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OLD TIMERS BASEBALL: With A Spring In Their Step

It’s been a decade since a group of former ball players got together to form what has become a summer and early fall institution known as the Halifax County Old Timers Baseball League. It’s been longer than a decade since most of the league participants played scholastic or Dixie baseball, but diminished skills were more than compensated by a passion and love for the game during Sunday’s championship contest.

The team sponsored by Riverdale Auto Sales, Ed’s Honda and McGhee Insurance defeated the team sponsored by Heritage House, Thomas Brothers Body Shop and Bowman Painting by a 20-2 score, but the score doesn’t begin to tell the story of the level of play and competitive spirit displayed on the diamond.

Tigue Day Jr. and Doug Boyles are just two of the players who have been there from the beginning, and in Boyles’ case, his children and grandchildren have seen him play.

“There are a lot of guys who’ve played all along,” said Day, who recalled some of the league’s founding fathers, including Spencer Ferguson, Allen McGhee, David Day, Mark Yates, Dean Long and Tim Hoag.

The league is all about playing ball and having fun while doing it, Day added to the agreement of Boyles. “It’s a family atmosphere, and we go out and have a good time,” Boyles explained.

“It’s all about fellowship and we take everything in stride, and we have a good time playing each other.

“Our children and grandchildren come out and watch us, and they rib us a little bit because we play ball and they play ball and they tell us this isn’t the way we coached them.

“It keeps us in shape, we get together and we all have fun,” Broyles continued.

“This means the world to me.  I’m 57 years old and I think I’m in as good a shape as I’ve been in my entire life.

“Some of us have played softball through the years, but there’s something about the game of baseball you never forget and always love.

“It’s still America’s pastime.”

The league has always included four teams, with each team having three sponsors.

In addition to the teams in the championship game, a team sponsored by South Boston Tees, True Value and Fensterer Chiropractic, and a team sponsored by Palmer Properties, Edward Jones and Bistro 1888 were part of the league this year.

“We’ve always had four teams and a number of sponsors, three per team this year,” said Day.

“We appreciate our sponsors, and I don’t think the league could do much without them.”

Baseball is truly America’s game, according to Day, and a large crowd turned out for the final day of games played on a sunny and warm afternoon.

“Nobody can compete in America with baseball. We only play the American style of football here, so nobody can compete with us in that,” Day pointed out.

“But, if you get the best baseball talent in America to play, no one would beat them.

“The problem when we go overseas is that we don’t have all our best players playing in Olympics, and everyone else does.

“We don’t send players like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, because they’re under contract and they can’t risk their careers.”

A number of exceptional ball players have come through the league in its 10-year existence, players like Mike Armstrong, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, explained Boyles.

“The league has really blossomed and we’ve had some good players come through here which allowed us to play to their caliber of ball.

“We have some excellent younger players coming in while we’re moving on, and we enjoy playing with the younger people.

“The league is for players 40 years and older and we have one player from Altavista who is 74 years old, still one of the toughest outs in the league, who just loves the game of baseball.

“Another, Junior Hunt, is one of our toughest pitchers, and still has a passion to go out and compete.”

Friendly competition in a relaxed atmosphere is at the core of the league’s reason for existing, Day said.

“More than anything else, we have the ability to laugh at ourselves, and that’s what amazes me more than anything else.

“When you make a mistake, you’ll catch some ribbing from the guys but you realize it’s all in fun.

“There’s no pressure and unlike when you played as a kid we’re playing it for fun, like the movie, “For Love of the Game,” and that’s why we’re here.”

At its very core, baseball is sometimes called a child’s game played by adults and for Boyles, who played Dixie and Babe Ruth baseball but didn’t get the opportunity to play high school ball, the league is all about a chance to relive his dreams.

“It’s fun going out and catching again, calling pitches and setting the batters up,” said Boyles, a catcher for his team.

“We don’t have the arms to throw runners out at second anymore, maybe 10 years ago we did, but it’s the love of the game that keeps us going.

“It kind of gives me the opportunity of having a second childhood.”

The former boys of summer have not aged in the autumn of their baseball lives.