Rookies start off at age 55, players reach their prime around 60, and many of the league’s old-timers are pushing 75 or 80.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, these local senior citizens and retirees aren’t interested in sedate shuffleboard matches, nor have they the desire to square off in heated games of boccie.
The Thousand Oaks Bobcats, whose players range from age 65 on up, whet their competitive edge by playing other senior slow-pitch softball teams across Ventura County and Santa Barbara.
“That’s the reason why we’re out there--the competitive spirit is quite tangible,” said the Bobcats’ 70-year-old second baseman and outfielder Rollie Berry of Thousand Oaks. “There’s a lot of sportsmanship, but the object of playing the game in the first place is to win.”
And the Bobcats have done a lot of winning recently, racking up a 3-0 record in Winter League matches against other teams ages 65 and older, and 2-0 in Minor League competition against players 60 and older, said the team’s manager and utility player, Bob “Doc” Wiedlien, 71, of Thousand Oaks.
“It’s a lot of fun--there’s a lot of razzing, but no one gets too excited about it,” said Wiedlien, a retired oral surgeon. “We play a pretty good game.”
Wiedlien said about 27 senior softball teams can be found across the county and in Santa Barbara. Some leagues include players 55 and older, while the Bobcats’ league starts at 65.
The Bobcats, many of whom are 70 or older, face off against competitors across the county, including teams from Ojai and their Winter League archrival, Oxnard, at least once a week, with practices and informal recreational matches taking up the slack.
“It keeps you busy almost every day. Working in a little golf along with it pretty well fills up the time,” Berry said. “It takes awhile to get the honey-do list taken care of.”
Wiedlien said playing senior softball is a lot like being a kid again.
“Now that I’m retired, my life is like when I was 12, only I don’t have to ask my mother to go out and play ball,” he said.
In Thousand Oaks, the Bobcats are not the only game in town--a team called the Panthers is made up of players 55 and older, and a second Major League team by the same name includes players pushing 60.
More than 60 seniors from across the Conejo Valley and Camarillo play on Thousand Oaks seniors teams against rivals from other cities, Wiedlien said.
An additional 30 to 40 players show up for the informal recreational games organized by the city’s Goebel Senior Adult Center, which are held weekly at Borchard Park in Newbury Park, and on occasion at North Ranch Park across town.
Though the rules of softball for seniors are much the same as those used by younger people, base sliding and leading off are not permitted.
“One of the objects of these rules is to avoid significant contact,” Berry said. “At our age a little contact goes a long way.”
Almost all of the seniors engaged in friendly softball competition would agree that playing the game is one of the best ways to stay fit and active and keep the mind clicking.
“I’ve seen people 75 and older play, and I’m amazed at what these people can do,” said Bobcat right-fielder Nick Fiore, 70, of Camarillo’s Leisure Village. “I feel if I can do as well at that age, I’ll be very happy to go that route.
“Many of the old-timers--and when I say old-timers, I mean the ones who are 75 to 80--have said to me, ‘If it wasn’t for softball, I don’t think I could be doing what I’m doing.’ Some of them have told me, ‘My health is based on softball.’ ”