Wood bats, regulation uniforms and a desire to compete against peers are just part of what drives Baltimore Senior Baseball Over 40 League players to lace up their spikes every Sunday morning from April to August for some old-fashioned hardball.
The Towson Recreation Council-sponsored league is the nearest thing these aging boys of summer can find to the real thing, in that the rules — if not their reflexes — are pretty much the same as they have been since players first picked up a bat when they were kids.
Nature has a way of slowing down even the best of players, although these seniors don't concede much to the aging process.
Pitchers still try to overpower hitters and vice versa. Batters hustle down the line in an attempt to leg out hits. Catchers are prepared to gun down a potential base stealer or pounce on a ball chopped in front of the plate for a quick throw to first base.
"It's just a bunch of guys who still want to play," said Eric Shaivitz, 43, as he limbered up his arm on a chilly April morning practice session on Towson High's diamond.
Like many of his White Sox teammates, the physical therapist from Armaugh Village left softball behind to return to his baseball roots.
"It was becoming boring," he said. "I wanted something with a little more strategy involved. Baseball is more of a cerebral game than softball."
First and foremost, hitting a ball with a circumference roughly 25 percent less than that of a softball immediately makes the game more difficult.
Moreover, an overhand baseball pitch requires much more energy than under-handing a softball in slow-pitch.
Regardless, baseball is the game most boys play while growing up — and some just never get over the thrill of engaging in America's pastime.
Members of the eight teams in the Baltimore Senior League are among that group.
They don the official Major League Baseball uniforms of the Orioles, Rangers, White Sox and Athletics in their American League and do the same for the Marlins, Cubs, Cardinals and Nationals in their National League. In addition to Towson High's diamond, the teams also play in Overlea, Reisterstown, Owings Mills and York, Pa.
The league started eight years ago as an outshoot of the Lutherville-Timonium Over 30 league, which will boast 12 teams this season.
"We had all played in the LTRC Over 30 league, but we were getting a little long in the tooth," said Taylor Lucas, the Senior Baseball league's former commissioner. "A lot of younger guys were coming in, so we decided to start our own league."
The league stayed three years at LTRC before moving to TRC, the organization of which Lucas had previously been president.
"It was a perfect fit," he said.
At 57, Lucas is still going strong from a playing perspective. He's primarily a pitcher with a self-described "rubber arm." He's also a softball defector.
"There was no intrigue in (softball) pitching," he said.
His own repertoire on the mound includes a fastball, curve, splitter and a good notion of how to attack opposing hitters.
His splitter, he said, drops at the last second.
"You throw it with the same arm-speed of a fastball," the Towson High grad from Cockeysville said. "It fools the hitter."
Lucas takes the game seriously enough to devise a game plan before toeing the rubber.
"I have a little bit of a strategy of who to dance around, and who to go after," he said.
Those sentiments are not unusual for Senior Baseball enthusiasts.
"We come here to play and to win," said White Sox hurler Jeff Magee, 49, who owns an electrical contracting firm in Towson. "The year we won a (division) championship, we were all jumping and down like little kids."
Some of the players, including Magee, had professional careers of varying lengths in the minor leagues. His ended in Class A Sarasota in the Florida League.
There are also veterans among the graybeards, including Fred Burger, who is still playing at 70 in a league that boasts 18 regular season games before staging a single-elimination postseason tourney. The whole deal only costs $150 per player, per season.
Still, that's not enough for Lucas.
He and a group of Senior Baseball players from different teams form their own travel squad that plays in the fall and winter.
Named the Oriole Legends, the team captured a divisional championship at the Roy Hobbs Tournament in Fort Myers, Fla., in October and then went 7-0 and claimed another crown at a similar event in January.
"When the umpire yells, 'Play ball,' the competitive juices start flowing," Lucas said.
That's how it was on at Towson High on April 13 when the Cubs and Orioles squared off on a warm and sunny opening day.
The Orioles jumped out on top with a three-run first inning before the Cubs subsequently found their batting stroke, grabbing a 14-6 lead after five innings.
With Lucas on the hill for the Cubs, the Orioles had a difficult time catching up. For instance, the lefty wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth by retiring Dave Edwards, 45, on a long fly to center field with his father, Wayne Edwards, 63, waiting on deck.
One Oriole hitter who did give Lucas problems was Towson resident Mike McLaughlin, 47, who whacked a couple of solid hits while making his Baltimore Senior League debut.
The catcher, who has not played in an organized baseball game since his high school days in Philadelphia, looked comfortable at the plate — and behind it.
McLaughlin's perspective of the game he played as a boy is one that could be shared by most of his fellow Senior Leaguers.
"It all comes back to you, I guess," he said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun