BULLHEAD CITY — Major League Baseball went on sabbatical earlier this week for its annual All-Star Game.
True baseball devotees and even casual observers take notice of the exhibition game and, perhaps, the Home Run Derby. For the most part, the game is on pause.
Not in Bullhead City.
Never at Rotary Park Sports Complex.
Mondays and Wednesdays are alive with baseball on the Colorado River shoreline as early as 6 am.
It’s Bullhead City’s brick dust where you’ll find these guys.
From 50 years-young to north of 80, these ballplayers never pause, never rest, never quit chasing the baseball dream they’ve embraced since childhood.
“You could say, it’s truly for the love of the game,” matter-of-factly explained Allan Snow, the 73-years-young, outgoing commissioner of this 21-year-old Bullhead City tradition of senior slow-pitch softball.
Years go by, players come and go, some even have teammates attend their funerals. Through it all, the common bond is baseball — or softball — and the friendships forged from it. Many have played since adolescence and still find the sport’s passion irresistible like “the boys of summer” they truly have become.
“Gotta be, gotta be,” hollered Ray Collins under a well-trimmed white mustache from behind the dish.
The lanky ex-Romoland, California, native still pushes his legs to first base and collects more than his share of healthy base hits.
“Been playing here since ’99,” said the 76-year-old Collins, who purchased property on a whim and then surprising his wife and relocating the family in Bullhead City.
When the idea first was born, just a small group of seniors started playing across from the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce in 1997.
“We first began with just five or six guys, “ recalled Paul Ratchford, a 38-year law enforcement veteran and retired Dana Point, California, police chief and a 20-year-plus BHC resident who at times wears a feather in his ball cap reminding everyone he, indeed, was a real-life chief.
“But we kept knocking balls on to the highway (Highway 95) and that field just didn’t quite work out.”
Like baseball nomads, playing for a time in Laughlin and virtually anywhere they could find a vacant diamond, they’d travel wherever “their game” took them.
For more than 16 years, the Bullhead City Recreation Division has housed the Monday/Wednesday games between Rotary and Ken Fovargue Parks.
“Since I’ve been here (at the parks department since 2004), we’ve been connected and we just love these guys,” said Bullhead City’s Parks and Recreation Sup. Dave Heath.
And then spawned the tournaments.
“From their games’ popularity and years of growth, we started with a four-team spring tournament which evolved into March and November tourneys, now with 50 and 70 teams respectively. It’s been great for our city’s sports programs, attracting players from all over the West and even Canada,” Heath said proudly.
A stocky senior, 18-year vet of this Bullhead City softball longevity, retired aerospace worker Jack Benner, is gruff but all reality.
“This isn’t about a group of men, but more about the passion all of us have carried over these years for just playing a game we have always loved,” said Benner, who relocated from Palmdale, California.
Many of these aged softballers still play in senior league after daylight hours.
Not catering to just men, Kingman resident Fran DuPoy travels 40 miles to the ballfield, still arriving before 7 a.m. for warm-ups.
“Its so much fun,” said DuPoy. “The friendships fostered through playing, it’s like family. Can’t really put this group into words. It’s just a shared love for the sport and friendly competition.”
When Snow, who is leaving his commissioner’s role, was asked how much longer he’d be playing, he could only smile while perched on a bucket of balls on the third base line.
“As long as these legs let me,” he said.
Earlier this summer, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox journeyed to London showcasing the game with a Saturday-Sunday series. The Bronx Bombers dominated, knocking out 29 runs against Red Sox pitching while 66,000 Brits marveled at “America’s Game” for the first time on their turf.
“They (Yankees) got lucky,” said Benner, a longtime Red Sox fan.
These “young-at-heart” seniors end baseball innings with a trip to nearby Wendy’s where coffee, conversation and smoothies fill players’ morning leftovers.
Brenner had a serious health scare, as an ICU patient in Bullhead City for five days in late June. Yet as July began, the old Californian not surprisingly was back on the diamond at Rotary Park.
“Hey it’s baseball. It’s what we all love.”
Benner then sauntered toward the plate, bat in hand and waited for his pitch.