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Softball league stays in one piece playing by Larry's rules

PALM HARBOR

The commissioner runs a tight operation.

Larry Marentette, 89, stands near the dugout watching as three of his players take turns at bat and eight others field.

Mike Collins, a winter resident from Illinois, walks by him heading to the outfield.

"Hey, do you know where you're supposed to be?'' Marentette hollers at him. "You should still be back there catching.''

Collins backtracks. "Okay, Larry, whatever you want. You're the boss.''

The dialogue causes the two men to chuckle.

Marentette wouldn't go so far as to call himself bossy.

Assertive? Absolutely.

Strict? Definitely.

"I actually like to say that I've got an outgoing personality,'' he said jokingly. "My team knows that I have Larry's rules. We all have fun and nobody gets hurt. That includes no slides and no tags.''

His methods seem to be working. Since 1984, Marentette has managed the Highland Lakes Softball League. From September through June, players ranging in age from 55 to 90 meet on Thursday morning at Palm Harbor's Sunderman Complex to play for 90 minutes.

After some 25 years, Marentette, a retired Chrysler payroll employee, has perfected his game day routine.

He rises at 6 a.m. while his wife, Dorothy, continues to snooze. "I get up. I eat cornflakes, toast and have coffee. It's also the day trash is picked up, so I take the garbage to the curb, and then I make sure to be at the field a little before 9.''

The league originally was created by residents of Highland Lakes, a Palm Harbor retirement community. "The men decided to play softball on Thursday mornings because women took over the golf course for Ladies Day on Thursdays,'' Marentette said.

Years later, the league's roster has 20 players, many of whom come from nearby towns.

"But not all the players make it every week,'' said Marentette. "Just recently, I lost a player when he took a new job, and another one moved. And see that guy on second base? He's got a girlfriend now in Texas. I called him on his cell phone looking for him a couple weeks ago, and he said, 'Larry, I can't play today. I'm in Texas.' But that's okay. It happens like that.''

On the days when he has fewer than 18 players — the number needed to hold a game — he has them play scrub ball. That allows them to at least get out on the field to do some batting, pitching and catching. "The most important thing is to get the guys out there. It's the fun of it.''

Several players are seasonal residents who head north for the summer to escape Florida's heat. Over the years, many have gone to the sidelines due to arthritis, bad backs and heart problems.

Even Marentette had to miss a season.

"It was Oct. 30, 2008. I broke my hip,'' he recalled.

He remembers the details clearly.

"We were playing 10-10-5.''

"What the heck is 10-10-5?" asks a visitor.

Marentette's response: "10-10-5 is something we do when we have less than 10 players. We can't play a game, so we work on hitting. That day was like that. I get the guys to rotate. They get 10 hits, then field. Then they get 10 hits again and field again, and then comes the last five hits, then we're done.''

Marentette was on his second 10 when it happened.

"I hit the ball. It was a good hit going toward left field," he said. "I just turned and fell."

He was in a lot of pain. His fellow players immediately called 911. But they also knew he'd be okay.

"Even after he got hurt, he was still yelling orders," said Tony Laquaglia, who has played in the league for six years. "We call him the commissioner, and there he was, on the stretcher, still fulfilling his role.''

After getting a hip replacement, Marentette spent months healing, including a stint at ManorCare Health Services in Palm Harbor.

Joe Klosterman of Clearwater has known Marentette since they attended the same Catholic school in Ontario 80 years ago. The 88-year-old moved to Pinellas County 10 years ago, partly to be closer to his friend.

"I remember visiting him at (ManorCare). I knew it was doubtful that he'd ever play ball again,'' he said.

Klosterman as a boy played second base while Marentette pitched. He's pleased that his best buddy has been able to keep up with his love of softball as a manager, despite not being able to play.

"He knows his limits,'' Klosterman said.

Ralph Gray, 80, has played under Marentette for 10 years and relies on him to keep the league organized.

"He keeps us going,'' said Gray, a Palm Harbor resident. "And it's true, what Larry says goes. These days I only play first base because it's the only place Larry lets me play. He won't let me pitch anymore because I got hit by a line drive a while back.''

Nearby, Marentette nods his head.

"That's why there are Larry's rules,'' he said. "It's either my way or the highway.''

Piper Castillo is reachable at pcastillo@sptimes.com.

Fast facts

Highland Lakes Softball League

This league for players 55 and over meets from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on Thursdays through June at the Sunderman Complex, 1631 Ninth St. (along 8th Street, by Pop Stansell Park) in Palm Harbor. Cost is $2. To register, call Larry Marentette, (727) 785-3331.

>>FAST FACTS

Highland Lakes Softball League

This league for players 55 and older meets from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on Thursdays through June at the Sunderman Complex, 1631 Ninth St. (along Eighth Street, by Pop Stansell Park) in Palm Harbor. Cost is $2. To register, call Larry Marentette at (727) 785-3331.

Softball league stays in one piece playing by Larry's rules 04/16/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 16, 2011 2:17pm]
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