Sports

Still playing ball

"It's the bottom of the second inning on a blazing hot Thursday evening and the Jet City Oaks are in the dugout, down 3-to-zip, and waiting their turn at the plate.So far, the Stanwood Indians have proven adept at connecting with the Oaks' pitcher, Jeff Daly, but no one in the dugout seems worried. Maybe because Dave Moody is at bat.C'mon Dave, c'mon number 22, wait for what you want, yells Oaks' manager Jim Shulock.Moody obliges, smacking a line drive past Stanwood's second baseman and driving home a runner - though the runner trips between third and home takes a while.There are no young speedsters on the Oaks. But then there are no youngsters on the team either. Only men who never stopped loving and playing the game of baseball.I ate, drank and slept baseball from the time I was about seven, the 33-year-old Moody says later. I'll play this game until I die, until they stick me in the ground.Moody's sentiments are not atypical on this over-30 baseball team.Moody, a standout at Oak Harbor High School, played in Northwest senior leagues for five years before his subcontracting business demanded more of his time. Now he's back from a one-year hiatus and his skills have helped the Oaks dominate and lead the six-team senior league all summer.Though in the Stanwood game, the Oaks are still down a run and the Cardinal's pitcher is throwing some serious heat.At the plate, Oaks' third-baseman Dave DeGraaf connects with a crack. But the bouncing grounder is easily fielded and the big man's lumbering sprint to first is no match for the throw. This easy out is unusual as DeGraaf - also a former star at Oak Harbor High - routinely belts the long ball. Back in the dugout, DeGraff says sure, the years have taken a toll on foot speed and certain skills, but the older players are also as lot more attuned to the game after decades of playing.We play the game smarter now, the 6-foot-5 slugger says. When you're a young kid you're learning the fundamentals, but when you're my age, you learn to hit you're cutoffs and to be more patient at bat.Like Moody, DeGraaf can't imagine not playing ball. He played men's softball for 17 years and hardball with the Oaks since 1998. There's nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon then play baseball, DeGraaf says.I can think of something better to do, catcher Paul Marsh says.When Marsh, a broad-shouldered spark-plug and clutch hitter isn't encouraging his teammates to do better, he's giving DeGraaf a hard time - a situation that seems to amuse both men about equally. We've been playing together for about 18 years, DeGraaf say of Marsh, as the team gets up to take the field. If you're done with being interviewed, perhaps you'd like to join the rest of us out here, Marsh calls back to Degraaf.Both smile.Like Moody, DeGraaf says besides the game itself, he'd miss the comradery and competition he finds on a baseball field.Same with Shulock, who played baseball in high school in Vero Beach, Fla., and at the University of Florida.The competitiveness is as intense, but the maturity shows up here, he says of senior league ball. When I'd make a mistake in college, I'd think, 'Now, I'll never get drafted.' Here, you realize that mistakes will be made but as long as you are trying and having fun, mistakes are acceptable.On this night, the Oaks are making their share of mistakes.Despite his teammates' assurance that he'll be fine as soon as he warms up, Daly is having a hard time on the mound. After two-and-a-third innings, Daly has given up 10 runs on two hits with 7 base on balls and two hit batters.Shulock takes to the mound and holds Stanwood to one run on seven hits for the final six innings.But the Oaks can't best the Cardinals on this Thursday.Jet City mounts comebacks in the sixth and ninth innings, only to be cut short with the bases loaded in the ninth and the tying run on third.They lose 11-10.Still, things could be worseThe Oaks still hold first place in the Quad County Baseball League with an 11-3 record and they're still playing a game they've loved for most of their lives. Some guys water ski, others bowl, DeGraaf says. We need to play baseball."

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