There’s always a ball game in Dagsboro if you know where to look. Follow the winding dirt road behind Dagsboro Church of God, and you’ll find the oldest softball league in the area — or at least, the oldest players.
Twice a week, the Old Tymer Softball league of Delmarva is a flurry of activity for players at least 55 years old. But that’s just the low end. One of the strongest pitchers is 81 years, and the oldest is around 84.
“It’s a nice league. Just keeps you in great shape. I met a lot of really nice friends. We go bowling, go to baseball games with everybody. It’s close-knit,” said Johnny Allen of the American Legion 24 team, who recalled six players working together to fix a lawnmower once. “It’s a good friendship.”
The players joked that they get along 99 percent of the time, until it’s their turn to umpire.
Most of the players are continuing their passion for athletics. Some played fastpitch for years, while others played every sport except softball. John Sanpis officiated baseball and football for 32 years in New Jersey and one in Delaware.
Players like John Bokop heard about the league through a friend.
“It’s an outlet. You get to be our age, and what better way to keep [active]?” Bokop said.
Cleat tracks cover the crunchy soil as players move into position. At game time, they’re totally focused, but they have a good time, cheering, encouraging or teasing each other. Each of the 12 players per team gets to bat. Sometimes a pinch runner will be poised at home plate to do the legwork after the batter makes a hit. They usually have someone with medical knowledge on-hand, just in case.
The challenge is “just staying healthy and having fun,” said Grady Meredith, a team manager. “Just gotta be glad we’re out there and running around.”
Meredith always arrives early to watch other games and see if anyone needs a substitute.
Although he doesn’t approach the league with a “tournament state of mind,” he sees “some good plays” in the senior league. A group of Olde Tymers also plays in the Maryland Senior Olympics in the fall.
Since the league began around 12 years ago with four teams, some retirees are said to scope out the now-12-team league before they move to Delmarva. Each team is sponsored by a local business or organization.
Men and women can both play. There are no women in the league right now, but players recalled a lady from previous years who was an excellent fielder and a member of the National Softball Hall of Fame.
Summertime seven-inning games begin Tuesday and Thursday at 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m.
“Some of the guys are 80 years old. It’s tough to play a game at 11:30 in the morning in this kind of heat, somebody this old, so we don’t push it,” said John Walker, who sponsors a team and helps with field maintenance. “We’re out there for fun, but we’re competitive too.”
As the league has grown, the fields have too. There are now two fields, one fenced in. The players built roofs over the dugouts, but the early morning sun still dazzles the eye. They plan to cover the bleachers soon, too.
Picnic tables attend the concession stand, of which a percentage of proceeds benefits the Church of God youth program.
The Olde Tymers play ball year round. The summer league plays from May to September. After that, they still have pick-up games through winter, as long as the temperature stays above 50 degrees.
For more information, visit www.eteamz.com/Delmarvaots or contact president Bo Wood at (302) 945 1849.