A diamond is forever

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By Mike Forster

I don?t mind growing old.

I?m just not used to it.

?Victor Borge, pianist (1909-2000)

The ballplayers on the Bedford County Parks and Recreation Department?s 50-plus year-old softball team are doing what they can to avoid getting used to entering their autumn years.

The team, which consists of 25 players, can be found smacking the ball, diving for line drives and snagging long fly balls during their games on Tuesday evenings at the county fields.

The team?s ace hurler, 79-year-old Harold Williams, embodies the spirit of the team. ?I enjoy playing as much as I did 60 years ago,? said Williams, a former Brooklyn Dodgers? prospect, until Uncle Sam called during the Korean War.

The team, under the guidance of player-manager Lana Obenchain, is playing in its fifth season. Obenchain, program coordinator for the county, started up the team with Kelly Minton. ?We were just trying to come up with something for adults,? recalled Obenchain.

Obenchain is on the hunt for additional players with a target of filling two teams. To be eligible, a player must have reached his or her 50th birthday by April 1 of this year.

Two teams would give the program more flexibility. Locally, the only other 50+ teams are in Altavista and Lynchburg. As a result, the Bedford Silvers often take on younger opponents, including church league teams. ?We?ve beaten some teams that thought we wouldn?t give them a problem,? noted Obenchain. ?They thought they could walk over us. Holding your own with the young ones is something.?

Co-founder Minton, 76 years old, stated, ?I just enjoy playing. A lot of the older fellows love it.?

While Williams and Minton represent the more senior wing of the team, make no mistake. This is a talented bunch.

Fifty-somethings Jerry Nester, Randy Stanley and Mike Manley showed off mobility and skill that is the envy of players many years their junior.

The team draws from a wide geographical range. ?I wouldn?t come all the way from Franklin County if I didn?t like it,? said utility player Liz Hunt. ?I?ve encouraged two others (from Franklin County) to come out. There are a lot of laughs and good sportsmanship.?

Annamarie Hackman, a catcher who models her style after former Baltimore Oriole Andy Etchebarren, agreed. ?This is in my blood. I?ve been playing since I was nine years old.?

The rules vary slightly from standard softball. Players start out with a 1-1 count. There are also two first bases and two home plates, to avoid collisions. The teams are limited to two (over the fence) home runs per game. In a recent game with Altavista, both teams maxxed out on homers in the second inning.

The games even draw some fans. Spotted at that most recent game were three self-described ?groupies? from Altavista: Dolores Drumheller, Jeannie Smith and Vickie Perkins.

?We?re here to cheer on our wonderful Altavista senior softball team,? exulted Smith.

Added Drumheller, ?They?re pretty good for old men.?

Katrina Nester watched on as her husband?s team fell to Altavista 12-4. She started going to Nester?s games when they started dating 32 years ago, when Jerry Nester played for Liberty. ?It?s a family tradition,? she noted.

She added, ?I?d encourage wives to push their husbands to play because it?s great exercise and it?s good clean fun.

If interested, contact Coach Obenchain at County Parks and Rec: 540-586-7682.