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Old Timers Baseball going extra innings

For the older boys of summer, also known as the Halifax County Old Timer’s Baseball League, the challenge will be going extra innings this season, as the schedule expands from nine to 12 games.

A number of players ignored the late-day heat and humidity last Saturday to get in some extra batting and fielding practice for the 40-and-over league before the start of the season this coming Sunday.

There’s no such thing as tryouts for the league, with everybody who comes out assigned to a team, and that’s part of the plan, according to board member and player Ryan Garrett.

“That’s the difference with our league,” explained Garrett.

“There are several other communities which have held tryouts, but if you can get out here and get a uniform on you can play.

“We typically have 12-13 on a team with four teams, which I think is amazing for a community our size.

“We’ve always been able to field four teams, and that’s one of the reason we’re expanding our season this year.

“We’ve had lots of practice the last 12 or 13 years, but this year we decided we’d rather play.”

Several rules have been tweaked to benefit the league, according to Garrett.

“A lot of these fellows can still hit, and they can still catch, but after 40 or 50 years their legs continue to go, so one rule is if you hit the ball to the outfield, you cannot be thrown out at first base,” explained Garrett.

“It’s an automatic hit, and we have 60- or 70 year-olds who can do that.”

The league features at least two father-son combinations, and that also sets it apart in many cases, with league veteran Junior Hunt playing baseball on the same team with sons Matt and John.

“Pop” and Chris Bailey are another father-son combination that has the opportunity to play baseball together.

“What makes this fun and why we encourage everyone to come out is we have free substitution, and you can go back in at any time,” noted Garrett.

“Those who hit the ball but can’t get around the bases can have a courtesy runner with no penalty, and the only thing is a pinch runner can’t steal.”

The league isn’t necessarily limited to men, added Garrett.

“We had a couple of females sign up a couple of years ago and they came to practices but disappeared once games started.

“The ladies that did show up, we put them on a team but they didn’t come to the ball games.”

The best part of the league is that it’s a huge club, noted Garrett.

“We eventually have to break up into teams to play the season, but we try to make the teams as fair as possible, so the board gets together and splits up the ball players as evenly as we can as far as ability.”

Players come from as far away as Chatham, Chase City and Clarksville, and from as close as South Boston and Halifax County to play in the league.

Oliver Arendall, a 65-year-old South Boston resident and in his third year in the league, said “nothing else matters when it’s time to come over here.”

Arendall played Dixie Youth baseball and Babe Ruth baseball, but once he got his drivers license, that was all she wrote.

Until the Old Timer’s Baseball League came along.

“I worked all this time and always wanted to come over here but just couldn’t do it,” said Arendall.

“It’s fun, you’re sore about three or four days a week, but it doesn’t make any difference, it’s worth it.”

A fan of Junior Hunt growing up, Arendall now hits against him during Old Timer’s games.

“I remember when my dad took me to Virgilina when I was a teenager to see Junior Hunt play,” recalled Arendall.

“He was really good back then.  When you hit a ball off him, it feels really good.

“He can still bring it.”

“Pop” Bailey, a Chase City resident who turns 65 in December, is in his third year in the league and plays with his oldest son, Chris.

Another son, Clint, becomes eligible next season.

“I look forward to playing with both of them,” said Bailey, who played Little League baseball and one year of high school baseball at Victoria High School.

Other than that, he played what has played what he describes as “cow pasture ball.”

“Everybody is in the same boat I’m in,” noted Bailey.  None of us believed we’d ever play baseball again, unless you’re headed in the direction of the major leagues.

“I never once thought I’d play baseball again, and this league convinced me that I can,” Pop Bailey added.

“It’s like the movie, ‘Field of Dreams,’ except in real life,” Chris Bailey said.

His father worked with both he and his younger brother in the game of baseball as children, Chris Bailey added, who never had the opportunity to play baseball with his father until they joined the league.

“The other year after my first practice I called him and said, ‘I needed to talk to you about something.’

“He’s been at every practice before me since then.”

The younger Bailey, a Clarksville resident, has played Little League baseball and high school baseball, as well as with a Danville semi-pro team after college. 

The league gave him the opportunity to play baseball again.

He said it would be neat to play with his brother as well.

“He and I never had a chance, other than my first year playing to play on the same team,” noted Chris Bailey.

“They keep family members on the same team, and I’d much rather play with them than against them.”