Baseball: Never Too Old to Play "The" Game
By Al Spector
Baseball may be a surprising choice as a life sport, but thousands of seniors have already made that choice.
Herman Spector put a baseball and bat in his son's hands in 1946, as soon as I could grip them, and I have not been far from the game for 60 years. I grew up on the sandlots, playgrounds, and baseball fields of St. Louis. And my baseball journey now takes me around the country and the world playing between 75 and 100 games each year. Yet, I am not alone. As many as 125,000 "senior baseball players" over the age of 30, many in their 50s, 60s, and beyond, play the game of their youth each year. We play in local leagues, national tournaments, major league fantasy camps, vintage baseball festivals, on international baseball trips, and in other venues.
While others over 50 are sharpening their golf swing or looking for a foursome to play doubles tennis, the country's senior baseball players are donning spikes, grabbing their wooden bats, trying to hit a curve ball, diving to field a ground ball, and sliding into second base to stretch a single into a double. These players have made a commitment of resources and energy to choose baseball as their life sport.
I retired from a successful career at The Procter & Gamble Company in 2002 and, as I only half-jokingly tell people, "I retired because work was getting in the way of playing baseball." Retirement has also given me the time to write my first book, Baseball: Never Too Old to Play "The" Game, whose intent it is to capture the essential experience and challenge of continuing to play baseball while growing older at the same time.
There is a concept that in retirement we should be doing what we were passionate about when we were ten years old. At ten we are old enough to know what we really love to do, yet not old enough for societal norms and conflicting life priorities to guide us away from our passions. For many, that passion is baseball. We played in youth leagues, some went on to play high school ball, and yet fewer played in college. We knew that, despite success at the younger levels, all but the elite few would play their last hardball game by the time we graduated college, most before then.
But in the early 1980's a movement began that created the opportunity to choose baseball as a life sport. In a number of places around the country a gathering of older men periodically met to play pickup baseball games. They soon yearned for more diverse competition, began recruiting more local players, and eventually created expanding regional, then national organizations. In the early days, most of the players were in their 30s, some in their 40s, and a few 50 and older. But as the senior game grew, it attracted older players as well. Now, there are age-group tournaments for players over 50, over 60, and over 65, with the likelihood of over-70 divisions in a couple of years.
One of the inspirations for writing my book is a senior player named George Goodall. My wife and I were on the first of several international baseball trips, in Beijing, China, playing against the locals and relishing the sightseeing. We enjoyed the experience so much; we subsequently traveled to play in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia and in Rome and Florence, Italy. We met George on the China trip in 2003. He was 92 at the time and traveled by himself to China from Belleville, Illinois. All week he kept up with the sightseeing and took the field every day to play. One Chinese team dropped their gloves in the field and applauded George in respect when he came to the plate. On that same trip were a number of us in our 50s, 60s, and 70s, one was 70-year old Ed Berkich, who took out two gloves and a ball and played catch with 92-year old George Goodall on the Great Wall of China.
You can learn more about senior baseball from the perspective of a pure baseball fan or as a prospective player who wants to return to a passion in your youth by reading Baseball: Never Too Old to Play "The" Game. As Greg Rhodes, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and author of six books about the Reds, writes, "This is a book about a love affair…between Al and baseball, a fond recollection and entertaining description of his life-long connection with the game. A baseball stream of consciousness as childhood memories and stories intertwine with Al's experiences in senior leagues. A perfect companion to the summer game we all love."
Al Spector is an avid senior baseball player and author of Baseball: Never Too Old to Play "The" Game. He is retired from Procter & Gamble but applies his management and quality assurance background by volunteering as a consultant for local Cincinnati social programs, specifically "Every Child Succeeds" and "Cincinnati Intervention to Reduce Violence." Visit his web site at www.aaspector.com.