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Eyeing the senior softball crown


Regardless of their age, the Bagbeys still consider themselves the “boys of summer” as they take to the softball field every summer with the same enthusiasm, competitiveness and love for the game that they had growing up.

“I’ve always said that when February and March come around and I don’t get excited about getting the bats out, it’s time for me to hang it up,” said Jeff Swartz, owner of J S Creative. “I said I’d quit playing at 40, and when I turned 40, I was still excited about it. Then I said I’d quit playing at 50, and I was still excited about it.”

Though Swartz and his teammates admit that their feet might not be as quick as they once were and their muscles take longer to recover, they still play Tuesday night doubleheaders, take batting practice on Friday afternoons and often go out of town on the weekends for tournaments. Now just halfway through the season, the Bagbeys are 56-21.

“We’re still just boys,” Swartz said. “It doesn’t matter what age you are.”

Starting Thursday, the Bagbeys will grab their bats and gloves and head to the NASCS Senior Softball World Series in Clive and West Des Moines, which is expected to draw dozens of teams from across the country, and provide some tough competition for the team in the men’s 50+ major division.

The Bagbeys are still riding high after the 2004 World Masters Championship in Las Vegas in September, when they made a comeback from the consolation bracket to go 9-1 and capture first place. Along with the glory of victory came championship rings and a trophy.

“It was our little time in the sun,” said Swartz, who plays outfield, second base, third base, catcher and pitcher. “What makes us good is we’ve been playing for so doggone long that we know what to do, and there doesn’t seem to be situations where people get upset because they’re not playing. You have a few situations where you don’t agree, but we can put that aside and go have a beer afterward.”

In fact, the team’s camaraderie extends beyond the softball diamond. Between games and out-of-town tournaments, the men have come to be good friends, as have their wives and girlfriends. Tom Eichler and his wife moved to Des Moines from Chicago two years ago and found the softball team to be a great opportunity to meet people in a new town.

“It’s great to know that many people from diverse backgrounds because they come from all over,” said Eichler, general manager of Chem-Tech Ltd., who played baseball for the University of Denver. “It’s been a big help for us to know people like that.”

Of course, when game time rolls around, the Bagbeys are all business. The team had played in a West Des Moines league for men age 50 and older, but routinely outscored teams by 15 or more runs. Their success forced them into a more difficult league, which they said helps them prepare for national tournaments against top-caliber competition.

“The games are closer, and we don’t mind getting beat because we’re just trying to get better,” said Jim Bagbey, whose State Farm Insurance agency serves as the team’s sponsor.

With more than 100 games a year, the players suffer through sore muscles and injuries, and try to make up for the fact that they’re not as fast as they used to be. Swartz has had two shoulder surgeries and operations on both feet, and guesses that if he weren’t playing softball, the surgeries might not have been needed. His approach is to “condition better, stretch more and be smarter about it,” particularly in tournaments such as the one in Las Vegas, where they will play up to 10 games in 90-degree heat.

“I think when I can’t bend over, I’m going to hang it up,” Eichler said. “It takes a full week to recover, but it’s a good feeling.”

Still, there’s always the 80-and-older division to look forward to.

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