For these fun-loving seniors, softball is a hit

There’s always room for more players, and friends, in the Marion County Senior Softball program.

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Posted March 21, 2023 | By Andy Fillmore - Photo gallery by Bruce Ackerman

Rob Minter, a dialysis patient awaiting a kidney transplant, was right where he wanted to be Friday morning: on second base at Ocala’s Ralph Russell Park.

Minter, 50, a former strong safety on the Marshall University football team, is one of about 55 current participants in Marion County Senior Softball (MCSS), a program, open to men over 50 and women over 45. There are no tryouts or qualifications necessary.

The group plays Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to about 11 a.m. at Ralph Russell Park, at 1690 Pine Road.

Minter said playing in the program, along with diet and gym workouts, has
helped him lose 40 pounds.

“It’s important when I get on the operating table,” Minter said.

He said he hopes to get a donor kidney within three years.

Nicole Martin, Minter’s fiancé, encouraged him from a sideline fence. Martin said playing with MCSS “helps (Minter) and (keeps) his spirits up.”

Minter said he likes the camaraderie and the encouragement the players share even when mistakes are made during a game.

“There’s a lot of (mutual) support,” he said, noting that at least one player has added him to his church’s prayer list.

George Haralson is the program’s liaison with Marion County Parks and Recreation.

“The common thread in the program is the camaraderie,” Haralson said.

He explained in an email what sets this program apart from others.

“Potential players are often discouraged because of the requirement(s) most leagues have,” he said. ‘MCSS allows all seniors to play regardless of their experience or talent.”

In 2014, the Golden Seniors Softball League, which was founded in 1989 in Marion County, disbanded, and Marion County Parks and Recreation formed the MCSS.

Gary Luscombe, 83, has played in senior leagues for about 20 years. He has had multiple surgeries including knee and rotator cuff operations at UF Health Shands Hospital.

“Play one time, and you get hooked,” Luscombe said.

A visit to a recent game found players with a diversity of backgrounds.

Mike Rogers, center fielder, is retired from the Marion County Solid Waste Department while outfielder Arthur Holden, 75, is a retired science teacher.

MCSS player Nick Estavillo, 78, is a retired chief of patrol with the New York City Police Department who oversaw 20,000 officers and 4,000 civilian staff members. He also served in the Marine Corps. including service in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 in a recon unit.

Ed Cowan, 70, is playing after knee surgery in January, and Mike Tamburello, 63, who is in the HVAC business, has had both hips replaced.

Gary “Pappy” Phelps, 83, a former Florida Freshwater Fish and Game Commission game warden who served in areas including the Everglades, was acting as home plate umpire during the recent game.

“Makes me feel like a teenager again,” he said. “This is a great league.”

Army veteran and single dad Derwin “D.C.” Cobb played all nine positions during the game and had words of encouragement for his teammates. His daughter, Winter, 11, shared the fun with her dad and helped by retrieving bats from home plate.

MCSS player Calvin Osteen, 80, is retired from Southern Bell telephone. He survived cancer 22 years ago and in recent years has suffered a stroke and had two heart stents implanted.

Boyce Kline, 85, a retired Navy veteran, said playing with the MCSS group keeps you young.

Sara Lambert, community engagement coordinator for Marion County Parks and Recreation, serves as a media representative for the program, which is overseen by the recreation division of Marion County Parks and Recreation.

She said all levels of players are welcome and there is a $50 per season sign-up fee. Players can join anytime.

Lambert explained in an email that Ralph Russell Park was donated to Marion County in 1978 by the Ralph Russell Memorial Fund, Inc. Since 1997, she said, the county has “awarded more than $74,000 in park partnership grant funds for improvements to the park,” which has baseball and softball fields, restroom and concession facilities and playground equipment.

Julio Castro, 61, is with The Guest House (Ocala) treatment center, a team sponsor. He said playing with MCSS “keeps the blood going.”

MCSS player George Kershner, a Del Webb Community resident temporally sidelined by a medical issue, watched the recent game. He said he misses playing and hopes to rejoin the team soon.

Meanwhile, Dennis Morgan, 82, whose career was in the automotive trade, played outfield “rover” and said he loves the games. Morgan is one of the program’s contact people for new players.

Carlie Smith, 66, a caregiver, moved here three years ago from Oregon. She’s a self-described “sports girl” and she said playing softball helps her keep fit. Elise Delatore, an office manager, said playing with the group is fun.

Pat West, retired oil refinery supervisor, said she enjoys the camaraderie of the MCSS players.
Haralson stated MCSS provides “an affordable, safe place to play slow-pitch softball in an atmosphere of fair play, sportsmanship and friendly rivalry. Beginners are welcome.”
During a game, he noted, “If you don’t have fun (playing MCSS), it’s your own fault.”

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Or call (352) 671-8560.

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