about virtual articles articles books poems photography contact home
Charlie Stewart
The Boys of Summer
For these guys, baseball is no spectator sport
Summer 2007

CSWhen a middle-aged Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford in the movie The Natural, shows up in the dugout of the New York Knights after a 16-year interruption in his baseball career, the manager, Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley), looks over to him and says, “Fella, you don’t start playing baseball at your age. You retire.”

Roy Hobbs, the mythical character originally created by Bernard Malamud, is the inspiration for the Roy Hobbs League, formed in 1988 to enable baseball players to continue to play in a structured environment as they advance in age into their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond.

There are hundreds of teams across the country, involving thousands of players—each one more passionate than the next about the game they have loved since childhood. Five local residents play for the Salem Warlocks, one of 16 teams in the NEORH (Northeast Ohio Roy Hobbs), the closest masters division (age 48 and up) to Western Pennsylvania.

“It’s nine innings, wood bat, regular baseball on major league-size fields,” says Squirrel Hill native, Stan Lederman, founder and manager of the Warlocks, who plays second base and wears #9, like his hero Bill Mazeroski.

“The game slows down just a little bit, but it’s just as fast relative to your age as when you were 25 or 35,” says Lederman who recently turned 60. Lederman, who played professional softball for the Pittsburgh Hard Hats in the early 1980s, practices law downtown, and it was his tireless commitment to Little League baseball that was recognized by City Council when it renamed the baseball field along Beechwood Boulevard in Frick Park in his honor.

“When Stan first called me nine years ago, I thought he was kidding me,” recalls 60-year-old Jack Sable, a Squirrel Hill resident, president and owner of Sable Chevrolet, and local baseball legend. “You mean there are people playing baseball at this age?” he asked Lederman.

Though he now plays outfield, Sable was a star on the mound at Taylor Allderdice High School, and as a college sophomore in 1968 pitched Point Park’s first no-hit, no-run ballgame in their history. “I don’t even think of my age,” says Sable. “It takes me a little bit longer to get there to field a ball, but other than that I feel like I’m a teenager again.”

The Salem Warlocks play a 15-game regular season on Sundays from April to August, culminating in league playoffs and then the World Series, which is held in Ft. Myers, Florida, in November. World Series games are played at both the Minnesota Twins and Red Sox spring training parks and Terry Park where the Pirates trained in the 1950s and ’60s before moving to Bradenton.

Dennis Fischer, 54, an AP Economics teacher at Hampton High School, had hung up his cleats for 30 years before hearing about the Roy Hobbs League. In 2004 he negotiated a week off from teaching to play shortstop in the championships. “I can’t tell you what a thrill that was,” says Fischer, awed by playing on the same field in Florida as the legends he once worshipped as a kid – Clemente, Mazeroski, and Ralph Kiner, “because from the time I was probably five or six years old I wanted to be a major league baseball player.”

Howard Elson, 59, starts on the mound for the Warlocks. A pediatric dentist and professional entertainer who does musical parodies on his profession at dental conventions, Elson is also president of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

“Howard’s a smart pitcher,” says teammate and outfielder, Larry Kimelman, 49, president of the Greenfield Baseball Association and a utility worker for SMG, the company that manages the Petersen Events Center. “Howard can go 3-2 on a batter and still work the plate. He’ll put it on the corners and I can cheat in a little bit because I know they’re not going to hit the ball real well against him.”

Elson’s fastball and curve took him through high school and Queens College in New York, where he was named All-Conference, and only later did he add a slider and then the change-up which he learned from a brief conversation with Pirates pitching coach Ray Miller. “I had an opportunity to sign a professional contract, but didn’t because my parents reminded me very strongly that I was going to dental school,” he laughs.

Elson won five national championships during the 1990s in younger Roy Hobbs divisions. But for eight years Larry Kimelman had gone to Florida, never making it past Friday’s critical double-header, until 2005 when he caught a line drive for the last out that put them into Saturday’s championships. “I was like a little kid again,” says Kimelman, who also enjoys carpooling his local teammates to all of the regular season games in Ohio in his mini-van.

Lederman experienced similar sensations during the 2006 World Series Championships in Florida, where they finished in third place. “I’d go out to second base, look around and say to myself, ‘You’re 60 years old, playing baseball in a game that means something. It doesn’t get any better than this.’ And then you take a smell of your glove—and you have to be a baseball player to understand this—and you become totally relaxed. I really do relax as I smell it all and take in everything. It still gives me chills.”

With many thanks to SHADY AVE magazine for granting me permission to reprint on my website.


about articles articles books poems photography contact home
copyright Charlie Stewart IMS