The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and 12 teams of seniors are playing softball at Clifton’s Braddock Park.
Everyone playing is part of the Northern Virginia Senior Softball League, a slow-pitch league now its 43rd year.
Joe Mizzoni, currently the assistant manager of National League Maroon team, sums up what brings them out: “It’s the camaraderie. Even though we play and we try to beat these guys, we’re all friends because every year you’re on a different team.”
“The National League is super competitive,” says Linda Baziluik, who manages the Continental Conference Light Blue Team. “American League is very competitive. And the Continental League is competitive, but friendly. It’s competitive, they want to win, you know, everybody wants to win. But they’re not cutthroat.”
NVSS, a not-for-profit league, has 26 teams in three divisions. Each conference is defined by a different skill level, while each team is defined by a different colored T-shirt. Players take the field on Tuesday mornings, April through mid-July, followed by a playoff tournament. Fall Ball begins after Labor Day and runs through the end of October, including a tournament.
Ernie Wakeham, a player since 1998 and current president of NVSS, has watched the league for men over 50 and women over 40 grow from two teams in 1980 to 26 teams with a total of 533 players now. And with breakfasts, picnics, and banquets, they’ve all gotten to know each other.
“You have folks that are from all kinds of backgrounds,” Wakeham says. “I’ve met a lot of CIA guys. I’ve met a lot of other military guys. It’s just an interesting thing to do to, to meet all the folks and play ball with them.”
“We shake hands after every game at the end of the doubleheader, and we go out to whatever bar is close and have a good time afterwards, reviewing the plays that we didn’t make,” Baziluik says.
Beth Hersey first joined NVSS in 1988 and has managed the Continental Conference Red Team since 2001. ”I saw an ad in The Washington Post, and I was still working at the time. I hadn’t played softball since sandlot softball. But I always wanted to play. So, I went there and called them up. They said they play on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings, and I went, ‘Ah, sorry, I can’t do that.’ So, when I quit working, then I’ll start playing. So that’s what I did.”
And like Baziluik, Mizzoni, and Wakeham, Hershey has been awarded the Bill Thompson Sportsmanship award, which is voted on by their team players at the end of the season.
It’s clear Wakeman loves it. “I’m over 80 now, so I’m going to play as long as I can,” he says with a laugh.
To learn more about NVSS, visit nvss.org.
Feature image by Olivia Garrone
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