Every Sunday from roughly Mothers Day through Columbus Day you’ll find them there, playing baseball on the Wallenpaupack Area High School ballfield.
It’s the Pocono Mountain Adult Baseball League.
On a day where puffy stratocumulus clouds ease their way across a bluebird sky, most people over 50 might rather spend the day cruising around the lake behind home plate. Instead, these folks relish in the afternoon sun preferring to have ash in their hands instead of a spinning rod.
The league is made up of players from as close as Hawley to as far away as the Lehigh Valley. League commissioner Bruce Krejmas explains:
“We have four teams this year. We started with just two over a decade ago. Back then we’d just meet and play a pick-up game. Then it moved to a three team league and one team would have to play a double-header. That team usually lost the second game.”
Krejmas, who resides in Milford, went on to discuss the rules and the make-up of the teams. Teams have about 13-15 players each.
Dues are $40 a player. The fees go to pay for balls and for the umpires. They are thankful that the school lets them have the field free of charge.
Bunting and stealing bases are not allowed. Games are nine innings, but there’s a five-run-per-inning cap for each team (except for the ninth), this helps move the game along and keep them on schedule, and the use of non-wood bats is prohibited.
Jokingly, a remark is tossed in the dugout that aluminum bats weren’t around when they were kids, and in some cases possibly aluminum itself.
While that’s a bit of a stretch, it does go to show the age of some of the players, like Tommy Gunn who is still rounding the bases at 81.
Tommy plays for the Highlanders, who battled the Red Storm in Sunday’s opener. However, the Red Storm was short a player and Tommy switched sides for the game.
Nevertheless, he is cheered on by both teams.
“The league is competitive, but we’re all here to have a good time,” Highlanders skipper, Scott Taylor from Stroudsburg said.
This is apparent from the banter on the field and emanating from the benches.
A car show was going on in the school parking lot at the same time and someone there cranked up the subwoofers blaring out Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll (Part 2) causing someone from the Highlanders’ bench to shout “Hey, there’s our rally song!”
Rally they tried, but after nine innings the Highlanders fell to the Red Storm 13-3.
One ballgame down, one more to go. Up next: The Rockers versus The Pounders. Rockers’ manager John Goncalves of Dingmans Ferry elaborates about some of his players.
Page 2 of 3 - He points out Eddie Holmes, who at 52, never played organized baseball until last year and Lynn Spuler, the league’s only woman player.
Holmes, who lives in Beach Lake, hit .333 last season and had some outstanding games, one resulting in him being awarded the game ball.
“It was better than going to Yankee’s Stadium,” he said. “I gave the ball to my dad!”
His teammates are encouraging and he admits he’s still leaning the game, but he goes on, “You’re never too old to learn something new.”
At 53, Spuler, who calls Marshalls Creek home, spent her younger years in fast-pitch softball leagues, when she heard about the senior hardball league her reaction was “Do you think they’d let a woman play?”
Her baseball enthusiasm was kindled by her annual attendance at Mets’ Fantasy Camp.
“The switch from softball to baseball wasn’t that hard, “she said, “The hardest thing was getting used to the longer baseline.”
Doubts about her commitment are easily put to rest as she straps on the catcher’s equipment and takes up residence behind the plate.
“I live for Sundays!” she emphatically states.
Across the field, the Pounders look like a motley crew. As the only team in the league yet to adopt uniforms, they don jerseys from their favorite major league teams.
Hawley’s John Morgan is on the mound clad in a black Orioles’ shirt. Two years ago he pitched a perfect game. A noble accomplishment at any age, let alone at 53.
Today would be another big day for Morgan. With the bases loaded in the top of the fifth, he drove the ball over the right field wall for a Grand Slam!
Slugging was the name of the Pounders’ game.
MIA from the Red Storm during the earlier game, Carl Braunagle, from Montague, NJ, filled in for an absent Pounder and added a triple, a double, and a single to the team’s tally, helping to rout the Rockers 10-2.
Above the number of Braunagle’s jersey is his nickname. It reads simply “Hammer.”
If there is a ringer in the league, it’s Carl. A giant of a man, he’s played baseball since he was a kid, making it as far as a AA minor leaguer for the Mets’ Binghamton NY affiliate in 1985-86.
Similarly as talented and also with a good deal of semi-pro experience is Herbie Epps of Milford.
At 55, it’s Epps’ fourth year in the league. Today he made a diving catch to retire the side.
Like Braunagle, he’s been a lifelong player, having spent time in adult travel leagues. He even taught himself to switch hit.
Page 3 of 3 - The two reminisce about the old days, but unlike the Springsteen song, all the Glory Days aren’t quite over with. Both plan to continue playing for a long time.
Another Pounder who’s had a brush with the major league is Jim Mann.
“I’m the fastest 61-year old in the state…probably.” He boasts. “No one has ever thrown me out once I get into scoring position.”
Mann tried out for the Pirates in 1977 as a walk-on, but was eventually cut. He was 26 at the time and much older than the other players, all of whom were gunning for minor league positions.
Mann is one of the four founding members of the league still playing.
Tim Downs, Dave Balduck, and Don Petti are the other three. At 74, Petti was on the mound earlier in the day, pitching for the Highlanders.
It’s all in good fun. Fortunes change with a pitch and a swing and they all know it. They’re all glad to be here, still playing, still having the time of their lives.
For more information about the Pocono Mountain Adult Baseball Association, contact Bruce Krejmas at 570-296-8583.