Over-30 baseball league thriving throughout area BY ROBERT LAMBER Correspondent BY ROBERT LAMBERCorrespondent On any given Sunday, at the crack of dawn from April to October, men between the ages of 30 to 60 drag their aging bodies from under warm comfortable blankets to participate in a young man’s game. For some, they are getting ready for religious observance. But for others, according to Robert Delahant, commissioner with the U.S. Over 30 Baseball League, it is to rekindle their youth on the field of their dreams — a baseball diamond. They do it willingly with a love that can only be explained by the little boy inside all of them, Delahant said. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, bankers — players with all types of occupations as diverse as can be imagined — become children again for a few hours each weekend. With aging knees and elbows wrapped in elastic bandages and the placement of protective apparatus in appropriate places, these weekend warriors put on baseball uniforms and join their teammates on Sunday mornings for a competitive game of baseball. And, competitive it is. “Maybe it’s not like watching the Yankees or the College World Series, but it’s pretty good nonetheless,” said Middletown’s Gordon Bartolomei, manager of the Monmouth White Sox, one of the division teams for those over 40 within the league. Division teams are made up of players 30 to 40, 40 to 50, and 50 and older. Bartolomei said participation in these leagues is a growing trend in the state and across the country. Many amateur leagues are geared toward the young, Delahant said. But the over-30 league gives past-their-prime athletes a second chance to be children again. The league was started in 1986 as the love child of Delahant, of Point Pleasant. “I hoped to appeal to the competitive nature of past ballplayers like myself who still had a yearning to feel the grass and dirt of a baseball diamond under their feet,” Delahant said. “Many of these men played in high school and college, and some were lucky enough to taste the professional level. Now, with the start of this old man’s league, they could search their attics for their worn-out gloves, and dust off the dirt and cobwebs from their spikes.” “I remember what it was like when I first heard of the league,” said Richard DeGennaro, a member of the Monmouth White Sox and also from the Middletown area. “It would be great to play again. The challenge would be if I could run the bases again, and instead of just watching my kids play sports on the weekend, they could now come watch dad play.” The implications of this league were exciting, and it had a following almost immediately, DeGennaro said. Most of the participants admit that it’s been years since they played competitive baseball, Delahant said. As players found themselves getting used to life’s adult responsibilities, he said, they’ve moved comfortably from strenuous team competitive sports, to golf, maybe tennis, or a local softball league. Some may have put on a few extra pounds and are convinced their “love handles” have been well earned. One of the player’s wives suggested to her husband, “It’s probably time you accepted the reality of getting older and that ‘baseball is a young man’s game.’ ” Robert Portegello, a real estate attorney, and a teammate of Gordon comments, “Maybe it’s ego, or maybe it’s just a curiosity to see if I still have what it takes. But whatever the reason, I have found my way back onto the ballfield and have fallen in love with this game all over again. It may take longer to stretch those muscles, get up in the morning, and run the bases, but old habits die hard.” And so it goes, that this league has grown and flourished since its inception almost 20 years ago. With over 100 teams in the over-30 and over-40 leagues, there are enough ballplayers to make up some pretty competitive teams. The over-50 league has fewer teams but no less the spirit and desire of the younger divisions. Gordon, Robert and Richard all play for the Monmouth White Sox, one of the teams in the Over 40 Baseball League. “Most of our games are played against teams in the Monmouth, Middlesex and Ocean counties, and we travel to Staten Island and up to the North Jersey counties when necessary,” comments Gordon. “My teammates range in age from 40 to our resident ‘old man Mickey,’ who’s still playing at 63. He also happens to be an attorney, so no one tells him he can’t play,” he said laughingly. Most teams in the over-40 league have the same age mix, and all the teams are placed in divisions that allow them to play other teams close to home or in and around their counties. “We have a nice bunch of guys, and there’s a lot of razing that goes on in the dugout,” states Ben Grilli, also a member of the Monmouth White Sox, “but it’s one of the things that makes playing together fun. I think the camaraderie helps make us a winning ball club. At the end of the season there are the division playoffs, and for the last few years we’ve been one of the better teams.” “The abilities of some of the athletes in this league are surprisingly good,” states Delahant. “Some even look suspiciously young. I have to check their birth certificates to verify that they belong in this league,” he laughed. “It looks like some of them don’t even shave yet, and they still have full heads of hair.” The games are fun, and sportsmanship is always displayed with handshakes at game’s end. Each player pays a small fee that goes to the league to pay for umpires, baseballs, etc. Most of the baseball fields that the teams play on are kept in good shape and are used by the high school teams during their season as well. Games start at 9:30 a.m. You would wonder why men would pay to get up early Sunday morning on a hot and humid summer day and leave the comforts of home and air conditioning? Why risk aches and pains from muscles they didn’t know existed? Why put on a uniform that causes them to perspire just sitting in the dugout? Why risk embarrassment by making an error on a ground ball that their sister could have made easily, or get caught stealing 20 feet from the base because they thought they were faster than they are? “Because we’ve experienced all those things before at one time or another,” Richard DeGennaro said. “We’ve dealt with the embarrassment, aches and pains more than once, and loved every minute of it.” “We may have healed faster and played better 20 years ago,” Gordon said, “but the smell of the grass and the excitement of still being able to throw a ball, and swing a bat, makes it worthwhile.” From the commissioner on down to the players, they all state that sitting in the dugout with a bunch of guys who have experienced the joy of baseball and who make the effort to show up on Sunday to spend three hours attempting to be a kid again, seems as natural as being a kid again. That’s why you will find these “old timers” between April and October, laughing and complaining about the smell of Ben-Gay in the dugout and whose back hurts worse. They love the game, and if worse comes to worse, they’ll just call in sick on Monday. “But,” said Delahant playfully, “ask your ‘missus’ first. If you’re going to be a kid again, someone has to give you permission.”
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