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For LI seniors, travel softball offers camaraderie, adventure

Rein Griesmer, 75, takes a swing as Ray

Rein Griesmer, 75, takes a swing as Ray Dawson, 71, is in catcher position at the Medford Sports Complex. Credit: Yellow House Images/Andrew Theodorakis

Just call them the Boys of Autumn.

Baseball's World Series ended more than two weeks ago, but for dozens of Long Island retirees, the season is in full swing, as they travel the country this fall playing in senior softball tournaments as far away as Nevada and Utah.

For the athletes, playing and traveling helps them stay connected to the game they love while staying in shape and making new friends.

“It’s the camaraderie, which is magnificent — the laughter and the fun," said Bob Cuccinello, 73, of Hauppauge, a retired Nassau County detective who coaches for CC Medical Services, named for the team's Garden City-based sponsor. “It gives us something to do, I want to say, but it’s something more than that.”

The players include former high school and college stars, some of whom got as far as playing professional minor league baseball. These days they play in summer leagues run by towns and the Long Island Senior Softball Association, known as LISSA.

Tournaments last several days, with teams usually playing several games in one day. Games are limited to about an hour and have mercy rules to prevent winning teams from running up the score. Teams are split up into groups based on players' ages.

Players pay travel and hotel expenses out of their own pockets. But, they say, it's worth the expense to go sightseeing — and to try to win tournament titles.

“It’s for the glory. There’s no money involved. You pony up your own money to travel and things,” said Joe May, 74, of Mastic, a retired Suffolk cop who also plays for CC Medical Services. “You put on your game face and you want to win.”

“It’s a lot of fun," said Bill DeSario, 73, of East Setauket, a retired teacher and high school wrestling coach who runs the CC Medical Services squad. "We always have a team dinner every tournament. One evening we all go out together. We do things. We’ll go to the casino, we’ll go to the racetrack if there’s one nearby.” 

Joel Riech, manager of the Long Island Jaguars, which took five teams to a tournament on Florida's west coast last week, said he recruits players from local leagues. The Jaguars' 70 and over club won its bracket in Florida, and the 65 and up team took third place.

Riech, 78, of Smithtown, said he no longer plays because of medical issues but enjoys being around the game.

“As long as I can yell, I’m fine,” he said.

The New York Statesmen, an 80 and older club led by Dick Clarke, 84, of Stony Brook, won its division at the Florida competition.

Cuccinello's team was disappointed to finish fourth out of four teams in their division last week, but club members are already looking forward to their next trips to Florida in January and March.

“We didn’t have a great tournament," Cuccinello said after returning home. "But we laughed and laughed and laughed, and that’s what it’s all about when you’re older.”

Play ball!

The Long Island Jaguars, CC Medical Services and the New York Statesmen take part in tournaments run by Sacramento, California-based Senior Softball-USA, which operates dozens of competitions around the country each year.

Locally, Senior Softball-USA is affiliated with several softball leagues including:

Freeport Indoor Softball

Long Island Senior Softball Association (LISSA), Hempstead

New York Senior Softball Association, Hicksville

Pop’s Softball, Merrick

South Shore Senior Softball League, Nassau County

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