Hollis Engley rounded second base on a long fly ball to right side of the Potter Field outfield. In the middle portions of a tightly-contested tournament game, Engley had his sights on reaching home. He blew by the stop sign held up by his teammate posing as the Cape Codgers’ third base coach, fully prepared to empty the tank on the remaining 90 feet toward home plate.
He beat the throw home, keeping the Codgers 70-and-up team within striking distance earlier this month during the Cape Cod Senior Softball League tournament, simply dubbed “The Classic.” But the run came with consequences. Engley came up limp, stretching out his right leg.
“I won’t be running anymore, but I can still pitch,” Engley said.
The boys that once ran effortlessly from first to third still live inside the members of the Cape Codgers, a senior softball league in Falmouth made up from players across the upper Cape. The passion has yet to leave this group, even if their physical ability has begun deteriorating.
Supportive braces and joint wraps are just as prominent on the field as ball caps and batting gloves. But inside those base lines for seven innings, the bumps and bruises of staying active in an advanced age is secondary to the pleasures of still playing the game they once loved.
“It’s good exercise. It gives us something to do and something to look forward to in the week,” said Bill Soares, who last played competitively in the 90s for a work league. “This is a great group of guys.”
Soares, a retired civil engineer, peppers in pickleball and golf around his softball schedule.
“This is not flawless baseball, but no one cares,” Ed DeWitt, a retired lawyer, said.
The 70-and-older Codgers team was just one of the 13 teams, ranging as far north as New Hampshire and as far south as New Jersey, that took part in the annual senior softball tournament held behind Whitehouse Field in second week of September.
The Codgers have played in the tournament for the last nine years, but with little success. According to acting player-manager Alan Jacobs, the team has just one win in that span. Others can’t seem recall the last time they won a game in The Classic.
But all that changed during the first day of the tournament. The Codgers went 2-0 in the opening round of the tournament, defeating South Shore Seniors 11-5 and Kaleidoscope Imprints 17-6, doubling their career win total in a matter of one afternoon.
“We won yesterday because we played really well. We hit the ball well and our infield and outfield defense was really tight,” Ron Dyer said. “Errors will kill you—dropped balls in the outfield, balls going through your legs in the infield.”
He added with a smirk, “The Red Sox have the same problems we do. They just move a little faster than us.”
And the games aren’t entirely the same as the ones that get played at Fenway Park either. There are five infielders, with the addition of a middle infielder, and four outfielders, two that patrol the allies along centerfield. Base runners are required to run to adjacent bags of first and home to avoid collisions. Teams are only allowed to score to five runs an inning at most. In the slow-pitch, underhand game called strikes only occur if the ball hits the plate. And in an effort to keep games moving for the tournament, batters begin each plate appearance with a count of 1-1.
Codgers first baseman Chas Crawford, a retired college athletics administrator, fell victim to the shortened at-bats in their game against the New Jersey Diehards. The first pitch just tapped the very front of the plate for a called strike. After letting two more pitches go by for balls, Crawford went down on strikes. Upon his return to the dugout he muttered to his teammates, “God didn’t invent baseball to start with 1-1 counts.”
He teammates gave him a supportive pat on the back and they headed out to the field. It was the camaraderie, in both successes and defeats, that is the backbone of the organization. Although the Codgers lost the next three games, their attitudes never strayed from child-like bliss. Their dugout chatter echoed across the field when their teammates were at-bat. And their ribbing of the opposition was lighthearted and playful—like when they asked one player who sprinted around the bases to score if he wore number 84 because that was the year he was born.
At the root of the Cape Codgers—aside from the opposite-field base hits and on-the-run catches—is amusement.
“It’s just fun continuing to play,” Soares said.
And the season isn’t over just yet. The fall ball season recently began with teams meeting on Wednesday mornings and afternoons at Nye Field in North Falmouth. It’s never too late to start playing and fall back in love with a sport from your youth. The Cape Codgers are living proof of that.