Monday, June 2, 2014

A League Of Her Own

Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.
-Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr.

As my children played in the park, I couldn’t help but notice the woman on the neighboring baseball field. On the first pitch, she landed a double, rounding the bases with vigor. At the bottom of the inning, the same woman guarded short-stop, knees bent and ready for anything to come her way.  By the looks of her silver-haired teammates, it was obviously a senior league. But she was the only woman on the field. After the game, I wandered over to ask some questions, starting with the question one should never ask a lady.

“I’m almost 85,” she said proudly, reminding me of my five-year old daughter, who also rounds up.

Ethel Lehmann told me a little bit about the Kids & Kubs, a Saint Petersburg baseball league that was founded in 1930, a year after she was born.  The league cheer is “What’s the matter with 75? We’re the ones who are still alive. Hi-ho, lets go! Rah, Rah, Rah- 75!” The league minimum age is 75. It was an all-male league until Ethel accompanied her husband for try-outs and became the first woman to earn a spot on the roster. That was ten years ago. I tried to ask her more questions, but she politely said she was too busy to stay and chat, with that she gave me her cell and literally ran with her bat bag to her car.
I called her today to ask a little bit more about her philosophy on play. 
“It keeps you healthy, keeps your mind always looking forward to doing something  in the future. With the tournaments, I can’t wait to do all that. Mainly, it’s the friends that I have gotten to know, even on the other teams. There is such camardarie,”  Ethel told me from her summer home in New York, before adding, “It doesn’t have to be softball. Find whatever you're passionate about.”

For Ethel, her passion is on the field. She played women’s semi-professional fast-pitched softball from 1946 to 1951, until her mother insisted that she focus on other more acceptable pursuits, like finding a husband. Married 59 years, she went on to have five children in five years; hence, the lucky number “5” on her softball jersey. Today, she is the grandmother of nine, a full-time caregiver to her husband and the co-founder of Florida’s first female senior team, which travels annually to compete in the National and World Senior Games. Of course, she still makes time for Kids & Kubs.

“There are men in Kids and Kubs in their nineties. I’m hoping that I’m still good enough to play into my nineties. If you can’t run, walk. I’ll keep playing until I can’t anymore. It’s my outlet. It keeps me happy.”

Do you make time for play?

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