Over the hill and around the horn
Brantt Isebrand, Paul Cysewski, Rich Morrison and Greg Mahlstedt know the drill. As coaches and managers for their sons’ baseball teams, weekday and weekend schedules fill up fast.
But all four try and set aside a few extra hours on Sundays to gear up for a game or two of their own. Members of the 45-and-over Woodstock White Sox, the coaches are a few of the more than 300 athletes who make up the Northern Illinois Men’s Senior Baseball League.
“It gives him the opportunity to watch the other side,” Mahlstedt said of his eight-year-old. “It’s always the parents watching the kids, but he gets a kick out of going to the games, too.”
While Mahlstedt and his teammates may have to work a bit harder to get around the bases, they do share the same excitement when they step up to the plate at Emricson Park’s Dream Field that only baseball players understand.
“There are moments out there where you feel like a kid again,” said John Lekich, who has competed with the White Sox for eight years. “That’s worth a lot.”
The Sox compete Sundays from April through August in a 15-game regular season and a double-elimination postseason. Although the team meets only for games, many of the players find they still need to stay in shape throughout the week. The activity has helped the players maintain their overall health, and the trend is catching on. Manager and NIMSBL founder, Frank O’Sullivan, cites exponential growth since the league was established in 1992.
“The first year of the league, there were only two teams and we played each other every Sunday,” said O’Sullivan. “That was good, because we got the league started, so the next year we added two teams. The following year we added another two teams.”
According to O’Sullivan, NIMSBL organizes more than 20 teams across 25-and-up, 35-and-up, 45-and-up, and 55-and-up age divisions.
“We have the concept: you can play baseball from the cradle to the grave,” laughs O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan’s good humor is one measure of success for the White Sox. Any of the players would agree that having a sense of humor is a good thing when undertaking fast-pitch baseball at their age.
“You need motivation for anything you want to try to accomplish,” said 15-year member Tim Rachford, whose father, Freddie, an original White Sox member, encouraged him to join. “As long as you find something that you love to do, you’ll figure out a way to do it.”
“If you’ve got baseball in your blood, it’s a fun game to play,” added Rachford. “And there is no other reason [to play], because half the time we injure ourselves or we don’t stay in shape and we get hurt.”
That’s not to say injuries bench athletes all that much, either. Mahlstedt runs two SNAP Fitness centers in McHenry County and believes there is something to be said for the confidence and health benefits gained from an extracurricular like NIMSBL.
“Guys don’t think they can do it anymore,” said Mahlstedt. “They want to, but don’t think they have the ability. If you encourage them a little bit, they can get out to a game and see that a lot of other guys are doing it.”
O’Sullivan said the other key piece of the puzzle is simply informing potential players that the league exists.
“They say, ‘I never knew this was available,’” said O’Sullivan. “And they absolutely love it, and can’t believe how much fun they have.”
“[Teammate] Glen Manarik called me and suggested I play,” said Lekich, who hadn’t picked up a bat since college. “It’s a great escape from life for those of us who played baseball.”
The 2012 roster for the White Sox features 14 players, including Jim Smithson and Barry O’Sullivan, two members who have been with the team for seven and 18 years, respectively. The Sox are off to a 4-3 start after a 10-7 loss to the Barrington Braves June 17. They will host the Lake in the Hills Pirates for a double-header at 10:00 a.m. Sunday, June 24. For information, visit www.nimsbl.com.