Every Sunday between now and October, you can find men from all walks of life on the Halifax County High School baseball field. One thing these men have in common: none of them let age stop them from playing the game that they love.
“When you get to 40 or so, nobody really wants you to play anymore,” said Jay Satterfield, a board member and player for the Halifax County Old Timers League. “You’re starting to lose your wheels and you’re starting to lose your arm.”
But 40 is the minimum age for this league, which began in 1999 and has seen players in their 70s and 80s.
For these players, the league provides a place where they can get some exercise, keep their competitive spirit and see their friends.
“This league has kept people young for so many years,” said Tim Alderson, chair of the league’s board of directors.
And part of that is a lively social atmosphere. The league has great socioeconomic and racial diversity, but fellowship among players is indisputable, he said.
“It brings people together instead of the way things are nowadays when it seems like everybody’s getting divided,” Alderson said. “It makes friends out of people that would otherwise never be friends.”
The players “hold a lot of differences, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But they get left at the gate.”
This sentiment was echoed by several players, including Jerry Gentry, 64, player and board member.
“I got a whole lot of friends that I never had, a good bunch of people to play ball with,” he said.
So powerful is the camaraderie in the league that even players who are sitting this season out showed up to Sunday’s opening day games.
Junior Hunt, 83, just got a pacemaker put in, preventing him from playing for the first time in many years. But he was sitting right behind home plate to support the league Sunday.
Hunt’s wife, Margaret, sat next to him keeping score. She said the other players respect her husband for his long local baseball career.
“I’ve been playing 68 years,” Hunt said, adding that he likes the guys in the league because “they’re old like I am.”
The couple met 63 years ago at a baseball game. “I hit a home run that day,” Margaret Hunt said.
Sitting with them were Oliver Arendell, 75, and Lynn Humphrey, 62. Arendell is not playing this season after about 13 years with the league.
“I lost my breath over the years, and the doctor figures I better wait a year before I try it again,” Arendell said. “Maybe next year.”
Humphrey, one of the founding members of the league and a coach this season, has been coaching for 10 years and playing for longer. He said he’s known Hunt since he was young.
Hunt used to play for an Old Timers league in Danville, which is now defunct, he said.
“When I was a little boy, my daddy used to take me to watch [Hunt] play,” Humphrey said. “And now I’ve played against him for years and years.”
The league is a close-knit group of players and families, Margaret Hunt said, though there are some newcomers this year. There are over 50 players in the league, Satterfield said, and about 15 of them are new.
“We’re passing it down to the next generation,” Humphrey said.
But until a few weeks ago, getting enough players to compete this season was difficult, Alderson said.
“We have 10 players that aren’t coming back from last year, almost entirely due to injuries and health,” he said. “So we lost almost a fourth of our league in one year.”
Alderson attributed the abundance of injuries to the year off in 2020 caused by the pandemic. Players got out of shape and then got injured when they came back for the 2021 season, he said.
“We had more hamstring pulls and more injuries last year than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “And most of them happened in the first or second week.”
But in the past two weeks, the league gathered enough players for its 2022 season, filling rosters for four teams that will play nine regular season games through October. At the end of the season, there’s a double elimination tournament.
The board makes the teams as evenly matched as possible, trying to place “two good pitchers and two good catchers” on each team, Satterfield said. Most other players are willing to play anywhere, he said.
The games run 7 innings or two-and-a-half hours – whichever comes first.
“We don’t have a problem saying, look, I’m tired, you go take my place,” Satterfield said.
To which “no I don’t think I want to, I’m tired too, you go find someone else,” is a perfectly acceptable response, said Gentry.
It’s important to have leagues dedicated to older players, Gentry said, because most adult baseball leagues have a minimum age of 18.
“We can’t play with the 18-year-olds,” he said. “They can come up with a 90- or 100-mile-an-hour fastball, and we can’t hit ’em. Our reaction ain’t like an 18 year old’s.”
Most adult leagues in Virginia seem to fall into the 18-and-up category, though some have divisions for older players.
The National Adult Baseball Association has teams in Richmond and Roanoke, both with a minimum age of 18.
“There is not a maximum age limit in our league, however I would say the majority of players range from 18- to 32-years-old in NABA Richmond,” said Kyle Taylor, NABA Richmond league president. “I haven’t heard of any leagues in Virginia that are geared towards 40-years-old and up.”
David Hash, president of the Charlottesville Men’s Adult Baseball League said he’s heard of old timers leagues around the Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland beltway.
The Halifax league is “the only one I know of in that area,” Hash said.
The Men’s Senior Baseball League in Washington, D.C. actually has five age divisions, ranging from 18 to over 60. This year, there are eight teams in the 40+ division, eight teams in the 50+ division and 6 teams in the 60+ division, said one of the league organizers, Jerry Klemm.
“Interestingly enough, it’s the older divisions which are showing some growth, while our 18+ and 30+ leagues are dropping slightly,” Klemm said. “As far as I can tell, it’s men seeing their buddies still playing and realizing that it’s not softball. There’s a badge of honor associated with older guys still playing hardball.”
This holds true for men in the Halifax County league, who are certainly proud of their ability to still get out there and play.
“We all come out at the beginning of the season in pretty rough shape, and by the end of the season, we’re all saying, dang, I got a little bit of wind now,” Alderson said, emphasizing the health benefits of the league.
Of course, with older players, there are bound to be some health scares.
Alderson, Gentry, and Satterfield all recalled when fellow player Dean McCubbins had a heart attack on the ballfield a few seasons ago.
“He was right there on first base,” Satterfield said. “He walked back over to the fence and said ‘y’all got to take me out.’ And then he said ‘call 911.’”
McCubbins was airlifted to Lynchburg and the rest of the team finished the game as the helicopter went overhead, said Alderson. And McCubbins was back the next season.
They’ve seen players tear Achilles tendons, and they’ve seen lightning strike the pole by one of the dugouts.
“If you’re going to be out here, you’re going to see some things,” Satterfield said.
The dedication of the players and the board members makes the league special, said Alderson, who isn’t playing this season due to a recent rotator cuff surgery.
“Even though I can’t play this year, I see such a benefit in it,” he said. “It’s not just the love of baseball for me. It’s the fact that there’s something that’s been going 20-some years that is good. It’s just so good.”