Unique 68+ Division Takes Flight at Sacramento MSBL

By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

(Photos courtesy of Don Logsdon) The Sacramento MSBL has expanded their Golden League to include a newly devised and specialized 68+division.  The simple expansion of an age division, though noteworthy, is normally an age-driven continuation of our great game for those whose skills or speed may have hit the point of decisions needing to be made about continuation.  Sacramento, however, has taken it a step further by totally reinventing rules and dimensions to suit the customer.

“This week was the first hardball game played on a softball field,” explained league president Alan Van Ness.  “We use Marucci restricted-flight baseballs. They are regulation size however the insides are not built the same. 

The bases are 70’ and pitcher’s rubber is 55’.  As I expected, there are some elite older players that still prefer regulation field and baseballs, as many of these players are tournament-type players with multiple rings and continue to play in the 60+ Division. There still needs to be options for the older, less capable players who still love this great game.”

As Alan mentioned, this new concept is not meant to diminish their love of baseball. It’s meant to find a way to continue their passion to play hardball over softball, only on a smaller field.

“They can reach the plate at 55’, the bases are 70’ instead of 90’, and they are playing safer baseball. The most important aspect of this new league is to have fun.  If not for this league, many of these older players would not get together to see each other and reminisce their past baseball lives. They thought baseball was over for them. But the word got out quickly and we built four teams.”

The SMSBL 68+ Division has a 12-game season and to make everyone happy they split the season with six on a softball field and six on a hardball field. They use regulation baseballs on the hardball field. 

“I would like to thank MSBL Hall of Fame members Val Lewis and Lanny Ropke for their continued support.”

Added MSBL World Series Father/Son Division Founder Val Lewis, “There does come a day when the size of a regulation baseball diamond becomes a time to answer an important question: Do I love this game enough to continue playing or not? That day may come at different times for different players, but it likely will come. We all started out playing the game on a smaller field, and now it’s possible to extend our playing days even more by choosing to play on a smaller field. That became possible when we found a Marucci baseball that is regulation size and weight but is safer to use on the smaller fields.

Thousands of softball players play tournaments all over the world at much older ages than we typically do, but now, that doesn’t have to be true. We no longer need to retire because the field is too large! I’m hoping for a demonstration game at the MSBL World Series some year soon. I’ve played in every MSBL World Series since its inception in 1988, and would love to still be playing long into my eighties!”

Newly anointed 68+ division commissioner Lanny Ropke shared a few thoughts about the journey in getting this unique grouping together.

“I have been finding of late that some of the older players have retired as a new batch of 60’s appeared in the league and could throw pretty hard and a lot of these veterans were relegated to the occasional at-bat and being a sub in right field.  This was tragic and we needed to bring them back into the game they loved.

We came up with this concept and reached out to a combination of our newly retired players and those who would qualify who are currently playing and I received over 100 calls within ten days!”

Remaining to Lanny and the crew was coming up with an actual formula that would make everyone happy.

“We tried a few different restricted flight balls but some of them were up to 50% restricted and that was no fun at all.  We went to a Little League park with 200-foot fences and couldn’t even hit one out.  That was too much.  We eventually found the Marucci ball that has the exact dimensions and feel of a regular ball but is only 20% restricted.  That ended up to be the perfect compromise.

Regarding field dimensions, we found that many of the older players had trouble throwing the ball across the diamond from third to first on a regulation field, as their capabilities understandably decreased over the years.  The 70-foot bases became the solution.   The only concern the players had with the 70-foot bases was the third baseman getting undressed with a line drive but the restricted ball took care of that fear.”

My final question to Lanny was regarding the pitcher gaining an advantage, being able to throw from five feet closer.

“It’s funny you mention that,” stated the 75-year-old national tournament veteran with more rings that he could fit on all of his fingers and toes.  “We actually started this with a 50-foot distance in mind.  We had a practice game and in many instances the hitters were simply overmatched so it negated our purpose of having fun.  So, we moved it back to 55-feet but have found that some of our more talented pitchers could still be hard to touch so next week we are trying 58 and that is probably where it will stay.”

Lanny was quick to say that this concept is a work in progress and he and the crew are very open-minded.  Since half of the games are on regulation fields, they have satisfied both the recreational player and the one destined for tournament play.  He also is hoping that they can host an exhibition game at the MSBL World Series one of these days so that other league presidents can see first hand how they can keep their players in the game for many years to come.

Below are some action shots from the inaugural day: