Organizers trying to revive local senior softball

Jeff Birchfield • Jan 11, 2014 at 5:20 PM

Charlie Matiolli wants to bring softball veterans back home and also sign up some new recruits.Over the past 10 years, Matiolli has seen the senior softball scene in the Tri-Cities dwindle down from an eight-team league to a point where organizers recently had a tough time putting one team together.Both a cause and effect has been many players leaving the area and going to play in neighboring states.“We want to get a lot of players who haven’t been playing locally, but have been with teams from North Carolina and Georgia,” Matiolli said. “We want to revive the senior softball in this area. Used to, they had eight teams and they would bring in 30-40 teams for tournaments. We hope to have fun and relive a game we enjoy as kids.”Matiolli wants to pattern a new Tri-Cities league after the one in Hendersonville, N.C., where 40-50 players regularly show up on Tuesdays and Fridays to play slow-pitch softball.Goals for now are to have two age brackets, 65-69 and 70-74, with older players able to join in a younger age bracket.Matiolli emphasizes the league is not just for those currently active. He understands the reservations of those who haven’t done anything athletically in several years.“When I joined up a couple of years ago, I hadn’t played for 15 years,” said Matiolli, now 67. “I went to Winged Deer Park and met Mike Melton after seeing an article in the Johnson City Press. Some of the guys hadn’t played in 20 years. When you get to be our age, there is something that pains you. With the slow-pitch softball, there is unlimited substitutions and guys can play different positions.”There are rules designed to make the game safer for older players including two first bases, a rule where you can run over second base instead of sliding into it and in some cases, even two home plates.Players can also be placed strategically in the field where they can enjoy the game more. Mattioli’s goal is to have competitive games with players of comparable skill levelsHe’s drawn interest from local softball veterans like Bill Weddle and Don Doran who are still playing into their late 70s. As another benefit, Matiolli has made plans for doctors and other experts come in to conduct stretching exercises. He points to both research and his own experiences about the health benefits for seniors.“My knees were acting up on me this winter. I went on a strenuous hike, but I felt better after I had finished,” he said. “Exercise does so much to cure a lot of our ailments. There is a lot of push from AARP and others to keep seniors active. If you take care of yourself and get in shape, you can play this game.”He said plans for the softball leagues are to start off easy with practice a couple of times a week. The preparation will include time to warm up arms and to focus on batting practice. Plans also call for intra-age games and if enough interest is there, teams will travel to tournaments eventually. Matiolli said if just 25-30 players are involved, they can have regular play. An organizational meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 21 at the Senior Center off Bert Street, while a recruitment meeting is scheduled for Feb. 12 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.Matiolli grew up in Florida and played sandlot baseball. As an adult, he played softball in Alaska where he worked as a teacher on an Air Force base and later at North Pole High School. Getting back on the field takes him back to the feeling of his younger days.“It feels good when you get on that grass,” Matiolli said. “When you’re a kid you take it for granted. As a kid, you have energy and that grass just flies under you. You can’t do it quite as effortlessly, but you can get to a point where it’s just an exhilirating feeling. You get to feel something like it used to be.”For those interested in more information, they may call Mike Woods, Sports Recreation Director at the Johnson City Senior Center, at 434-6223 or Charlie Matiolli, league organizer, at 543-1962.

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