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Huntington softball league keeps seniors youthful

Cliff Danielson, a member of the Cougars, an

Cliff Danielson, a member of the Cougars, an over-60 softball team in Huntington, pitches during practice at Manor Field Park in Huntington Station. (April 14, 2011) Photo Credit: Erin Geismar

In theory, there was one man on first. Members of the Huntington Cougars softball team were in the field as the ball flew over the diamond and was caught by an outfielder.

“He’s going, he’s going,” yelled the third baseman, as the imaginary runner apparently moved toward second base.

The outfielder, heeding the warning, swiveled toward the infield and threw the bright yellow softball to the man covering second, who dropped it.

“He’s gone,” said the third baseman, and all the men laughed.

Despite the slip, the Cougars -- one of two Huntington teams in the Long Island Senior Softball Association, a league for players 60 and over -- had shown up at Manor Field Park in Huntington Station on Thursday morning ready for their first scrimmage of the season. Muddy fields and the lack of practice time made the opposing team cancel so the Cougars held a practice instead.

The LISSA season, which has 19 teams, begins practicing when the weather permits each spring. The Cougars’ first official game of the season is Thursday, and the team will play doubleheaders every Tuesday and Thursday mornings through fall.

Joe Letta, 74, the oldest member of the team and its manager, said he has high hopes for the Cougars this year.

“We got a couple of new ball players and they’re young kids,” he said. “They’re 60 years old and they can run and they’ve played before, so they should be able to give us a boost.”

Letta, of Huntington, has been playing with LISSA for 12 years, reliving his days as a professional ballplayer. He was a minor league pitcher for the Minnesota Twins for four years after he graduated from college, he said.

“I love baseball and baseball was very good to me,” he said. “Just to be able to continue playing softball is really a treat.”

Kevin Thompson, 64, of Northport, is in his fifth season with the league, all of which he’s played for the Cougars. Thompson has been a lifelong athlete and baseball player he said, running marathons until just a few years ago and playing for the Rockville Centre Fire Department league and other teams throughout his middle age.

About 15 years ago, the softball team he had started fell apart, he said, and he lost track of the sport until joining the Cougars.

“It’s wonderful,” he said. “People say it’s an opportunity to regain your youth, but I say I never lost it.”

Thompson said he also plays indoors in the Snowflake league throughout the winter and, as he’s about to turn 65, has been asked to join a national team, which will take him to All-Star games around the country this summer.

Letta said all of the players on the team have a history with the sport, whether they played baseball in college or played in softball leagues throughout their lives. He said what they all have in common is that they feel privileged to still be playing ball.

“If you can imagine, many of our friends and counterparts who we’ve worked with and retired with don’t have the ability to play,” he said. “Just the fact that we can do this and enjoy it, really none of us thought we would ever be able to do it in our 60s and 70s.”

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