Softball's Senior Circuit is a Diamond Jubilee

The Star Ledger

by Margaret A. Dudas

"They're the guys who don't want to quit," said Al Schneider of Parsippany. Schneider, an investment banker, was talking about the New Jersey Senior Softball Association (NJSSA).
     Started through the efforts of Schneider, Tony Ciavatta of Madison, Richard Palmer of Montville and Mike Christy of Hunterdon, the league debuted in the spring of 1990 with six traveling teams.

     Today, it has some 1,500 men, ages 50 and over, who grew up during "the golden years of baseball," according to one player. Its 100 teams play in eight leagues in 15 of the state's 21 counties. 

Al Schneider and fellow Senior Softball Camper

Al Schneider (on left)

In the North Jersey Conference, softball is played under the lights every weekday except Thursday on fields in Caldwell, Lincoln Park and West Orange.
     Schneider, who is NJSSA vice president and third baseman for the Parsippany Pride, champions of the North Jersey Conference, said league play offers its members fun, recreation, fellowship, health and fitness, and increased self-esteem. "It's for the guys who don't want to quit, who want to stay active," he said.
     Senior softball offers competitive play on local, state and national levels for men over 50. In local play, the men are loosely grouped in two age divisions, 50-59 and 60 and above. In state and national competitions, they are grouped by age in five-year increments. Some teams are sponsored by businesses; most are self-supporting.
     "It's been enormously popular," said Stephen Gross, 53, of Morris Plains. "There are guys showing up out of the woodwork wanting to play over-50 softball." And while athletes of all abilities see action on the field, Gross said the league has, "some very good athletes who don't  play like 50-year-olds."
     Schneider, 56, who has played the game since he was a boy, said his enthusiasm for the sport hasn't changed, but, "now I don't have to stop until I'm 75 or 80." And with the five year increments at the state and national levels, he laughs, "every five years, you can become a rookie again."
     "You get a high from the moment," said Gross, Parsippany's shortstop by night and a plastics engineer by day. "It's a natural exhilaration when you get our there and do it. To make a good play, and have somebody say, 'Hey, nice play,' well I think that makes your day."

     Softball rules have been modified for NJSSA play to avoid the serious injuries that might result from collisions. Sliding is prohibited. There are two side-by-side first bases, one for the runner and one for the fielder, and all plays at home plate are force outs. The NJSSA is a slow-pitch league.
     In January, about 50 NJSSA players attended a four-day senior softball camp at Baseball City, the Kansas City Royal' spring training facility just south of Orlando Fla.
     "By the end of the first day," said Schneider, whose baseball heroes are Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, "it felt just like spring training in terms of aches and pains."
     But by day's end, as they soaked in their hotel hot tub and traded sports stories, they eagerly anticipated the next day, he recalled. They would speculate on what lay ahead and wonder if they would be traded to another team, he said, explaining that players at camp were traded to establish evenly matched squads.
     Some of the unmarried campers opted to explore the local nightlife, Gross said. But "most of us," he added. "were content to have dinner and a few beers with a bunch of guys and turn in" in preparation for the next day's early morning aerobics and stretching.
     The final game of winter camp was played in the main stadium at the Baseball City sports complex, which also has six other full-size playing fields.

Rectangle

"It's been enormously popular,"
said Stephen Gross, 53, of Morris
Plains. "There are guys showing up
out of the woodwork wanting to
play over-50 softball."

Rectangle

     Gross was one of the last to leave the field, hauling equipment back to the dugout. He paused to survey the "gorgeous setting," noting that in a week or so major league players would be preparing for another season on the very field he was leaving.
     "They pay these guys big bucks, and all they do in whine," he chuckled.
     "And we just love it. We'd pay to be able to do it. It was a great experience," he added.
     "I think the 50's were the golden age of baseball," Gross said, recalling Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Al Kaline and the Brooklyn Dodgers. As youths, "we used to play softball all summer in (New York's) Central Park. We'd play five, six days a week, multiple games, Just about everything we did revolved around that."
     Currently, NJSSA members range in age from 50 to 78. Schneider said the association hopes to increase the number of over-60 players during the season but invited any interested athletes, 50 and over, to contact him at 973-335-3828 or Tony Ciavatta, at 973-593-0059.

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