They call themselves the "Boys of Winter,'' and for 77 years the St. Petersburg Half Century Softball Club has gathered on the city's waterfront to play a sport that keeps them young. Since 1933, when a group of about 20 men 50 years and older gathered near the site that is now Progress Energy Park, the club has played games from October to April.
Right on cue, the league started its 60-game season on Monday. They play Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at North Shore Park. Players range from rookies with "fresh'' legs and arms, to players in their mid 70s with knee braces, a little padding in the stomach and the same drive for the game they had 50 years ago.
"This is what we live for,'' said outfielder Joe Hannah, 62.
So far this season there are enough players to make four teams: the Pels, the Gulls, the Kings and the Cranes. It costs $195 per player each season, and that includes a black and a red uniform and paid umpires. Ideally, the league would like to have six teams. It is always looking for qualified players, but just know that these guys can play. And they play a lot. Each game is nine innings.
"I found this is one of the most competitive leagues in the county,'' said Hannah, a retired firefighter from Pittsburgh. "When I first got here (in 1998) about 50 percent of the players were what we call 'logs,' guys who couldn't play very well. Now we have about eight good players on a 10-man team. We've got some really good ballplayers.''
There are three players, Hal Oliver, Larry McCurdy and Darwin Shiflett, who are in the National Softball Hall of Fame. Several others have played for the Half Century Club for more than 10 years. Pitcher Bob Carran has 396 wins (yes, they keep career stats) as one of the league's best modified fast pitch pitchers.
When players reach 75 years old, they can become eligible for the Kids-N-Kubs, a group that has played 80 years in St. Petersburg. That is the goal of most. The Half Century Club is like a minor league for the Kids-N-Kubs. Those good enough in the youngsters league can play for the big boys when they get old enough.
That means staying healthy, which can vary from player to player.
"We all get old,'' outfielder Skip Yost, 60, said. "We just do it at different ages.''
The club currently has eight players in its pool who are used when others can't play. If enough new players come out, the club could add additional teams.
"We're always looking at players throughout the season,'' Hannah said. "If somebody comes out and wants to try out, we'll let them.''
M.J. Maguire, a junior at St. Petersburg High School, has earned honorable mention accolades for 2009. The 17-year-old finished tied for second at the AJGA Cliffs Championship and fourth at the Mizuno Junior at Innisbrook. Maguire also captured his first win at The Bobby Chapman Junior Invitational.
• Largo Golf Course held its biweekly 18-hole scramble on Oct. 24. The scramble, which is open to the public, had a total of 11 teams (43 players). The team of John Eppard (Largo), Bill Arthur (St. Petersburg) and Lou Canasanto (Seminole) won the event with a score of 51.
• The County Golf Association held its weekly tournament at Crescent Oaks on Oct. 22. The regular division gross champion was Trey Ciccotti, who shot 71. The net winner was Justin Meier, who shot 72. The senior gross winner was John King, who shot 75. The senior net winner was Jim Fox, who shot 69. The ladies net winner was Susan Tarkowski, who shot 68.
Seminole Lake Tennis Center held an Octoberfest tournament on Oct. 24-25. The boys 18 singles winner was Yaozhong Zhang, the boys 16 winner was Christian Deisler, the 14 winner was Sinan Orhon, the 12 winner was Nicholas Grazia and the 10 winner was Henry Cacciatore. On the girls side, Julia Sikorski won the 18 singles title, the 16 winner was Alena Al-Bochi Mazie, the 14 winner was Kelly Taylor, the 12 winner was Anastasha Worlds and the 10 winner was Constanza Rios.
• Largo Tennis Center hosted the Haunted Rookie tournament on Oct. 24-25. The boys 16 singles winner was Alex Valdes, the 14 winner was Ryan Machado, the 12 winner was James Lis and the 10 winner was Rohan Kale. The girls 12 singles winner was Meredith Riccardi and the 10 winner was Lola Coutelle.
• St. Petersburg Tennis Center held an adults and senior veterans tournament on Oct. 23-25. The men's open singles winner was Milos Koprivica. The women's open winner was Sarah Means. The men's 40 singles winner was Jimmy Gatza, the 50 winner was Gary Downing, the 55 winner was Howie Banfield, the 60 winner was Gerry Barna, the 65 winner was Charles King, the 70 winner was William Poist and the 75 winner was David Rothgaber. The women's 50 singles winner was Karen Warrack.