anniversary of New York Yankee Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in game six to win the 1977 World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
For the past several years, the all-star games have had themes. One year, both teams were made up entirely of players in their eighties. Another year, a team of players who had all undergone heart surgery squared off against a team of players with hip or knee replacements, Ditaranto said.
The New York Senior Softball Association’s season is 60 games long, according to Ditaranto. From mid-April through the beginning of September, about 125 players compete in four seven-inning games a week. This year’s all-star game was shortened to four innings because of a threat of rain.
“It’s old guys being little boys again,” said Jim Musgrove, 69, of North Bellmore. “We’re not exactly the Yankees, more like the Bad News Bears, but we have a lot of fun.”
The Dodgers took an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first after Edward Garlepp, 76, of Seaford, hit a controversial triple. The Yankees dugout stood up and loudly contested that Garlepp, a former engineer, had failed to step on second base.
“What game are you watching, Blue?” Ditaranto, who was pitching, yelled at the umpire as he threw his hat on the ground.
The call stood and the Dodgers eventually extended their lead to four runs. After a spirited pep talk, the Yankees earned one run back, but couldn’t pull off the comeback by the end of the showcase, which was sponsored by The Bristal Assisted Living.
“We’re just as competitive as we were at 19 years old, but it’s more about getting together and the camaraderie,” Ditaranto said. “We all love playing ball.”