"C'mon Pa-kee, throw it in there, Pa-kee."
"Atta way, Pac-kee. Just you and me."
If you only listened to the players, you might not believe this was a softball league for players 60 and older. The uniforms--from the T-shirts with numbers on the back, navy shorts and baseball hats, down to the white softball-style socks with navy trim--looked perfect. Pregame batting and infield practice. If you were just listening, it might sound like a heated Little League game.
Except for the players.
Almost all of the men are retired. With gray hair. Throwing arms and foot speed not quite what they used to be. Infielders, all five of them, with knee pads and braces. Plenty of courtesy runners. Two home plates. No sliding. Overrunning a base is allowed.
Welcome to the Baltimore Beltway Senior Softball League, a 12-team, men-only league with teams from north of Baltimore to Greenbelt, including three teams in Bowie. The minimum age is 60 (there is no maximum) and a few players are in their eighties.
Some are there for the camaraderie. Others for the exercise. Most are there as a way to keep feeling young. After all, most other grandfathers are playing cards or golf, not trying to leg out a triple.
"I love playing ball," said Harry Maloney, the 76-year-old right-center fielder for the Bowie Gold team. "If you've got to go, you might as well go doing what you like."
The players say they do not think of the danger of over-exerting themselves. But it exists.
"We're at that age when we have heart attacks," said league commissioner Skip McAfee, 61. "A few years back, I had a teammate have a heart attack at second base. At our age, you have to be aware those things happen. They don't talk about it, but I think they're aware of it."
Although the players have a care-free attitude, their spouses are more concerned.
"The times I worry are like two weeks ago, when it was 100 degrees and they still played," said Rita Pakulniewicz, whose husband, Frank (or "Paky," as he is known to teammates), pitches for Bowie Gold. "But he does enjoy it."
Said George Kessler, a retired weather forecaster and Bowie Gold's third baseman: "You can't tell when something is going to happen. Besides, we don't have rescue squads at the games."
At 64, Pakulniewicz is one of the younger players in the league, which is one of several senior leagues in the region. The Beltway league plays a 42-game schedule from April through August, with games Monday and Wednesday mornings. Teams host games at local parks; the Bowie Gold team plays its home games at Allen Pond Park. Most players learn of the league by word of mouth. Some answered newspaper ads.
In addition to the four outfielders normally used in recreational softball leagues, many senior leagues allow a short fielder. The Beltway league allows courtesy runners for any player, including a runner for the batter when the ball is hit, if necessary. In such a scenario, the runner starts from behind the catcher and begins running when the ball is hit. There is a second home plate to the left of the standard home plate that allows base runners to avoid the catcher on a play at the plate; all plays at home are force plays, with the catcher using the standard home plate.
Among the Beltway league's most notable players is state senator Leo Green, who plays shortstop for the Bowie Silver team. Stan Fieldman, the third baseman for Carroll County, coached Hall of Famer Al Kaline at Baltimore's Southern High School. Bowie Gold right fielder Dave Friedman is the uncle of Detroit Tigers all-star catcher Brad Ausmus.
Most of the players participate in several leagues and are members of traveling teams. For some, though, this is a first opportunity to get out after retiring.
"I just wanted to get some exercise. I was tired of sitting around the house and I wanted some camaraderie," said Bowie Gold first-year player John Souder, 66, who used to be a professor of Latin American history at George Mason University. "When I came out originally, I was really quite surprised at how agile some of these guys are for their age."
Souder, who has lost 30 pounds since practice began in February (a result of softball, exercise and dieting), said he thought about quitting after one practice. He said he had not touched a bat or glove in 40 years and struggled.
Friends told him he was crazy. In an e-mail, a buddy said, " 'At your age, you belong on the golf course or on the beach.' But I'm glad I came out here, honestly. You get out here early in the morning and it gets you out with a bunch of the guys."
As for the banter and the chatter, Souder said it, too, reminds him of Little League.
"It doesn't change," he said, "from the time you are a little kid until you are a senior."
CAPTION: Bowie Gold's Phil Bevan is greeted by teammates Art Speth, left, Frank Pakulniewicz and Wayne Sherwin during game at Bowie's Allen Pond Park.
CAPTION: Veteran move: Bowie Gold first baseman Merv Feldman gets low to come up with a ground ball.