"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and, in the end, it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."-- Jim Bouton, author of the 1970 book, Ball Four
Jim Bouton's preceding words are hardly idle ball-diamond chatter to 85-year-old Archie Patterson and many other Coquitlam seniors slo-pitch members, who gather regularly this time of year to play a game to which they're intertwined like one deep, twisting tree root providing the base for the thousands of evergreens that stand forever tall on their home ground, Mundy Park.
Steve Carter, a 67-year-old pitcher with a pacemaker, is among those others.
"Some of us are fanatical about staying alive," says the affable Carter, who never played baseball in his younger days and now happily tosses back-spin to the dish for the Dogwood Hornets. "I was busy playing soccer and running from the local bullies."
Patterson, who often relies on the aid of two canes to simply walk, started playing Coquitlam seniors slo-pitch in 1989 and formed the Hornets recreational squad 10 years after. He now umpires.
"I've got one really bad knee and I have fluid in my lungs," says Patterson, explaining his switch from the front of the plate to behind it. "Nobody complains [about my calls]. I have friends all over... White Rock, Surrey, Langley... because of my many years in the league."
Patterson spent 25 years in the Canadian military and served in Korea in 1952. When asked what he gets for umping seniors slo-pitch, he says simply: "Free coffee."
Lower Mainland seniors slo-pitch features 18 co-ed teams in two divisions -- competitive and recreational -- toiling on both the north and south sides of the Fraser River.
Playoffs in the rec loop, featuring teams from White Rock to West Vancouver, run Tuesday and Thursday at Mundy field No.'s 1 and 5, with games going both days at 9:30 and 11 a.m., as well as at 12:30 and 2 p.m.
"We need a day in between to nap," Carter says laughingly. "Anyone over 55 is welcome to play but we'll take pretty much anybody who wants to."
There are five competing Tri-City teams, including three in the rec division -- the Glen Pine Blue Jays and Dogwood's Eagles and Hornets. Plus, the Glen Pine and Dogwood seniors sectors each field one squad in the competitive category. The Blue Jays, led by 74-year-old Bill 'Slick' Carter, who's reputed to run the base paths in nine seconds, captured the nine-team league championship last year in Pitt Meadows, beating New Westminster in the final.
Steve Carter battled through a serious cancer scare 14 years back and, as of five years ago, wears a pacemaker pad over his heart while playing as a safety precaution. More recently, the six-foot-seven Carter was jolted when a line-drive hit him square on the pad, knocking him to the dirt and causing a flood of players to rush to his apparent rescue.
"I got up, dusted myself off and kept playing," he says frankly. "I took a licking and kept on ticking. There's a lot of walking wounded playing in our league... strapping on knee braces, pads and helmets. Pitchers are in the line of fire... [facing] bats that can hit a ball 120 miles per hour. That's why I have so much respect for the people who play.
"They've got guts, they've got courage. I admire them so much for it."