HARWICH – It’s not just the kids that wanted to get in a game this summer, which is why, when field activities were allowed under the state’s Phase 2 part of the reopening plans, Cape Cod Senior Softball jumped at the chance to salvage at least some of its 2020 season.
Since July 13, teams from across the region, sponsored by local businesses including those from Chatham and Harwich, once again took to the softball fields for seven innings of spirited slow-pitch softball and much-needed time outdoors.
According to CCSS Commissioner Van Khachadoorian, the league originally canceled its 2020 season on May 18, prior to the start of the state’s phased reopening, following the lead of the Cape Cod Baseball League.
Then, when Phase 2 plans were announced, players and league administrators were thrilled to learn that field activities, with modifications, were allowed. The CCSSL board met and voted to restart the season on July 13.
“As we decided to reopen, we also put together a committee to develop a series of safety protocols to deal with the virus,” Khachadoorian said. “We put that all together and let the fellows in our league know we were reopening.”
According to Khachadoorian, players had to sign a waiver stating they understood the risks pertaining to the pandemic and agreed to play under the protocols. Those protocols state that players have to wear masks when they’re on the field, with the exception of outfielders. Infielders have to pull their masks up when a player is on base. Players on the sidelines must wear masks while maintaining the six-foot social distancing recommendation and use of dugouts is prohibited.
“We also provided all 13 teams with hand sanitizer and wipes,” said Khachadoorian. “They have to wipe bat handles down after every use. No one can share equipment, but they can share bats providing they’re wiped down.”
Khachadoorian said that the majority of players have been agreeable regarding the restrictions.
“Every so often we have to remind a few to pull their masks up, but the managers have been very vigilant about making sure people are following the protocols,” he said, adding that players refusing to comply risk further action from the league.
The challenge facing the league is having enough umpires to ensure coverage of each game. With 13 teams playing on fields in Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, and Harwich, a fairly large pool is needed. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case this summer.
“Historically we’ve always had about 40 umpires,” said Khachadoorian. “We had a lot of guys that opted not to umpire this year. It’s put on a major hardship on the league. When an umpire does not show up for a game, the teams playing have to umpire their own games.”
Khachadoorian said there are about a half dozen umpires that have proven reliable and another half dozen that fill in when they’re able. But the majority have bowed out due to concerns over COVID-19, with a few sidelined with injuries unrelated to the virus.
“These guys have been real stalwarts in terms of helping out the league this year,” he said of those who have stepped up.
The pandemic also necessitated the cancellation of the league’s annual awards banquet, and the annual Cape Cod Classic, a tournament that brings in teams from across the country, which is why getting to play at least some games is so important to the players.
So, what is it about senior softball that makes it special?
“It’s the camaraderie,” said Khachadoorian. “From my perspective as commissioner, I’m amazed by the speed and the hitting and the throwing and the overall talent of these young guys. The guys in the other divisions are doing the same thing. They go out and have a great competitive sense, enjoy the camaraderie, getting some exercise and just being the boys of summer.”
Rob Robidoux, manager of team Fellman Brothers, agrees.
“The camaraderie. The competitiveness. At our age to be able to do this is something else,” he said, noting that many of his players are in their 80s.
Robidoux appreciates that those playing senior softball are showing the younger generations that players don’t have to give up the game as they get older.
“Never give up,” he said. “Don’t say that just because you’re getting old that you can’t play.”
To accommodate the different levels of experience, Robidoux said there are traditionally different divisions, those for more experienced players and those for players just joining the game for the first time. This summer, because of the late start and lower numbers, divisions merged, which has meant a mix of talent on each team.
Players are selected similarly to the big leagues.
“We go through a draft,” said Robidoux, adding that a list of players is rated, and each manager gets so many picks. “It’s very challenging to keep the parity.”
In the end, however, it’s about playing ball.
“The guys are just so anxious to get outside,” said Wayne Draeger, manager for team Aggregate Industries. “I think, like everybody, we’re a little stir crazy.”
Draeger said what he appreciates most about senior softball is the opportunity to keep playing.
“It’s the chance to go out and play like kids again,” he said. “We all did this when we were 12 and 14 and the chance to go out and actually play like kids do is the kick most of us get.”
While players might move a little slower than they did as kids, Draeger said it doesn’t matter since everyone is in the same boat.
“We’re all in the same spot,” he said. “We’re old and so running and trying to catch fly balls, you’re a lot less confident than when we were young. We all have the same limitations, so we can laugh at each other and say, ‘I wouldn’t have gotten that one either.’”
Much like those on team Fellman Brothers, a number of players on team AI are in their 80s, with their 92-year-old pitcher still throwing heat.
“We’re not great players but it is just fun to get outside and do stuff we love to do,” Draeger said. “We’re just a bunch of older folks that get a chance to get out and play a couple times a week and that’s really satisfying.”
For more on Cape Cod Senior Softball, visit capecodseniorsoftball.com.