I have always had a love for the game of baseball. Like many kids today, I started playing organized baseball in the first grade and continued playing recreationally through graduate school. I liked every aspect of the game as well as the camaraderie and culture.
After 32 years of not playing baseball, I organized a coed softball team made up primarily of faculty members and students in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at The University of Southern Mississippi. The men who came out to play were mostly senior faculty who ranged in age from their mid-40s to late 60s, while the women players were undergraduate and graduate speech and hearing and deaf education majors -- most of whom had played high school softball and had a similar love for the game.
To the Intramural Sports program, this was a unique team, and they didn’t know exactly where to place the Speech and Hearing Sciences (SHS) Cubs. We finally ended up playing in the Co-Rec League in the division with the fraternities and sororities who were mostly 20-year-old former high school baseball and softball players. (Intramural softball at USM has about 715 players on 55 teams each spring. Games are played on the hour from 5 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday during the season. More than 3,000 students and faculty participate in the various intramural sports each year at USM.)
During the first season, 2004, we got in a few practices and identified two guys who could hit the strike zone before the season opener. As the opening game approached, there was much excitement -- especially among the older guys who would be playing for the first time in 25 to 45 years. It was like Joe DiMaggio’s description of the opening day in the major leagues: “You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.” And so did we!
It’s hard to describe the thrill of taking the field and starting at first base after being red- shirted for 32 years. Running onto the field, I had the same feelings I had when I was playing for the Mobile County, Alabama Little League championship at Hartwell Field, the home of the Mobile Bears in 1954, and I think the other guys had similar thoughts. Although I had coached my son’s American Legion baseball team and my daughter’s softball team before she played varsity softball in high school, coaching and watching simply could not compare to actually playing the game.
The SHS Cubs won their first league game beating a Kappa Sigma-Kappa Delta team 8 to 6 with a pitcher who was approaching his 70th birthday. I drove in two runs and another guy hit a solo home run. All of the girls played well, and they anchored the old guys. We were as excited as little leaguers to win our first game.
The SHS Cubs continued playing in the Co-Rec League through the 2009 season. A few faculty members from Human Performance and Recreation also joined our team in 2008 and 2009. We won at least half of our games each season, and we got as far as the semi-finals in the 2007 championship tournament. We also won the Intramural Sportsmanship Award in 2007. A heart-warming comment we overheard heard on more than one occasion over the years was, “I can’t believe those old guys beat us.” No higher compliment could have been rendered.
In 2010 our star pitcher, now in his early 70s, had major surgery, and some of the other regulars thought they were getting too old, too heavy, or too busy to play. I tried to field a team, but only one other player showed up for practice. We threw the ball for 30 minutes and called it quits.
These six seasons of softball were the most fun I remember having in recent years. The softball team also did more for departmental morale and friendship among the Speech and Hearing Sciences faculty and students than any event during that same time period. Sometimes I laugh out loud just thinking about the games and seeing guys my age as enthusiastic as kids to be out there.
As Annie Savoy (paraphrasing Walt Whitman) said in the movie, Bull Durham, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game - the American game. It will repair our losses, and be a blessing to us. You can look it up.” There’s truth to that, and it would be nice to see it carry over into politics.
I retired in May, but recently the Department Chair said that there is renewed interest in fielding another SHS Cubs team in 2012. If so, I may play again. I’ve already renewed my Rec card.