Part of any legacy is measured by time. People and things come and go, some remain, some return, but the main event or attraction still stays. Think baseball and the Red Sox, The Tonight Show, or the Price is Right. They change, yet they don’t.
And so it goes for a certain weekly Brookline Sunday softball game that has etched its signature into this town since 1978. For 34 years and counting, it has seen players come and go, some remain, some return, but the main event stays.
While the scenery is a far cry from cornfields with players walking through fences romanticizing the game, it is, for all of them, their own field of dreams.
“Ahhh, what was that,” grumbles longtime pitcher Harry Sears, after he throws a pitch he thought was a strike but was called a ball (umpiring is done on the honor system by a member of the hitting team) on a recent Sunday at Brookline High, one of several fields at which the group plays.
“Ah, a bad pitch,” deadpans catcher Izzy Zuber, a CPA, who has made his own legacy with his dry humor, and has been playing since it all started.
“Oh since the 1890’s,” joked Joel Shoner, whose retired, when asked how long he’s been playing.
“Thirty years,” replied ace shortstop Stan Quint. “I was walking past the game, and asked if I can play, and they asked ‘Did you bring a glove?’ Six weeks in, we were married.”
Ah yes, the good ol’ days.
“The way I remember it, there was an existing game in the late 1970s that met at Amory [Field], but mostly at Devotion Playground, which Steve Bingyou informally headed,” said the group’s most recent and only other organizer Joel Leeman, a lawyer, who has manned left field for all 34 years. “A core of our present personnel came from that game, including Izzy, Stan, and Joel, and of course others who have long ago fallen away from the game. While only three or four of our players have been with us for 30 years, there are many who've played for 20 years.”
“Today’s crowd…one,” Izzy notes, as a man walks by taking a morning stroll, before Sears delivers his next pitch. Actually, if you include the two people chatting by the trees on the sidewalk near left field, the attendance was three.
“I’ve been playing [with this group] for 17 years, since 1994,” Sears says, adding he didn’t get the opportunity until not enough players showed up one week. “They asked, ‘Do you pitch?’ I said, ‘yes.’ They said, ‘Here’s your chance.’ Sears, who has played in competitive leagues, has been firing fastballs that act like morning wake-up calls ever since.
Mike Mufson, meanwhile, was walking by Amory Field attending to his eight-week old daughter in 1981.
“Can you hit?” he recalled Leeman shouting to him. “We need an extra player.” Mufson joined the game and hit the game-winning two-run homer. The rest, as they say, is history: Mufson was playing third base last week.
It’s the same now as it was then. The passing of time has not impaired the stability of this weekly game. Players range from ages 17 to 70, and are always being brought on board. Fred Nazarro, for example, has been playing since 1998. On this Sunday, his teenage son, Alex, was playing centerfield on the opposing team.
Other regulars include John Bookston, a math teacher, who has played since 1985, and more recently Ronnie Aquino, a health inspector for the city of Boston. On this day, Bookston is the opposing pitcher to Sears. Aquino, known for his steady offense and solid play in the outfield, has already lined a couple of base hits to left field.
Technology has made it easier to keep the group together.
“The communication we had before the advent of email, to encourage turnout or to announce a change of venue, 20 to 30 phone calls had to be made,” Leeman said. “I occasionally did this myself and sometimes asked others to make a few calls. What a relief the new technology brought.”
The passing of time also hasn’t diminished the competiveness. While they say it’s all for fun, it may as well be the World Series every game for these guys. They’ll take it into November or later as long as the fields are playable. But one would have to wonder if even during a hurricane, the legends – and often captains – such as Leeman, Zuber, Quint, and Shoner would care more about canceling a game than choosing a player who could smack the ball through the wind.
It always seems it would take that kind of ferocity for them to even consider not playing. Many of the 20-25 players who show up each Sunday have different professions during the week or have retired, but on these weekend mornings starting at 8:30, they may as well be quarreling siblings all fighting to win a ballgame or two; doubleheaders are often on the menu. Cold temps in December? Heck, their motto is “Let’s play two.”
“We once played a game on January 3,” said Corey Rosenfield, who rejoined the weekly game, after returning to the area a few years ago. “It’s competitive and spirited. It’s a good bunch of guys.”
He paused and added smiling: “Who want to win.”