Softball links friends for almost 3 decades

College dormitory mates started in the 1970s, keep playing the game

Howard At Play

July 16, 2000|By Carol Sorgen | Carol Sorgen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Some 30 years ago, Gary Davies, Henry Gershman and Rick Vacek lived in the same dormitory at the University of Maryland, College Park.

They may be older these days, but weekly from April to October, for 30-plus games, the longtime friends do just what they started doing in the 1970s: meet on a softball diamond.

The trio, plus Henry Gershman's brother, Has, are the core of the Baffutos, thought to be the longest-tenured of the 250 slow-pitch teams that form the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks Softball League.

"They're a nice bunch of guys," says Monica Mintz, who ran the department's softball program for many years before becoming business and league services supervisor two years ago. "They've stuck with us and always been there since the league was first formed more than 20 years ago."

Pickup games in 1972

The Gershman brothers, Vacek and Davies started playing pickup games on Sundays after graduating from college in 1972, then formed Barry's Baffutos in 1978, sponsored by Barry's Restaurant, one of the original tenants in The Mall in Columbia.

The Baffutos got their name, third baseman and pitcher Gary Davies recalls, from a team member who sported a big handlebar moustache, "baffuto" meaning moustache in Italian.

"At one point, all the Baffutos had moustaches," says outfielder Tim Fincham, a relative newcomer with a mere 10 years' on the team.

"Yeah, that was a requirement at one time," catcher-outfielder Henry Gershman says, laughing, "but in deference to the younger guys who came along, we gave that up."

Gershman, 50, of Ellicott City manages a bookstore in Greenbelt. He says that playing on a team with such longtime friends is a good way to keep the group together and that, in many ways, the softball is incidental.

Quality of play varies

"Some years, we've won trophies; some years we've played terribly," Gershman says of a team that has played probably 700 or more games, though no one knows for sure. "But through it all, we know that every Monday night we're guaranteed to see each other."

"From April to October," adds Gary Davies, 50, of Columbia, the director of Baltimore-Washington International Airport's commercial management division, "there is a period of time every week when I know I'll be seeing a group of guys whom I enjoy. Without an organized activity like this, it just wouldn't happen. I really love that about the team."

Davies also enjoys the softball, recalling fond memories such as the first league championship the team won in the 1980s, when it had to play a round-robin tournament to beat two other teams it had tied for first place.

But no one seems to know the team's cumulative record through all those seasons; .500 would be nice this year, the players say.

A lot of players have come and gone through the years, says Davies. "It's sad when you start losing guys to injuries," Gershman adds. "Then you don't see them as much."

Rick Vacek, one of the founding Baffutos, has been out this season because of shoulder surgery, although he is expected to return next season.

Many players on the current team are ages 25 to 30, Gershman says.

"We had to start importing young guys since we're getting older," he says. "Playing the game, though, does make us feel younger ourselves, except when we get up on Tuesday morning."

A `youngster' speaks

Fincham, one of the "youngsters" - he's 41 - also likes the camaraderie of the team and the game itself.

"Softball and baseball are pretty much my life," says Fincham, an Ellicott City resident who, when not on the field, manages a warehouse in Hanover. "It's a great way to get out and have fun and relieve day-to-day pressures - and also make some great friendships."

Though the players don't see each other much during the off season, they do keep up their after-game tradition of tossing back a few "cold ones"' at a Dorsey's Search eating place.

"We've been together so long, the restaurant's changed hands several times, even though we've stayed the same," says Gershman.

The reason they keep on, Gershman and Davies agree, is to maintain the bonds that have been created through the years.

"We've played in a lot of tournaments," says Davies. "We've played some good games and some bad games. But what I remember more than the games are the people I've met and the friends I've made."

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