Senior team tall on athletes

Good-natured ribbing, words of encouragement and a lot of hustling abounded as the Rookies senior softball team went through their practice routine on the field at Kaumakani Park recently.

Richard Vidinha, who has been with the Rookies for 22 years, coaches the team of about 20 players, whose ages range from 55 to 85. Players are considered eligible when they turn 60, but teams are allowed to have one youngster (mid- to late 50s) on the field.

Vidinha, 81, has been playing ball since his teens. At 60, he joined the Rookies.

Vidinha said he continues to play for the companionship and exercise.

“Getting out three times a week and running around a little bit kills the monotony of staying home and raking the yard,” he said.

The Rookies practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays and play league games on Saturdays.

As a club, the team has potlucks after games and on special occasions. They have fund-raisers to finance their annual trip to the state tournament at the end of the season, which runs from January to August.

The Rookies is one of seven teams in the senior softball league under the umbrella of the county’s Office of Community Assistance. The league has its own governing body.

Pat Baniaga, league coordinator and Rookies assistant coach, said that over the years the league has gotten really competitive.

“It’s a little bit more than just fun and exercise,” Baniaga said. He knows of players who have gotten knee replacements just to continue to play.

There’s no such thing as a rain out, either. If it’s raining on game day, Baniaga said he has to call around the island to find a dry field so play can continue.

Mike Folster has been with the Rookies for 10 years. He said the friendly banter among old friends is ongoing.

“They’ve been beating up each other since high school,” Folster said of the players. “They never give up, never quit whining about the stuff that happened in high school.”

He said it’s amazing how many skilled players there are in their 70s. When he went to the world championships in Las Vegas, he saw players in their 80s and was inspired by them.

“As a 60 year old, that’s what I want to do when I’m 80,” Folster said. “It gives you a sense of purpose to be able to scratch it out at 80.”

Folster noted that last year, a Kaua‘i team in the 65C division at the world senior games in St. George, Utah, won the bronze medal.

Stanley Dela Cruz has been playing for the Rookies for nine years. Also a former Waimea High School athlete, he went on to coach the school’s baseball team from 1968 to 1973. Now with the Rookies, he has had the chance to coach at a Utah tournament.

“The teams up there are high-caliber teams,” Dela Cruz said. “The nice thing about the St. George tournament is they put you in a bracket where you are competitive.”

Next year, Kaua‘i will host the state senior softball tournament in Hanapepe. Baniaga said they expect 50 teams from across the state to participate.

“It’s going to be a big project,” Baniaga said, which they will start to plan after returning from Kona, the site of this year’s tournament.

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