Senior Scene By Buster Grimm - Draft League Update
By Softball West
If you are a 60-something senior ballplayer that is looking for a league that has the 60+ ages balanced on the teams, close games and everyone surprisingly happy at the end, try a Draft League. If you recall when we last spoke of this concept, the ages of all registered players above 60 were placed in a pool and then drawn out and distributed onto the teams, beginning from the 70+ group and working down to the 60+ age group. We spoke of a few variations to facilitate this process, aiming at equalizing the available talent so that close, meaningful games can be played.
Here in the Boise area this league began with five teams, made up of twelve players each. Playing one game a week, each team has logged in enough to get a general picture of what they may expect. Here is the amazingly similar statistic: one or two runs have settled all of the games played among the five teams! The largest spread was five runs in one of the first games. What this means to the 60+ players is a hilarious dream come true. What more could a player want than to go out to the ball field, have a close game, a lot of fun and then being able to look forward to another one later. This budding experiment has begun on the right foot and good things are expected as the season goes on.
There is one peculiar facet of this Draft League that was mentioned in the last article and needs to be addressed more thoroughly. Wooden bats are used in place of the aluminum bats. These hickories can come in almost any length and weight. What is the purpose of this change? First of all, safety is the main reason. Players who are 70+, 65+ and even those in the 60+ just don't want to see that ball come jumping off of the bats straight at them. Also, it adds a special aspect to the game that makes it more difficult to get hits. This makes every run count. Some guys laughingly have compared it more to a baseball game. Almost all of the games are low scoring. It really means something to have the ball sail out to the outfield or to hit it sharply enough to squirt through the infield. Many times the wood on the softball will deaden the ball to where the 70+ and 65+ players can get to it to make a play (hey! how about that!).
There is one player who is using an old wooden bat that he had used in college days, it's still in beautiful condition and has some hits left in it. Other wooden bats have come out of attics, second-hand stores and even K-Mart with shiny price stickers still on them. The quality of lumber really doesn't seem to matter; it boils down to where you hit the ball. Batters have adjusted their swings to a much slower pace. The knack is in the smoothness and easy timing of the swing. After a few attempts, most players can adjust and it is a real challenge to hit the ball without the oomph and concentrate on the exact placement. As in most of softball (and hardball), over swinging is usually fatal, especially with the wooden bat. It is finesse all the way. A few of the batters can wait until the ball drops dangerously low and then give it the ‘ol sweeping wrist shot for a pull hit. The main thing that a wooden bat does is in delivering a deadened ball. When a hitter gets used to using the wood stick, he can then begin to work on opening up the hips and following through, this produces some pop on the ball and you can tell when a hitter has done so. And best of all, the oldsters of the league stand about the same chance of getting one in there by putting it past the infield because of this interesting adaptation: The one hundred and twenty foot line.
As you might have seen in some co-ed games, a curved chalk line is drawn in the outfield at a set distance to describe an area behind the infield, usually 180' feet in co-ed, but 120' feet in the wooden bat league. This line marks the point, which the outfielders must stay behind, until the ball is hit. It insures that the softly hit ball cannot be caught by an outfielder that has moved way up. It allows the batter to stroke the ball with his normal strength and put it into the zone more protected now by this boundary line. This increases the infielders' duties as far as playing back and being able to cover their territory more vigilantly. There have been some exceptional infield plays made due to the added responsibilities placed on the infielders.
I'm not in the least downplaying the great merits of regular senior ball_the aluminum bat, the straight up fields, etc. But we also like to keep our 60+ through the 70+ ballplayers around. This is a very palatable solution. In our area, hardly any of the 65+ and 70+ players have fallen through the cracks this year. The draft league was made available to them, they responded by getting into the pool, then onto a team, then directly into well-matched games. This "frees up" some of the regular 60+ team's rosters to pick up some higher talented players, as the ones they would have kept through loyalty who have gotten pretty slowed down now have a place to play. "It's a win, win," as Jimmy Johnson from the senior 60+ Legends here in the regular Boise senior league says. We all agree.
Ed Lenhart, one of the organizers of this draft league, sees the future as being bright. "There are going to be more and more coming into it because each year the 60+ players all get older and less competitive. They want to keep playing, but not so intently. This league is designed for the average player and even exceptional player that want to play on equal ground with another team. So far, it's working great. Next year will be better!"
What about you, 60+ senior player? Is it time to get a draft together, find some fields for the teams to play on one night a week and just make some contacts? One of the teams didn't have a manager; they just sort of did it themselves. The cost can be low, with the need of only one umpire and being able to get fields that are not so high profile. It's your game_how long do you want to remain in it?