It's not yet 9 o'clock on a weekday morning and there are more than 50 cars in the parking lot at a public facility. Campaign signs line the route in. Must be Election Day.
Well, it is, but that doesn't explain the robust turnout at the Anderson-Snow fields just north of County Line Road. It is not a voting precinct. Fifty-six men age 60 and over gather for physical exertion and mental abuse.
They are the four teams of the Charlie Misiak softball league, rechristened from the Anderson-Snow Senior Softball League for a long-time favorite who passed away. They play Tuesday and Thursday mornings for a 62-game season, then redraft players and begin again as snowbirds return to complete the winter rosters. Fourteen players to a side. Base hits can be hard to come by with six outfielders and five infielders flashing the leather.
Their allegiance on the diamond is to their managers: Mitch, Larry, John and Bob. The allegiance in the voting booth leans to the right, if this unscientific survey of aging softball players is within the margin of error.
The game is softball, but the talk this day is politics.
Runs. Hits. Monumental errors.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as U.S. Sen. John McCain's running mate? Big goof, several players say.
Bob Bender is 71 and a part-time resident of Hernando County. He voted already, in Iowa, for Democrat Barack Obama.
"Ordinarily, our area is probably 90 percent Republican, but the signs for Obama are up everywhere,'' said Bender. "They think he made a terrible mistake by picking Palin.''
Not to John Kilfeather, 72, of Timber Pines, a retired New York City firefighter. He is out with a broken thumb — injuries, ailments and pulled muscles are a frequent fact of life in a seniors-only league — but he isn't shy about showing his enthusiasm for the Republican ticket.
His T-shirt reads "Support your local hockey mom'' and features an image of a bulldog wearing lipstick.
Palin, he said, "is my kind of broad.''
Without prodding, Renee Lalane, 73, lifts his own shirt to show the surgical scars from his heart surgery in May. Five bypasses and a valve job. He returned to the playing field two months later. There is no shortage of pride among these athletes.
"I used to be a Democrat,'' said Lalane, ''but they became too liberal.''
Beyond the right field fence is a sign for Gus Guadagnino, a non-partisan candidate for Hernando supervisor of elections. But the local races seem to generate little interest.
Mitch Alvins, 62, is the designated hitter and the manger of the team — one that is known as Mitch's. Problem feet keep him from playing the field right now. After the game, he planned to vote for Sheriff Richard Nugent and has been researching the constitutional amendments.
The other races?
"I'll go Republican or I'll leave it blank,'' said Alvins.
Ray Krisa smokes a cigar during the game and sports a hat for the St. Louis Blues hockey team.
"They both stink.''
The presidential candidates, not the cigar and hockey team. Krisa seems to be the only one sitting on the sidelines for this election.
By 10:30, both games are over. Bob's team wins 7-5 over Larry's, and Mitch's team takes it on the chin from John's, 11-6.
"Time to go vote for McCain,'' one of Bob's players says while exiting.
He had been getting encouragement from a teammate. An outfielder and sometimes pitcher for Bob's team, this McCain supporter moved to Seven Hills six years ago from Seattle after retiring as an operations manager for United Airlines. He distributed a campaign button to one of the other players.
His name is Tom McCain.
Obama's political organization ran a better campaign, says the Spring Hill McCain, and outspent the Republican ticket.
"I don't like it when people buy the election,'' he said, then acknowledged what most believed to be inevitable.
"Sounds like (I'm) a sore loser,'' he said. "I'm already anticipating a loss.''
C.T. Bowen can be reached at email@example.com or at 1-800-333-7505 Ext. 6239.