EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 11, 2013

Salem seniors hit the base paths

Older Salem residents team up for softball

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — They may have gray hair and have lost a step or two, but the Zoomers are ready for action.

The Zoomers — a 60-and-over softball team whose players’ average age is 72 — has just been formed in Salem.

They don’t have uniforms or fancy nicknames. They’re just a bunch of guys looking to have fun and challenge other seniors citizens on the diamond.

The men gather every Monday at 9 a.m. at Michele Memorial Park to get ready for their first game, proving you are never too old to hit the base paths. They drag out their bats and gloves, most which haven’t been used in years.

But some players, including 72-year-old Al Spirdione of Salem, have played baseball or softball their whole life. So for Spirdinoe, who plays on four senior squads, it’s only natural he keeps playing. He’s not ready to hang up the spikes just yet.

“I’ve played my whole life and I don’t want to stop,” he said. “It beats hanging around at home and watching Oprah Winfrey.”

The team was launched by Salem resident Mark Roth, 64, with the assistance of Salem Senior Services director Patti Drelick. They are looking for other senior citizen teams to play.

“The guys are loving it,” Drelick said.

That includes Harold Bieber, 72, of Salem.

“It feels great,” the retired teacher said. “It’s been 30 years since I’ve played.”

They started practicing three weeks ago with 15 players, and several others have signed up since. But after rain washed out last week’s practice, only 11 showed up yesterday.

“We’re just trying to get it started,” Roth said, “so whoever shows up, shows up.”

When players range in age from their early 60s to over 80, they sometimes have to curb their boyhood desires to try to make a diving catch or stretch a single into a double.

But it’s not about seeing who can throw or hit the ball the farthest.

It’s about getting some exercise and enjoying the camaraderie of other seniors, according to Al Gauthier, 73, of Salem.

“It’s also about trying to get your timing,” he said.

The retired department store manager admitted it was frustrating to not be able to do things on the ball field he once could.

But like the other seniors, who said they were just happy to have a chance to play again, he took it all in stride.

“The main thing is we’re having fun — and we are,” he said.

That fun was evident as a smiling Gauthier rounded second base on a hit, his buddies cheering him on as he ran.

“I’m lucky I can even move,” he joked.

For many of the seniors, playing without getting hurt isn’t a joke. It’s a serious concern.

“You have to be careful,” Spirdione said. “You don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

A pulled muscle or broken bone could lay up a senior for weeks. It also could significantly alter their life.

Roth said there have been a few players who had to quit, including one who injured a rib.

“One guy said, ‘I just can’t do this anymore,’’’ Roth said.

An 84-year-old showed up for the first practice, but never returned, Spirdinoe said.

But as the seniors enjoyed that chance to be a kid again, a disappointed Rich Schena sat in the dugout and watched the others.

“I was curious to see what it would be like to play again, but I don’t want to kill myself,” the 63-year-old Salem man said.

Schena was certain his first practice was his last.

“My legs lost their strength, but I gave it a shot,” he said. “When you reach 40, everything turns on you.”