Written by Len Pugtach Friday, 29 March 2013 00:00
For the players in the regular Sunday morning softball game that takes place in East Hills, the first week of March means a trip to Longboat Key, FL to play softball. In fifteen years, 105 games have been scheduled. Only 2 games have ever been rained out. The trip is the brainchild of Jeff Gass, who works for Rein and American Trails West Teen Tours. Two things Jeff could not plan for this year was the birth of a granddaughter and the weather in New York. New York was hit by snowstorms that week; on both Wednesday and Thursday nights. As our advance man, Jeff arrived in Florida on Tuesday and anxiously awaited our arrival. The rest of the group beat the storms and arrived on Wednesday, with the games to begin on Thursday morning. Instead of heading to the ballfield on Thursday morning, Jeff flew back to New York to be with his wife, Linda, son, Adam and daughter-in-law, Perri for Kyle’s arrival. Jeff then returned to Florida in time for dinner Friday night, setting a team record for most miles traveled in one weekend. In Jeff’s absence, Larry Popkin ably took control of Jeff’s credit card, and we managed somehow to survive without Jeff.
Another display of our passion for the game was by Mark Greenbaum. Unable to join the group for the whole weekend, Mark‘s ordeal started Friday morning. Flights delayed and canceled by the snowstorms, he arrived in Florida Friday night just in time for dessert. His presence energized the games on Saturday. He was on the winning team for both games, and was the winning pitcher in the second game. He had lunch after the game, and flew home; setting the team record for the shortest Florida stay. Big Mark promised that next year his stay will be at least 24 hours. And then there is Richie Schlesinger, our senior-most citizen, now retired from playing, but who comes on the trip to umpire the games.
We play seven games in four days. This year an exceptionally high level of play was exhibited by all, and there were surprisingly few injuries for a group of old guys who had not played ball in more than three months. The MVP for the weekend was Ken Jacoby, who on Friday and Saturday had hits in nine consecutive at bats. Other solid performances were turned in over the weekend by veterans Dennis Arfa, Richard Lituchy, Jeff Giller, Tony L’Abbate, Kenny Hare, Vache Bahadurian, Ben Dreksler, Aaron Elkowitz and Mario D’Amico.
Neither the camaraderie nor the fun and games stop when the games end. Afternoons are for gin games, golf, tennis, and lounging in the sun. Attendance at nightly dinners is mandatory; where unrehearsed speeches and spontaneous roasts are commonplace. Kenny Panzer’s traditional opening remarks that “It doesn’t get any better than this,” always bring loud cheers. Entertainment this year included Nat Cherney’s instant classic power point production ”Softball/Celebrity Look A-likes”, which had the group rolling in the aisles at Saturday night dinner when Nat matched pictures of us all to our celebrity dopplegangers.
At lunch on Saturday afternoon, bags of ice were seen on the body parts of many players, but Sunday morning brought Game 7, and the ice bags seemed to have done their job. Stiff, sore, and sleep deprived by the spring ahead of daylight savings, almost everyone was ready to play. An unusually spirited Sunday game ensued. Trailing 10 to 3, the winners rallied to a 15-11 victory.
“A very special family” said one of us. But the rookie Jeff Kozuch, who at age 47 was the youngest in the group, and who despite obvious first years jitters, played well, may have said it best, “I found a great team of men who really figured out how to take a shared passion and turn it into a bond that is truly great.”