Senior softballers gear up for another season

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon/Region - posted Wed., Mar. 23, 2011
Edson Phelps, 68, from Manchester, fires the ball over to first for a put-out. Photos Courtesy of Karen Andreoli. - Contributed Photo

The Vernon Senior Softball league has been in existence for decades, and despite its moniker, has attracted an older set of athletes from 30 area towns, including Union, Glastonbury, Enfield, Manchester, South Windsor, and East Granby.

Rich Andreoli, the league's public relations coordinator, said the league had seven teams with a total of 104 people last year, with about eightpercent being female. A third of the players are over the age of 70.

“We come from all walks of life,” he said. “A lot of our guys are retired, but some are still working. We go as far as Union. There are a lot of guys from the other side of the river. They come from all over. Everyone is welcome.”

Andreoli said the league numbers usually hover around 100 players, but the league would like to expand to eight or even 10 teams.

Typically, each team will play one or two games per week, Monday through Thursday, and a total of 32 games from May 1 until late August, when a short, single-elimination playoff determines the league champion. Games start at 3:50 and 5 p.m., but many players begin practicing several hours earlier.

“Some of our guys are unbelievably dedicated,”Andreoli said.

The players have a wide mix of skill levels. Some are former high school or college athletes. Some have played in rec leagues for years, and for some, this is their first organized sport.

John Dufford, 90, of South Glastonbury, is currently the league's oldest regular player. He also plays in a Rotary League in Glastonbury.

Dufford, who formerly played baseball as well as softball, said he's been with Vernon Senior Softball for about 6 years.

“I've enjoyed it very much,” Dufford said. “It's good exercise. This is a little more formal [rule-wise] than my rotary club. It's been a fun game.”

Dufford said many of the “younger” players are still very athletic.

“We have some 80-year-olds,” he said. “But, I think I'm still six or seven years older than anyone else up there.”

Since he has artificial hips, Duffore utilizes a designated runner, but still bats and plays catcher.

“I could probably still run a little bit,” he said. “But, my doctor doesn't want me to do that. In the slow pitch league, the catcher stands back quite a ways, and you just have to throw it back to the pitcher, but every once in a while, you get to catch a foul tip.”
Tom Chmielewski, an 82-year-old retired doctor, is the league's treasurer, and according to Andreoli, is the fastest player in the league.

Rules are in place to make the game more palatable for older players, such as courtesy runners, allowed over-running of bases, and limits on how far back the outfielders are allowed to play.

At the end of the season, the VSS plays in a tournament on Cape Cod. The VSS also hosts teams from Massachusetts for occasional weekend tournaments.

Families are invited to attend games. Summer picnics and a holiday party also augment the social aspects of joining the league.

The Vernon Senior Softball league plays its games on the field behind Center 375 on Hartford Turnpike. The town supplies the field, but otherwise, the league supports itself.

“It's kind of competitive, but it's a fun league,” Andreoli said. “Some guys say, ' I don't want to do this. I can still play with the younger guys.' There's always room for you here when you don't want to play with the younger guys anymore.”

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