Seniors still find fun out on the diamond


14-team softball league caters to players older than 60


The Howard County Reds are a softball team with real power, something they displayed in the season opener last week. They banged out a seemingly endless stream of line drives - including three homers, four doubles and a triple - as part of a 25-hit attack in a lopsided victory over Greenbelt.

It was an impressive season opener for a team of senior citizens.

The Reds play in the Baltimore Beltway Senior Slow Pitch Softball League. The league caters to players over the age of 60, and many players are in their 70s.

In Howard County, the Reds usually play at Cedar Lane Park, and they have been one of the league's best teams in recent years.

The Reds posted a 34-12 record last year before losing in the playoffs. They have won four division championships, finished second four more times and third once since 1997.

"We've been competitive," said manager Ed Kirk. "To me, I think the fact that you still have the ability to be competitive and the fact that you come out and play is good. It's just a lot of fun."

It's also a lot of winning. The Reds have a 246-140 record (a .637 winning percentage) since 1997, something in which Kirk takes a lot of pride.

But the winning makes it even more fun for Captain Kirk, as his players jokingly call their manager. Kirk played for several years, but back and leg problems slowed him physically after he retired from his job as an engineer at the National Security Agency about 10 years ago. That's why he turned to managing.

Kirk is fine with his role - sitting on the bench with his score book, barking out who's coming up and checking on what everyone's doing. Keeping an eye on his team can be a tough proposition, because as much as his Reds like to win, they also like to enjoy themselves.

There's a lot of laughing and joking around during games. Players stand behind and around the bench or near the backstop, talking and telling tales. The laughter is easy and rarely stops.

Twenty-five players are on the roster, and Kirk is allowed to bat whoever shows up, although league rules place a limit of 11 players on the field for defense.

"What we're trying to do is make it possible for more players to play," said Henry Lichtfuss, 75, manager of the Carroll County team. "The purpose of the league is to have as many people play as possible. We're seniors, ... and a lot of people get upset when they play designated hitter. They're from the old school."

Ed Hamel, 72, is one who likes to keep playing. He usually plays first base for the Reds and is a solid hitter. Don't let the age fool you, Hamel said, this group can play.

"We've got some pretty good players," Hamel said. "It's amazing how some of the players have kept themselves in good shape."

Hamel still works at his building company, which is based in Elkridge. He was playing for five softball teams until a few years ago. He plays only with the Reds now and despite having two knee operations this winter is the designated hitter.

Hamel said he wants to return to his normal position at first base shortly.

"We're very serious about winning, but we just have a whole lot of fun," he said.

Fourteen teams are in the league this season from places such as Bowie and Greenbelt to the northern part of Baltimore County and Harford County.

The season runs through early September with each team scheduled to play 39 regular-season games. Each team plays twice a week with games starting at 10 a.m.

Some of the local players want more softball than the league provides. Kirk said a bunch of them meet for pickup games during the week.

"It just gets in your blood," Kirk said. "These guys have been playing ball all their lives. It's a lot of fun."

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