Baseball — it's not just for summer any more

Gord Kennedy of Parksville delivers a pitch during a recent outing of the PGOSA 70-over slo-pitch league at the Arbutus Meadows indoor arena. - J.R. Rardon photo
Gord Kennedy of Parksville delivers a pitch during a recent outing of the PGOSA 70-over slo-pitch league at the Arbutus Meadows indoor arena.
— image credit: J.R. Rardon photo

Jimmy Dugan, the character portrayed by Tom Hanks in the film A League of Their Own, famously declared, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

Aging, however, is another matter entirely.

A group of several dozen septuagenarians and a few teammates well into their 80s have rediscovered the pastime of their youth this winter thanks to the indoor artificial turf at the Arbutus Meadows Events and Equestrian Centre in Nanoose Bay.

“We have a summer league, of course, for players 55 and over,” said Randy White of the Parksville Golden Oldies Association (PGOSA). “Some of my friends were getting into their 70s and decided playing with the 55-year-old ‘kids’ was getting a little rougher, so they stopped playing.

“I can spot you at least a dozen people here who stopped playing in the younger league.”

They’re back on the diamond now, and having a grand old time in PGOSA’s 70-plus winter slo-pitch league each Friday morning at the Arbutus complex.

The indoor venue and game has proven so popular that the league has drawn players from Victoria and Nanaimo, and led to a spinoff for those 55-year-old youngsters on Wednesdays that includes an entire team from Port Alberni.

“I was up here just before Christmas and I heard they were playing ball here,” said Mike Ketteringham of Victoria, 70. “I dropped in and I was kind of jealous, because Victoria doesn’t have a facility like this.”

The PGOSA indoor ball league debuted with a fall season that ran from October to December last year, then returned for a winter campaign that began in January and will wrap up this month. It has proven so popular that organizers and players alike are already looking to make it an annual affair.

The idea surfaced last year, when White attended an RV show at Arbutus Meadows and discovered the facility, originally established as an indoor riding arena, had a 230x165-foot, removable FieldTurf artificial turf system brought from B.C. Place when the Vancouver arena installed new turf several years ago.

“I looked at the place and I thought, ‘What a gold mine for Parksville and Qualicum and the area,” said White. “I talked to some of the guys I’ve been having coffee with for years. We played together in summer league about seven years ago, but three of them have left (summer ball). I said, ‘C’mon, let’s go to out to Arbutus Meadows; I gotta show you something.’”

From there, the script shifted from A League of Their Own to the baseball cult film Field of Dreams and its catch-line, “If you build it, they will come.”

“I haven’t played for about 30 years,” said Art Easthom of Parksville, a PGOSA member who saw a notice for the 70-plus league on a notice board. “I do it for the exercise, something to do, and to meet good people.”

Slo-pitch is only one of the sports PGOSA utilized the arena for. A walking soccer program was also started last fall and continues through this month, and PGOSA also offered bocce and a walking program in the arena.

The turf is also used by local soccer programs, by the Parksville Royals baseball program for off-season training, and by the Ballenas Whalers football team for late-season practices to get ready for playoff games on turf fields on the Lower Mainland.

But PGOSA has found its biggest draw through the slo-pitch program, even though rules have had to be modified due to the 60,000 square foot building’s limitations. Balls hit into the rafters or overhead support wires are ruled strikes, and balls into the net at the short porch in right field are ground-rule doubles.

“You just have to learn to keep the ball down when you’re hitting,” said Ed Coutu, a 70-year-old from Nanaimo who actually heard about the league from friends on the Port Alberni 55-over team. “But it’s a lot nicer running on this turf than on dirt. This is great; you get to play in the winter.”

And what would Coutu be doing if he wasn’t able to play ball through the winter?

“Not a lot,” he said with a laugh. “I’d be waiting for summer ball.”

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