Stafford Senior Softball a Solid Choice for Those Who Just Want to Play a Little Ball

Aug 16, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy Luis Davila, right, drove by the Doc Cramer sports complex in Manahawkin one day, saw a bunch of guys playing softball and joined in on the fun. Now, at 85, he’s one of the ‘veterans’ who plays in pickup games once or twice a week with Stafford Senior Softball.

Several guys wore ankle braces. One tweaked a knee while running to first base and needed a pinch-runner. Yet another strained a hamstring trying to field a ball and gingerly walked off the field for a replacement. And many of the players on the Doc Cramer complex field nearest the roller hockey rinks walked, or limped – slowly – in between innings.

And then there was the “Frito Bandito,” Luis Davila. At 85, he more resembled “The Big Cat” Andres Gallaraga than a member of the “Walking Wounded” – an agile and spry dude who once played on the baseball fields of Santurce, Puerto Rico, with Major League Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.

“I started playing baseball at age 16 and Roberto lived 3 miles from me,” said Davila, who later was drafted into the Army, where he spent 31 years and retired as a sergeant major, and has played varying types of softball since the 1970s. “I’ve been blessed. I’ve never been seriously hurt. And I’ll keep playing until God says, ‘You can’t play anymore.’ But I enjoy playing.”

After swatting a couple of hits and taking throws for outs on Aug. 9, Davila cleanly fielded a sharp groundball and calmly stepped on the first-base bag to end a 9-7 victory for David’s Dragons, who tallied three runs in the bottom of the eighth to grab the come-from-behind win over Pippi’s Longstockings.

“I started playing here three years ago, after I moved to Manahawkin from Georgia,” Davila said. “I don’t have the arm to play shortstop anymore, so now I play first base. I do my best.”

For certain, Stafford Senior Softball often draws dozens of older men who are still doing their best, as they take the field on Mondays and Wednesdays during the heart of summer. On Aug. 9, 23 players showed up for a nine-inning pickup game. All but one on the field was 60 or older, and several were in their 80s.

“We play from March into November, as long as the weather is good,” said Steve Drogin, the guy who emails game recaps to some 50 individuals who have played at some point this year. “We play Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We show up at 9 a.m. and have a little batting practice, start choosing players for teams at 9:15, and the game starts at about 9:30. We like to have 20 to 24 players every time, and it’s open to anybody.”

And that’s the beauty of it all – Stafford Senior Softball is open to everybody, especially newcomers who are at least 60. Keep in mind, this is not a league. There are no organized teams, divisions or standings. It’s all purely for fun. So, whether you’re a former baseball all-star or a slowpitch novice, you can just show up and play, literally.

“I was just driving by one day and saw them playing,” Davila said. “I went home, got my glove and came over. I’ve been playing with them ever since. We have a good time.”

Drogin said many of the players are “guys with some health problems, but they love to get out there and play as often as they can.”

“We have retired cops, retired business executives, all kinds of guys,” he said. “We have some good players and some not-so-good players. It’s not really competitive, except for the fact everybody wants to play as well as they can given their physical abilities.”

Many of the players connect off the field, too. Meeting up for meals at a local eatery, getting out for some fishing and having family barbecues together are common, Drogin said.

“It’s not just about camaraderie and having some fun on the softball field,” he said. “It’s about meeting new people and developing friendships. It goes beyond softball. A lot of the guys do other things together. So, instead of some of us sitting in our living rooms, falling asleep and drooling on the New York Times, this gives us something else to enjoy.”

The sports complex is located on Doc Cramer Boulevard, a short distance from All Saints Regional Catholic School. Taking Route 9 north or south to McKinley Avenue and then making a left onto Doc Cramer Boulevard (All Saints is on the corner) is the best way to the field.

— David Biggy

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