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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Senior Softball League Plays on Despite Pandemic

Photo courtesy EMASS Senior Softball League.

By Grace Allen
Eastern Massachusetts Senior Softball (EMASS) is launching its annual recruitment campaign for slow-pitch softball players age 50 and over. The season opens in May and runs until Labor Day, and playoffs are scheduled to be completed by early October. 
Cal Ripken, Jr., famously said, “You could be a kid for as long as you want when you play baseball.” The EMASS participants would likely agree. Creaky knees, bum shoulders and other ailments that come with age haven’t slowed down these boys—and girls--of summer much.
Norfolk resident Jim Leonard started playing for EMASS when he was 56. He is now 78 and says the games quickly became something to look forward to each week.
“You go out there and feel like you’re a little kid,” he affirmed. “The competition is well worth the investment in time.”
Players come from towns all across Eastern Massachusetts, with Norfolk and Wrentham well-represented. Games are played on fields in Ashland, Framingham, Medfield, and Wayland. The co-ed league’s 400 members, ranging from 50 to 90 years of age, play in five divisions with skill levels ranging from recreational to national tournament-level caliber.
When COVID hit last year, the season start was delayed until July. Although some members, including Leonard, opted not to participate, EMASS played a full 36-game season without any players testing positive.
Walker Royce, Commissioner of EMASS, said in a statement, “The 2020 EMASS season was a healthy escape and a lot of fun with a new twist. With masks concealing the identity of every batter, it was hard to tell whether the player at-bat was a rookie power hitter or an old veteran place-hitter.”
Leonard grew up in West Roxbury and started playing organized ball in Little League and continued all through high school. Now, at his age, the big draw is the camaraderie and the feeling of competence despite being slower and generally less agile. Still, he remains impressed by the league’s athleticism, especially in the younger divisions.
“The young guys coming in at 50 years old—looking back, 50 is young to me—they’re really talented because everyone is into fitness, not like when I started,” explained Leonard. “They’re prepared for the rigors of sliding and falling. It’s a mistake to think you can still play like you’re in high school if you haven’t stayed in shape. Getting hurt is not uncommon.”
Leonard says one of the highlights of his participation in EMASS softball was his trip to Cuba in 2009. That year was the first time the league started sending teams to scrimmage against squads in Havana. Up until the start of the pandemic, the trips have taken place each year and friendships between the two countries’ players have blossomed.
“That was the trip of a lifetime,” reflected Leonard. “The Cubans are super talented and some of them received permission to come up here, too, and play.”
According to Senior Softball-USA, there are more than 1.5 million participants playing the sport, and the number is expected to grow as more and more active baby boomers join. 
Despite the pandemic, EMASS officials believe their COVID-19 protocols like facial coverings, social distancing, and other commonsense guidelines have proven the league can continue to provide an enriching and safe athletic experience for its members. And with the rollout of the vaccines, the upcoming season looks even more promising.
“We played ball safely in 2020 and we will do it again in 2021,” said Commissioner Royce. 
At press time, Leonard had not yet decided whether he will play this season but says “It’s been a really great run. It’s fun but super competitive too. We take it very seriously. I’d recommend it to anyone, male or female.”
For more information about EMASS Senior Softball League, visit www.e-mass.org.
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