Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Boys of Summer

(Jane Thornhill Cobb calls our attention to the recent issue of Charlotte Magazine in which an article by Ken Garfield quotes our own Vic Brawley.)  

By Ken Garfield

Each Tuesday night this summer at Park Road Park, 232 older guys strap on knee braces and stop the clock. Left behind are the bills at home and bull at work. Black, white, banker, blue collar, lanky and large – for one hour, all of us become one in that most joyful of escapes…

Vic Brawley (L)
Senior Softball.

Charlotte Senior Sports offers men 45 and up the chance to play slow-pitch softball – to be kids again! – 32 weeks a year. Yes, that’s the game played by thousands in every corner of the Carolinas, where the pitcher throws moonballs and the hitters armed with aluminum bats send it screaming into the night. We are given brightly colored team jerseys and divided into teams with names like Gene’s Golden Oldies and Like Fine Wine. There are a few special rules for old guys: Two home plates – one for the catcher and the other for the runner – to avoid collisions. And pinch runners for those who can’t take another step. For a $40 entry fee, we get to hit, field, get dirt all over ourselves and then limp home until the next Tuesday.

Charles Curry, 63, who’s been playing softball for 42 years, organizes the league – overseeing a web site (, dividing players into teams and operating two seasons a year. When the current Spring/Summer season ends in mid-July, the Fall season starts up in August.

There are still a bunch of 47-year-olds in the league whose knees don’t ache yet. But the soul of Tuesday night belongs to the nearly 80 guys age 60 and over, the ones for whom playing softball means more than we know.

Don Patenaude, a retired college professor who turns 70 in November, is a cancer survivor. “This is the place to come on Tuesday night and get my reprieve.”…

Vic Brawley, retired from the Air National Guard, has been playing softball since he’s 16. Now 75, he admits it pretty much hurts everywhere. Still, he says, “It beats watching television.”

Four years after breaking both ankles and suffering assorted other injuries in a wreck, Tommy Johnson, 66, is back roaming the outfield for the Golden Nuggets. It’s simple. “I like to play.”

Retired toolmaker Herman Horne, 74, has been playing senior softball for 24 years. These days he mostly plays catcher and first base. His back’s been giving him trouble. But his wife, Gladys, died last December, and the house can get awfully quiet now in the evening.

The first year I discovered this fountain of youth about a mile from my house in south Charlotte, Jorge Cowley, 62, was my coach. Actually, he was my third coach after the first two quit. Don’t ask. I see Jorge on game nights now and he waves as he rushes to the field carrying his scorebook and smiling like he’s 12 years old. Lawyer by day. Softball player by night. “We’re kids again on Tuesday nights,” he says.

Ken Garfield, 58, is director of communications at Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte. In addition to Senior Softball, he pitches in a church league and still coaches his former Charlotte Observer colleagues in the Media League.