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July 20th, 2006

 

Old Timers Game pays big tribute to Fast Pitch

base

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
The oldest participant on Old Timers Game last night at Meldrim Field, 86-year-old KenHenry, shown receiving handshakes during player introductions. Henry has played fast pitch locally starting in the 1940s.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

This special softball gathering is especially rewarding for the players, no doubt about that.
But this Old Timers Fast Pitch Game, which has become a recent rite of summer passionately rejuvenated and orchestrated by Mike Dexter, is more than a chance for players to relive past glories. The event is a special tribute to the game itself, which is still flourishing on the playing fields of Cortland.
That was a constant theme throughout on an ideal Wednesday evening at Meldrim Field, where the Old Timers were 6-5 winners over a collection of current All-Star players — including event organizer and first baseman Dexter, who still makes appearances with a Red Dragon team that has competed in the Cortland Fast Pitch League for the past 34 summers.
As game emcee, one-time fast pitch hurler, sports historian and past Cortland Standard sports editor Jere Dexter — Mike’s brother — noted during pre-game introductions, Fast Pitch has been played in the city since 1930 and is still going strong despite having vanished from other cities and towns.
“It’s good to see they still have a league here,” said Art D’Addario, who went the distance behind the plate for the Old-Timers. Currently living in LaFayette, he has become a regular at these reunions.
Past McGraw Merchant player Jim McGuiness, who along with D’Addario and shortstop Gene Signor went the entire seven-inning distance for the winning side, also praised the current players who provided the opposition. “They play good ball,” the 71-year-old noted.
It was also good to see the Old Timers display their talents at the plate, running bases and especially some sure-handed glove work in the field. A daring dash from third base on a grounder by Old Timers skipper Dick ‘Fingers’ Finn, sliding into home plate to finish off a four-run rally in the bottom of the fifth inning, provided the decisive run in thecontest.
Hitting the dirt to escape the tag of All-Star catcher Jared Wood was just second nature for the 75-year-old Finn. “You play ball so long it’s just a natural thing,” he pointed out.
This game means so much to so many, especially Gurdon Bush — who took one for the team when a hard hit ball glanced off his leg while coaching third base. “Just the game, getting the guys together and having a good time,” is what Bush said he enjoys most out of the occasion.
But there is more to it than that for elder statesman Bush, who assists Finn directing a Cortland Eagles team that plays against over Over-65 Senior League squads in Central New York.
“It means a lot to me because I have a son and two grandsons playing in the game,” he said, son Darrell Bush starting at second base and pitching an inning for the Old Timers while grandsons Joe and Lenny Hubbard were on the All-Star squad representing their Cindy’s squad. “What’s good is they’re all playing.”
THE OLD TIMERS were on the verge of scoring first after filling the bases bases in the bottom of the second, a rally ignited when Darrell Bush bunted for single. After he as forced at second by a Rocky Rodman grounder, a Harold Foster single and a walk to McGuinness loaded the sacks. Chris Dewey’s liner to third would be snared for the third out, however.
The All-Stars would strike first, putting together four straight two-outs hits in the top of the third inning to post the game’s opening two runs. Catcher Abe Johnson and Seth McMahon singled those runs home.
The first Old Timers run was actually scored in the bottom of the third by base umpire Craig Allen, making a pinch-running appearance switch with Dwight Lashley who had reached second base. Allen scored on a double steal, coming when starting All-Star pitcher Jeff Carr snuck a whiffle ball into the proceedings and uncorked a wild pitch with that wobbling piece of plastic. The Old Timers tied it up moments later, Signor scoring.
The All-Stars left the bases filled in the fourth when Denny Zach got a called third strike to end the inning, though an Old-Timers scoring chance in the bottom of that frame went wasted when first baseman Mike Dexter caught a Signor liner with two teammates aboard.
The All-Stars went back in front 4-2 in the fifth inning started when a leadoff triple by Brian Taylor just eluded the reach of outfielder McGuiness. That was the first of four hits by the All-Stars, including a Dennis Hopkins single.
But the Old Timers got five hits while scoring the go-ahead runs in the bottom of the fifth, Tink Root, D’Addario, Finn, David Green and Don Davis all with singles. Finn would score the final Old-Timers run when Zach grounded out to first.
Bonawitz, who pitched a no-hitter for The Tavern 25 years ago, finished up on the mound for the Old Timers. Though Randy Hinkle singled home a run in the top of the seventh, soon second baseman Finn was handling a grounder and tossing to Gurdon Bush at first for the game’s final out.
“HE HAS STILL got some zip on the ball,” said D’Addario of Bonawitz, who picked up a save. That was an opinion several off the All-Stars had towards Bonawitz’s deliveries, too.
“It’s just a great time,” added D’Addario. “Most of these guys I played against but then I went away and lost track, so I don’t know a lot of these guys.”
He spent time in Albany before relocating to LaFayette, but still recalls when he became a rare left-handed catcher. “I got stuck in there in this one game and I gave it a chance, because I wanted to play,” he said.
McGuinness just wants to play, too — and was in his fifth game of the week including having been part of a Cortland Bulldogs doubleheader earlier in the day.
“I just have a lot of fun,” he said. “I get a lot of thrills. I love playing softball and baseball, and at my age I can even enjoy it more. It’s such a thrill.”
Providing thrills was the Mike Dexter intent when he revived the Old Timers Game, noting in the past the Old Timers competed against and often beat the current league champion. He also admitted the event will give him a fast pitch venue when he finally tucks away his first baseman’s mitt with the Red Dragon.

 

Good start for Englishmen

By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP National Writer

HOYLAKE, England — The British haven’t won their Open since 1999.
Maybe Anthony Wall or Greg Owen can reclaim the claret jug.
The Englishmen were atop the leaderboard during the opening round today at Royal Liverpool, while Phil Mickelson bounced back from the debacle at Winged Foot to position himself for a run at another major title.
On a warm, sunny day made for going low, Wall and Owen opened with 5-under-par 67s that put them one stroke ahead of a large pack that included 2002 champion Ernie Els, major winners Mike Weir and Jim Furyk, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, and Sergio Garcia, still seeking his first major title.
Mickelson was among those at 69, a solid start considering what happened at the U.S. Open. Lefty made double bogey on the final hole when a par would have been good enough for his third straight major title.
He could have done a shot or better on the first day at Hoylake, but failed to take advantage of three par 5s on the back side.
“I’ve got to execute better,” Mickelson said. “The course is playing about as nice as it could.”
The most anticipated group of the day teed off in the afternoon with defending champion Tiger Woods and three-time winner Nick Faldo, whose sour relationship warmed up a bit when they shook hands on the practice range Wednesday.
Woods missed the cut at Winged Foot, the first time that’s happened at a major since he turned pro. He got off to an ominous start, knocking his first tee shot into the rough — despite using an iron for better control — and wound up making bogey in mild conditions rarely seen on a seaside links.
In keeping with the theme of redemption, Owen is a PGA Tour regular best known for blowing a final-round lead at Bay Hill this year. He three-putted from 3 feet on the next-to-last hole to give away a seemingly certain win.