Senior circuit: 60+ indoor softball league on LI field of dreams
Robert “Red” Hannan is 76, and he goes to great lengths to play senior softball. He’ll travel by car or even by boat to play the game he loves.
He is not alone.
Hannan, from Trumbull, Connecticut, wakes up early on Mondays and Thursdays in the winter months to catch the 6:30 a.m. ferry from Bridgeport to Long Island to play indoor softball in a league for players ages 60 and over.
“The two greatest days of every week are the ones that I step onto the field with all my friends,” the retired Hannan said. “I’d rather do this than anything else. We’re not getting any younger, but it’s incredible what we’re doing at our age. It’s fantastic.”
When the ferry docks, Hannan meets his close friend, John Davide of Centereach, who then drives 30 minutes to batting practice at the Smithtown Sports Arena. They meet up with 32 to 40 other men who have the same passion for three hours of indoor senior softball.
“You never know who’s going to be there,” Hannan said. “It’s part of the charm of the who’s who of indoor softball.”
For more than a decade, Hannan and Davide have shared this routine from early December to late March. Through competition in the league, the two have formed a special bond.
“We played on opposing teams in national tournaments for a long time,” said Davide, 75, who coached baseball at Dowling College as well as high school baseball for a total of 35 years. “And then we played together for 18 years. We’ve become the best of friends.”
Davide recently was inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame by the American Softball Association in Oklahoma City.
There is no shortage of seniors over 60 playing softball. And they can’t get enough. There currently are 48 teams of players 60 and over who play in the summer on Long Island.
“The competition level is different in all leagues,” Davide said. “But there’s nothing like being indoors. We have our own rules. And although it’s competitive, it’s more for fun and exercise and enjoying being with the guys. There is no registration. You just show up and play.”
Players pay $9 for a three-hour indoor session of softball and entertainment, which can come in many forms: botched defensive plays, bad baserunning, swings and misses, good-natured heckling from the bench and nicknames for all the players.
The senior winter indoor league is proof positive that these guys are serious all year.
Indoor softball is played in an indoor lacrosse arena with artificial turf — that’s “artificial,” like the replacement hips, shoulders and knees many of the players have.
“Collectively we’ve had every conceivable surgery known to man,” Al Coppola, 74, a retired Earth Science teacher in Deer Park who lives in Medford, said with a laugh. “We’ve had guys come back from heart attacks and all kinds of cancer survivors. Nothing stops these guys from playing.”
Coppola had successful sextuple open-heart surgery in 2015. And you would never know it watching how the indoor all-time home run leader plays the game.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever play again before the surgery,” Coppola said. “It was very scary. I completely recovered and slowly came back to play for a team managed by the well-known George Martin and enjoying myself again. And I got stronger as the years wore on. I basically got a second lease on life.”
Coppola usually is found playing in his Mickey Mantle Yankees home pinstripe jersey. The reigning single-season home run champion hit 12 dingers in the league’s inaugural winter season of 2012. A lifetime fan of the Yankees and Mantle, Coppola loves to tell stories during the games about The Mick.
“One of my favorite movies is ‘Field of Dreams’,” Coppola said. “Terrence Mann, the author, played by James Earl Jones, says to Kevin Costner, who plays the main character Ray, ‘the one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. It’s part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again.’ Well, this quote sums up our indoor purpose. A fine group of competitive senior gentlemen who get together to share the love of the game.”
Ken Schultz, a 72-year-old retired social studies teacher from Oakdale, joined the league to prepare for the outdoor season. He plays for The Streaks, the nine-time outdoor summer league champion of the Brookhaven A League. Schultz, a slick-fielding shortstop, is one of the fastest runners indoors.
“I just enjoy the whole experience,” he said. “We have a great deal of fun. I get my running in and we get plenty of exercise. And then there’s the laughs and the camaraderie. It’s such a healthy outlet.”
Schultz, a 1968 Connetquot graduate, said: ‘We keep coming back every year, so it must be good. We even trash talk and stretch the rules a little bit. We care about one another, and we have incredible nicknames.”
Schultz goes by Kenny Schlitz after the old beer commercials.
Chris Revere, a 65-year-old retired New York City firefighter who worked in the rubble for months after 9/11, is a cancer survivor. The well-muscled Revere is a model of health.
“You have to take care of yourself,” said Revere, nicknamed Tic Tac Chris because he runs the bases with a box of Tic Tacs in his pocket. “I like the camaraderie of the men who want to turn back the hands of time and enjoy friendly competition and maintain a healthful lifestyle.”
A group email that serves like a newsletter goes out after every game detailing the day’s events. Willy DeSario, known as “The Webmaster,’’ writes the email.
“We stay connected on the web and guys like to see their names in the write-up. They look forward to it, like the newspaper,” said DeSario, a retired teacher in Babylon who coached wrestling for 36 years and turns 77 in October.
“Softball is an essential lifeline for most of these guys. The league encourages the spirit of friendly competition while simultaneously developing lasting friendships. It’s a group that loves playing together. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s an eclectic group of fantastic guys that all have a love for the game. The camaraderie is unbelievable.”
So is the passion.
After the morning warm-up and batting practice, each player throws his glove into a pile in the middle of the field. Davide then separates the gloves into three piles representing three teams.
One team goes to hit while the second team sits on the bench and waits to hit. The third team takes the field on defense. The three squads rotate every six outs.
“Throwing the gloves is an art,” Davide said. “You must know what you’re doing to split the teams evenly. Think about this: Thirty years ago, guys our age weren’t doing this kind of thing.”
For these seniors, in the autumn of their lives, indoor softball is a sort of lifeline.
“We can’t play the game the way we once did, but we all go home winners,” Revere said. “We’re still guys playing a kid’s game.”
The Senior Game
Minimum age: 60
Gameday fee: $9
Basepaths: 60 feet
Distance to centerfield: 200 feet
Six outs or five runs scored per inning.
There are designated baserunners.
Batted balls caught off the nets are outs.
Batted balls off the outfield wall pending height are automatic doubles, triples and home runs.
The defense: Four outfielders, five infielders, pitcher, catcher.
Peppermint Patty – Pat Magdalen
The Babe – Ray Dawson
The Hitman – Ryan Greismer
Johnny Softball – John Davide
Tic-tac Chris – Chris Revere
Fred Flintstone – Fred Stahman
Mike ‘Honey, I shrunk the Kids’ – Mike Delia
The Webmaster – Willy DeSario
Canseco – Chris LaMont
Mad Dog – George Donaldson
The Reverend – Al Coppola
Jerry Lumpe – Joe Caezza
Frank the Pug – Frank Puglia
Ken Schlitz – Kenny Schultz
The Monsignor – Dennis Cassidy
Red – Robert Hannan
Tex – Tex Brunfield
Barry’s Brother – Andy Greene
Andy’s Brother – Barry Greene