Past their prime Jim Thorpe seniors relive their youth through wiffle ball games
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS The most senior member of the Past Our Prime team, Alex Stasyk, takes his turn pitching.
It's Tuesday morning.
Bob Davenport pulls his golf cart into the tennis court parking lot in the Bear Creek Lakes community of Jim Thorpe. He then carries an official size stand-up strike zone he constructed from netting and PVC pipe and places it on the court in the usual spot. He leans two official wiffle ball aluminum bats against the surrounding back fence, and then he completes his weekly ritual by putting a bucket of wiffle balls on a small stool at the "pitching mound", located in front of where the tennis net used to be.
Soon after the players arrive in their golf carts and SUVs. A few just walk to the court from around the block. As they step inside the fence, the bantering begins.
"Woa, after all that beer you drank last night, I'm not only surprised you are here, but that you can even walk at all!"
Then comes the retaliation.
"Hey, your wife let you come out to play today? Your to-do list must wrap around the moon by now."
Next, you hear two disgruntled Eagle fans.
"Did you read that they're gonna run an offensive play every 12 seconds this year," says one man.
"That just means they will be punting every 36 seconds," replies the other.
A dozen men, who call their team POP (Past Our Prime), and are for the most part between 60 and 75 years old, play a wiffle ball game each week from April until October, or whenever it gets to be too cold for the arthritis sufferers. They are retired firemen, policemen, tradesmen, businessmen, and school teachers. Some have battled cancer. Several have had serious surgeries through the years. Davenport, 65, has fought cancer. His damaged quadriceps have prevented him from running anymore. He is one of the founding fathers of the team along with Jack Knorr, 70, Alex Stasyk, 75, and Bob Guth, 65. Their wiffle ball game has been a Tuesday tradition since 2010.
"We were talking at a party one day and we just decided to get a bat and a ball and play. It's been great. And our roster grows every year," says Davenport.
The team divides itself into two squads, balancing their talent. A wooden peg scoreboard, constructed by Stasyk, is hung from the fence and then the game begins.
They follow official wiffle ball rules with some amendments. There is no base running. Base hits are balls that land over designated lines on the court. Three strikes, including foul balls, are an out as well as when a fielder stops a batted ball with any part of his body before it crosses a base hit line.
"We try not to bend over at our age," jokes Davenport, who played baseball for Father Judge High School in Philadelphia and was given a one day tryout by the Pittsburgh Pirates. "So we play like hockey goalies and block the ball with any part of our bodies to get an out."
The game is nine innings and is very competitive. The pitchers grip the small plastic ball with the holes to throw fastballs, knucklers, risers and curves. The batters swing mightily and weakly. They all will strike out at some point in the game. They will also hit line drives and fly balls for doubles, triples and the occasional home run. One handed catches of long balls blown by the wind get a hoot and a holler from everyone.
In between innings, there is talk about who's been sick lately or how bad the weather has been. When a squad comes to bat, there is a frequent problem.
"Jack made last out."
"No, I didn't. Frank did."
"Did you, Frank?"
"I'm not sure. I don't remember. If I did, what did I do?"
Arguments are a big part of the gamesmanship, followed by friendly insults about weight, eyesight, and loss of memory. Certain batters are called cardboard cut outs because they stand "waiting forever" for the perfect pitch to hit.
"We argue about where the batted ball lands mostly, but we also challenge and change our rules too," says Davenport. "Everyone pitches. There are no walks and if an odd number of guys show up, the player who made the last out must also play the field for the other side."
Stasyk is the oldest team member who retired from his softball playing days at the age of 66 and has recently recovered from rotator cuff surgery. He puts his game into perspective.
"I used to play wiffle ball in the backyard at family picnics for fun," he says. "Now I play to keep active. It beats sitting on the couch. And I just love the camaraderie."
Stasyk contends that playing wiffle ball at his age does not make him feel younger.
"But it does make me think I'm younger," he say with a laugh.
Ironically, the only injury during a game occurred last year to the one exception to the group of Social Security seniors. Thirty-four year old Jimmy Franz twisted his ankle while trying to catch a fly ball that was hit up against the fence. Franz, a self-employed electrician and former high school star pitcher for Conwell Egan Catholic High School in Fairless Hills, claims he was never really invited to play with the older guys.
"When I found out about this wiffle ball team, I kind of pushed my way in," he says. "I love the game and besides," he says with a chuckle, "they make me look good even though I'm not that good."
Franz adjusts his work schedule so he can play on Tuesday mornings. When asked about hanging out with men who are twice his age, he replies," Age is no factor in how I choose my friends." He adds, "The team name is not right for me though. I'm gonna cut off my jersey sleeves and have 'In My Prime' printed across the top."
Past Our Prime's newest player is former New Jersey school teacher, George Sawicki, age 66, who has lived in Bear Creek Lakes since 1994. The team members have been his friends for a long time, but it wasn't until this year that he decided to play wiffle ball. When he came up to bat for the first time he bent over in a crouch and the first pitch hit him square in his stomach.
"That's a strike," yelled the pitcher. "Your belly is hanging half way across the strike zone!"
Sawicki, who is fighting kidney cancer, throws his sarcasm right back at the originator.
"Take it easy on me, will ya. I'm a sick man and I got to go home and power wash my house later."
After the game, the team thought unanimously that Sawicki would not return because of his complaining. He has played every week since.
Past Our Prime plans to enter a tournament this summer that is held at Camelback.
"As long as there are teams our age , we're in," says Davenport. "We are good enough to compete."
As one might guess, younger days return to each player's mind when they step into the batter's box.
"The game brings us back to the days when most of us played wireball, stickball, and baseball in the streets and playgrounds," says Davenport.
And the outcome never matters in fact, the other day the team played a 10-inning scoreless tie that was competitive to the last out before they quit because some were too tired to continue and others had to go home to do yard work.
Davenport realizes the benefits of playing wiffle ball go beyond the game itself.
"We have a lot of laughs, and we give each other a hug when the game is over. Then we go home and get out the Ben-Gay so we can be ready for next Tuesday."
NOTE - If there are other appropriately-aged wiffle ball teams in the area that would like to play Past Our Prime, contact can be made by emailing Rich Strack at the TIMES NEWS sports department.