JERICHO, N.Y. -- Frank Menna pulled up at third base thinking he had a stand-up triple and looked over at the bench to see what all the screaming was about.
"Home! Home!" they were yelling, and Menna looked back to see the center fielder just throwing the ball back to the infield. There was just enough gas left in the tank to score safely, the first of his two home runs that afternoon.
The year after Babe Ruth hit his last major league home run, Menna was born in the Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium. Now he's a meat cutter on Long Island who spends Sunday afternoons from April through August playing left field for the North Shore Mariners of the Long Island Men's Senior Baseball League.
He had to talk his way onto a team.
"Last year I called Steve Sigler and said I was interested in playing," recalled Menna, 53. "I'd seen in the local paper where he was organizing a baseball league for guys over 30. He told me he'd get back to me in a couple of weeks. A few weeks later I hadn't heard anything, so I called him back.
" 'Maybe you think I'm a fat, pot-bellied slob,' I told him, 'but you take your best player and I'll hit the ball 50 feet farther than he does.' "
Menna, who finished his minor league career in 1958 and counted Earl Weaver, Cal Ripken Sr. and Bo Belinsky among his teammates, is not the longest-hitting player in the league. That honor probably belongs to Scott Munoz of the Jericho Mets. But in the league's elaborate statistical tables, compiled each week by a computer service, Menna's in the top 10 in triples, with three.
"I'm still not too old for this game," Menna said.
He's also not the oldest player in the league, which began last year with just four teams and expanded to 17 teams this season. Two players are 55 years old.
"Most of us have sons who play Little League," said Sigler, 38, a business executive on weekdays and the league's top pitcher on Sundays (8-0 record, 66 strikeouts in 67 innings, 3.49 ERA). "What I'm trying to prove is that after 30, you don't have to throw away the cleats and play softball. That's the myth I'm trying to dispel."
While playing softball three years ago, Sigler realized the slower, smaller game wasn't filling the void left after he quit baseball in college. He organized some pickup baseball games with managers and parents of his sons' Little League, and the LIMSBL was born. Since then, his wife has stayed home Sunday afternoons to field calls from men interested in signing up while he plays ball.
He'd like to get over-30 baseball leagues started in other cities. So far, newspaper notices in St. Petersburg, Fla., have produced the most responses.
Sigler attributes part of the league's success to the lack of recently retired college and minor league baseball players, who might intimidate less-skilled players. There are players in the league with upper-level experience, but they haven't played in 10 or 15 years, long enough for their advantage to fade. Most players last swung at real baseballs as teen-agers, he said.
"This was perfect for me," said Jericho Mets outfielder Russ Balber, 33, who retired from the minors in 1973. "I think when some of the guys on the team heard I'd played in the minors, they were expecting a lot more out of me. And I'm probably putting a lot of pressure on myself."
The other major factor has been the rules. Managers must play a minimum of 10 players, although only nine are in the field, and they have the option of batting everyone on the bench. Except for pitchers, there's free substitution. No intentional collisions with fielders are allowed, and metal cleats are illegal.
It cost $475 per 15-player team to play this season -- $350 for the computer service that compiles and publishes the stats, $75 for insurance and a $50 forfeit fee. Each player must buy a uniform for about $50, and there is a weekly $3-per-player charge to pay the two umpires who call the games.
"Pitching is the one rare commodity on my team," said Ron Shapiro, 35, infielder-manager of the Mariners. "For most teams, pitching is the toughest position to fill because it takes a lot of old arms to pitch nine innings."
Earlier this season, one pitcher broke an arm in the middle of his windup. The loud crack sounded like a rubber band popping in the infield, said a player who remembered the incident. But most of the injuries have been far less serious, usually hamstring pulls by runners trying to stretch doubles into triples.
Sigler has a teammate who's a chiropractor whom he sees twice a week after he pitches.
Fred Scheiner played college ball 22 years ago at Long Island University. He has an 18-year-old son who's a college baseball player, and he's the third-ranked pitcher in innings pitched and eighth in strikeouts in the senior league.
"This is better than going to the Mets fantasy camp," said 38-year-old pitcher Joe Prisciandaro, who is playing again after midseason knee surgery. "It's every week, and it's cheaper."