BY JEFF FALK
HARRISBURG – In our society, there exists a school of thought that says as the body ages it becomes less functional and less athletic. It’s a school that a handful of local softball-playing seniors never graduated from.
Contested in the suburbs around Harrisburg, the Susquehanna Over-55 Slow-pitch Softball League is home to about ten Lebanon County residents who have apparently discovered the fountain of youth. They are seniors who don’t look, sound or act their ages.
So what’s the secret to their longevity? It may be a bit different than one might suspect.
For our locals, slow-pitch softball isn’t the means to staying young. They’ve always been active, and they’re just continuing to live their lives that way.
“Yeah, I’ve always been active,” said Pete Petito, a 72-year-old Jonestown resident who’s a member of the Econ Wealth Management entry in the league. “I’m not one to sit around for more than a couple of hours. It’s fun. You meet new people, because we’ve been all over.”
“Most people know me in the area,” said Ron Weidman, a 73-year-old catcher from Lebanon. “But those who don’t ask me, ‘Are you still playing softball?’ I tell them, ‘Yeah’. But they know I do it.”
“I get my exercise,” said Rich Boehmer, a 64-year-old Jonestown resident and base-running demon. “I get to socialize. I get to meet new people. That’s what life is about after retirement. You keep active. That’s what all these guys are doing, staying active.”
Many of the local residents also play softball in a Harrisburg-area 62-and-older slow-pitch league. And some play on travel teams which compete in weekend tournaments.
For those with the desire, the senior slow-pitch softball season can run from January through October.
“I guess you could say I have softball in my blood,” said Weidman. “We play more softball than major leaguers. It’s never too much.”
“When you see 70-year-olds out here you think you can go that long,” said Boehmer. “But you never know. The slightest thing can knock you down.”
“I would say the average age in this league is 62 or 63,” said Ron Houtz, a 64-year-old third baseman from Myerstown. “A lot of people who know me know I would never stop playing. I’ve been playing softball since I was eight years old.”
To a man, none of Lebanon County’s seniors could envision the day when they won’t be playing softball.
“I’ll keep playing until they say, ‘Ron don’t come out next year,'” said Weidman. “They have a 75-and-older team and I’ll probably play on that. When I was 66 I had open-heart surgery. Six weeks later I was back playing slow-pitch softball. So you know I love it.”
“Why do I play?,” Petito continued. “I love it. I love playing softball. I love the guys. I love the comraderie. I can chase a ball forever, but I don’t like to run.”
In their primes, the local seniors were athletes who played sports like baseball, fast-pitch softball and soccer. Slow-pitch softball isn’t quite as physically demanding and affords them the opportunity to flow with their competitive juices.
“I quit playing fast-pitch softball because all the teams died off, and I found something else,” said Houtz. “Fast-pitch was more fun because there was more to the game. Here it’s just hit and run. I do miss fast-pitch softball, but I like this too.”
“No, I don’t miss fast-pitch any more,” said Weidman. “I did, but not any more. There’s none around, so I can’t whet my appetite.
“Here, you need more defense because the ball is hit harder,” added Weidman. “Here, everyone hits the ball. In fast-pitch, you’ve got three, four, five guys who can hit.”
“There’s some (former) fast-pitch softball players, but the majority are slow-pitch players,” said Boehmer.”We play all the time. I’m on the go. I’m married and my wife goes with me when I go to tournaments. It’s like little mini-vacations.”
Because they play so much, one might think these softball warriors are prone to the aches and pains associated with the over-use of certain muscle groups. But it seems like their ageless bodies have become conditioned to the almost everyday rigors.
“This is a bad year for me,” said Petito. “I have a bad back. I don’t know what’s going on.”
“No, I never wake up with aches and pains,” said Weidman. “I had a bad shoulder for awhile, but it went away.”
Not unlike every league, some teams and players in the Susquehanna 55-and-over Slow-pitch circuit are more competitive than others.
“You always want to win,” said Petito. “There’s no such thing as being happy about losing.”
“When I stopped playing fast-pitch I went right to slow-pitch,” said Weidman. “I’ve been playing for 53 years and I started when I was 18, so I’ve always been active. I had a job. I worked. But softball was first, before any other activities.”