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For Love of the Game

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John Collins dances off first base after rapping a sharp single to right center field for the Cardinals.

 

It has been a quarter of a century since I saw my friend John Collins at our 25thHamilton College reunion. John and I were Fraternity brothers at Delta Upsilon and talked often on the Hill. He was one of the classmates I respected most of all in those days, so when he wrote me in the spring that he would be in southwest Florida in November, I cleared ample time on my schedule so we could get together.

John played varsity baseball at Hamilton and was an under-utilized and sometimes frustrated infielder on the Continental Nine.

Today he gets plenty of playing time as a member of the 70 and older New Jersey Wonder Boys.  He came to this area for the annual Roy Hobbs baseball classic.

According to the rules the 75 and older squads can have two players under 75 so John was recruited to play on a second team during the tournament, the Cardinals.

For two glorious fall weeks these superannuated superstars of the diamond get to extend their summer leagues season in the Roy Hobbs Baseball classic.  They play some of their games at the Red Sox and Minnesota Twins spring training facilities in the area.

As one player put it, at 73, I get to play games that count in beautiful weather in Major League stadiums. How can life get better than that?”

Indeed I asked some of the players why at our advanced age do they drag their weary and often banged up bodies out into the hot Florida sun to play nine (or seven in the case of the 75 and older teams) innings of baseball every day for two weeks.

Clearly, baseball is in their blood, and while their skills have certainly and understandably diminished as John wrote me when he let me know he was coming down, “These guys can still play.”

Indeed you see flashes of what was in the way they track fly balls and the way they swing the bats. Most of their arms have lost their zip, and their legs are not what they were, but the desire to compete is keen and the games are fun to watch.

As I watched the Cardinals in action one week and then the Wonder Boys take the field the next, I almost wanted to be out there myself. I was certainly worried when I saw the catcher of the Cardinals feeling woozy after five innings of getting up and down on each pitch as his position requires in 90-degree heat. Fortunately he took himself out of the game in time, and by the time I had lunch with him and some of his teammates later, he was feeling fine and eager to do it again.

What motivates them is what motivates me to persevere with my three times a week of physical therapy and hit the gym on the in between days in hopes of getting back out on the tennis court after my massive rotator cuff surgery.

What motivates these guys in their 70’s to spend the time energy and money continuing to play competitive baseball in their seventies? When you get down to it, it is no mystery. The answer was the same from each player I asked: “Love of the game.”

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Here I am with John after the Wonder Boys game. I am wearing an official New Jersey Wonder Boys cap that I cherish as a wonderful memento of John’s visit

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