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John Graig batting during the fall league.

Following a terrific and exciting 2019 Winter season and the first-ever spring league held last April, one would think that the exodus of “snowbirds” and the summer heat would have resulted in a lull for the Englewood men’s seniors softball league.

As Lee Corso of ESPN often says, “not so fast, my friend!”

Players returned to the adult softball fields in large numbers almost immediately after the end of the spring season.

“We had 25-30 guys showing up to practice all summer long,” said Jake Marzucco, a player in the Gold division. “That’s about two times more than any other summer … despite the heat and humidity!”

The Englewood Senior Softball league has moved into full swing with open practice sessions at 8 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Englewood Sports Complex, 1300 S. River Road.

And the turnout continues to grow, a Fall season has been set up, where four teams will play a series of games this month, and into November.

“We thought the fall session would be popular, given the success of the spring season” said Bill Rice, commissioner of the league. “Ray Murphy took the lead on getting it organized, and we had four teams filled out within just a few days.”

Going in to its 28th year, the league continues to attract players from Englewood, North Port, Venice, Rotonda, Boca Grande and Port Charlotte.

“The league’s mission is to create an opportunity for men over 60 to play recreational softball,” said Rudy Davis, a member of the league’s executive committee. “With the expanding population in the Suncoast area, we’ve seen a record turnout both summer and this fall.”

The league has focused on recruiting in recent years. “We’ve worked hard the last few years to increase the numbers, and it’s paying off,” said Mark Johnson, who plays on The End Zone in the Gold Division and is a member of the executive committee.

“We had another record draft for last year’s Winter season, and the huge interest in the Spring and Fall seasons is testimony to the popularity of the league.”

2019 was also the first year for the Bronze division, for those over 80 or with otherwise diminishing skills. The typical new player is one who hasn’t played in some time, and has moved to the area, though many new players have played in summer leagues “up north.”

Practice sessions run through December to give players a chance to refresh their skills, and prepare for the draft.

“The skill level ranges from first timer’s to more advanced players, with one common goal … get some exercise and have some fun,” said Rice.

The league also has a Silver and Gold divisions.

“We’ve now moved to a divisional alignment based purely on skill level. We hold a draft for the Winter season the first week of January to fill out the teams, and then play a 21-game schedule, plus an end of season tournament,” explained Davis.

This year’s draft is Jan. 6, 2020 for the Gold division, Jan. 7 for both Silver and Bronze, with registration required.

Rice notes that the Spring and Fall leagues do not yet have a formal draft, and teams are formed to create similar levels of talent to keep the games competitive.

“I can see the spring and fall leagues growing in the next few years” says Young. “This league is well run and loads of fun.” The league is supported by local businesses that sponsor the teams, and the list is growing.

“We are very grateful, that they do. It helps to supply teams with jerseys, equipment and the cost of renting the fields from the county,” says Rice.

And, the nearly 300 players and their fans frequent those businesses all year long. “It’s a symbiotic relationship, for sure.”

Until the draft, its practice, practice, practice, which is open to anyone 59 or over.

“Everybody bats, fields and gets to play in a practice game if they choose to,” says Mike Geddes, who played for Beyond the Sea last year. “We’ll use the fly ball launcher again at practices this year for outfielder practice, too.”

League members built the launcher. Practice sessions are held on Adult Softball fields 1 & 2, and soccer field four when the numbers require it. “Al Mosher and his crew keep the fields in great shape,” said Davis.

Rice encourages all to come out and give it a try, regardless of when you last played.

“You’ll have some fun, make some friends, and don’t worry if you don’t have a bat. We have them to spare. All you need is a glove.”

For more information, visit www.englewoodseniorsoftball.weebly.com. Registration for the draft is required. Fill out a form available at the Englewood Sports Complex, or download one from the website.

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