On a cloudy May evening at Leopold Park in Logan Township, clouds are rolling in and you can feel a sprinkle on your cheek.
But the dreary weather isn’t dampening the spirits of several dozen adults tying on spikes and slipping on ball gloves for an Altoona Co-Ed Softball League doubleheader.
While nothing like the fast-pitch college softball broadcast this time of year on ESPN, the weekend warriors in this slow-pitch format can take the game just as seriously as Olympic softball legends like Jennie Finch and Lisa Fernandez.
The league been around for at least three decades, started in the 1970s among area hospitals. Today, still considered a business-based organization, it also includes spouses and pick-up players, and is the only ASA sanctioned co-ed softball league between Lewistown and Pittsburgh.
Mark Scalice has been in charge for 12 years as just the third president in league history and said he tries to keep a healthy balance.
“It’s competitive, but it’s fun,’’ he said.
There’s a special dynamic to a sport that men and women play together. Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, bosses, employees, co-workers and friends all suit up for softball, where there’s plenty of strategy as well.
Each team must incorporate at least four women into the lineup of 10 fielders. The diamond is bigger than a college softball field, with the pitcher’s mound 50 feet from home plate. But don’t think the women are at too much of a disadvantage. While the men hit the standard 12-inch softball, the women are pitched an 11-inch ball. And many women in this league command respect.
“It’s a whole different strategy,’’ Scalice said. “When you’re playing in an all-men’s league, the guys are going to be good from top to bottom. In co-ed softball, your women are your key to success.’’
The women, including many former college players, benefit from the challenge of playing with and against the men.
As competitive as the league is, there is also a huge sense of camaraderie. Familiar faces litter every lineup. Scalice said it’s common to see competing teams picnicking together when their games are over, and you’ll often find teams sticking around after their own game to have a cold one and watch the nightcap.
While Scalice said, “none of us are getting any younger,’’ many players have been around this league for a decade or longer. Players in their 40s and 50s are still running bases and running down fly balls.
Softball is one life sport that you need at least eight other people to play, no matter how old you are, or how old your sore muscles make you feel the next day.
Whether you’re 28 or 58, the Altoona Co-Ed Softball League is special: when you step on the diamond, you’re young again, even if only for an hour. It takes you back to the time when the worst thing that could happen to you was rain on game day.
Kellie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column runs on Tuesdays.