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Published: Wednesday, 5/19/2010

Sylvania senior league urges use of new softball safety gear


They may be over 50 - or, on Tuesday nights, at least 58 years old - but that doesn't mean Sylvania Senior Softball League players can't hit the ball really hard.

Jerry Keefe, one of the league's founders two years ago and the regular team pitcher, knows all about that: last season, a line drive hit him just above the ear.

"It knocked me out cold," he said. "I got a concussion. I was out of action for three weeks."

Mr. Keefe bought a lightweight face mask to protect himself against recurrences.

For this year's season, which starts this week, the league is strongly urging all of its players to do the same, especially if they pitch or play third base - the latter position known, for good reason, as the "hot corner."

With today's "high-powered" balls and metal bats, Mr. Keefe said, it's possible for line drives to come back at 120 mph, which means little warning for a pitcher 50 feet away.

Along with face masks, the league recommends under-the-pants shin guards - like the ones soccer players use - to protect against hard-hit balls and subsequent deep bruises that could lead to clots, he said.

"If they [players] really can't afford it, the league will provide the equipment," Mr. Keefe said, pledging that a couple of masks and shin-guard sets will be available to use at each game.

But those who don't want to use the gear will be asked to sign liability waivers holding the league harmless if they get hurt, he said.

Sylvania Senior Softball was organized in 2008 for local players who couldn't quite keep up with the younger players in "open" leagues, but still wanted to play competitive ball.

Because of its eight diamonds, Pacesetter Park became the league's home. Participation grew so fast that the 58-plus division was formed last year for the league's second season.

Five senior-division teams began play last night while the 11 teams in the regular 50-and-up league open play tomorrow night. The regular season continues into late August, after which two weeks are set aside for rain makeups and postseason playoffs.

Although the desire to win is strong, Mr. Keefe said, it's still primarily an opportunity for players to enjoy the sport and socialize.

"When the game's over, they shake hands and part as friends," Mr. Keefe said.

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