When the league formed a decade ago, 10 players showed up.
“We just played rag-tag ball, a little scrimmaging,” said Lutz resident Charlie Bell, one of the 10 original players in the North Tampa Senior Softball League (NTBSS).
“Before long, we grew to 20 (players), then had two teams. By the end of that first year, we had 40 players.
“Everyone knew someone who wanted to play.”
Now, as the NTBSS kicks off its 10-year-anniversary season on Sept. 9, there are more than 100 people involved, including players, umpires and scorekeepers. Seven teams will play through the playoffs and a championship in May.
“It was an adventure (10 years ago) because many of us were coming back to the game we hadn’t played in many, many years,” said Lutz resident Fred Eckstein, another one of the original 10.
“We blew up back then and even sometimes now, where we get a new influx of players. But the play is good, the camaraderie is good — it’s a real diverse group, too, given everyone’s backgrounds and where they are from, originally.
“It’s really just fun to hang out with all (the players).”
The league’s formation is credited to Walt Bockmiller, who is remembered fondly by original members, as well as honored on league shirts.
Bockmiller died in 2018, after years of running the league and being very active in the Land O’ Lakes and Lutz communities.
It was this publication in which he ran the ad that produced the original 10 players.
“They come and get a smile,” Bockmiller told The Laker/Lutz News in 2016. “They make errors, they hit and they have excitement. They do good, they do bad, but they all have fun.”
Current league commissioner Walt Bruschi didn’t know Bockmiller, but says his competitive spirit and love for the game is still apparent on the field at Heritage Park.
“I didn’t know him, but from everything they told me about Walt, he loved the game,” Bruschi said. “One thing they don’t say about him, but which you can see here on the field even to this day, is that between the (base) lines, Walt was so competitive.”
Bell added: “It’s really all about what’s in the logo, which my son-in-law helped design. ‘Friendship. Fun. Fitness. Sportsmanship.’ This is what it was set up for and, before you knew it, it just became a whole community.”
This community forged friendships beyond the diamond. Players would, and still do, get together to do other activities, such as fishing, bowling or golf.
As competitive as the league can be, the play has been finely tuned so games are enjoyable. The league has a board that has worked hard to come up with rules and bylaws, which are mandated to keep the game fair and fun.
For example, players 75 and over can’t be thrown out at first base if they put a hit into the outfield, while courtesy runners are available for any players who struggle with baserunning.
“With some of these guys,” Bruschi said, “the mind will tell you that you can still do it, but the body might say, ‘No, you can’t.’ But we stick with it. Everyone out here is supporting and not getting down on someone just because they struggle.”
Also, Bruschi said, like a community, players’ support even extends to new players that show up and might not know anyone.
“I didn’t know anyone, but they said they’d put me on a team and then everyone hovered around me,” Bruschi said. “They asked, ‘Do you need a bat? Do you need a glove?’ Here’s one. I’ve got you covered.’ Everyone is so supportive, everyone supports the new guys. Always have and always will.”
The league holds a draft, that way no “super team” can be formed and dominate play. The league also accepts players throughout the season, and it is looking for more women to join.
For now, and this season, the league, and its players, looks to keep the competitiveness tradition alive, in a way to make Bockmiller proud.
“Everyone in this league is a class guy,” Bruschi said. “They’re dentists, doctors, lawyers, firemen — but you never know it. Because the guys out here are just the most unassuming, most humble guys ever. They’re out here just to have fun, not to bring their egos on the field.
“It’s a blessing, every day, that we’re out here — a blessing.”
North Tampa Bay Senior Softball
When: Games are played Friday mornings through May; practices are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
Where: Heritage Park, 5401 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., Land O’ Lakes
Cost: $40 for the season
Details: The league is open to women over 50 and men over 60. The league has its own rules and adheres to the Senior Softball-USA (SSUSA) national rules of play.
Sponsors: ARC Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, AMI Recycling, Payne Environmental, Culinary Packaging, Limberg Ministries, HOJO Softball Inc., RIPA and Associates, Humana.
Interested players should contact Walt Bruschi at 330-701-0646 or , or Denny Kato at 727-215-5345 or . Info: NTBSS.net
Published September 07, 2022