When it Comes to Softball, No One Has More Fun Than Those Who Are Young at Heart
For most community youth centers, a weekday morning in early spring means empty fields and quiet activity rooms. But not for the War Memorial Youth Center. When the kids are in school, the Young Viejos come out to play. On every Tuesday and Thursday morning, you can find this 65-and-older league playing seven innings of softball. It’s an unusual, yet refreshing sight: Players in their late 60s, 70s and even 80s are swinging bats, tossing baseballs, and jogging laps around the diamond. Some are dressed in pinstripe pants and cleats, others in shorts and sneakers. But all wear the same bright blue jersey with “Young Viejos” displayed proudly across the chest. Welcome to the League of Their Own.
The late Howard “Roxy” Roxborough, an accountant from Canada who retired to Coral Gables, started the team in 1994. His wife coined the team’s Spanglish name, translated as “the young old men,” to celebrate Miami’s Hispanic roots. Baseball was a huge part of many of the players’ childhoods. Jesus “Junior” Martinez, 81, has been playing ball since he was six and umpiring for 55 years. He umpires every Young Viejos game. Hector Martinez never imagined that he’d still be playing at 78. “When you’re young, you never think you’re going to get old,” said Martinez, a retired school administrator. “You don’t think time is going to fly over you.”
The average age of a Young Viejos player is 77, according to Jerry Llevada, one of the team directors. The oldest player? Augustin Gonzalez, 97, who arrived in Miami from Cuba in 1966 and has been on the team for 15 years. For these baseball lovers, age is just a number. “That guy there is in his late 60s,” Llevada said, pointing to a base runner. “He catches, he throws, he runs. And that guy there is 87,” Llevada said, pointing to the pitcher. “He had a heart issue and the paramedics told him to take it easy. He said, ‘If I die here, that’s the way I want to go.’”
Despite their positive attitude and love for the game, some modifications are necessary. Martinez, who is usually an outfielder, now sticks to first base because of the tendonitis in his shoulder. “All these guys — they’re hurting somewhere,” Martinez said. “We forget about all the pain and aches when we come here. A lot of time, it’s a state of mind.”
Aside from their usual field at the Youth Center, where they pick teams to play each other, the Young Viejos – now celebrating their 25th anniversary – also play an annual game at Marlins Park.
“Softball is the most beautiful game ever invented,” said Douglas Gonzalez, 67, who opened the Beach Club Salon on Sunset Drive over 30 years ago. “Football, hockey, basketball — every other game has the same philosophy. In baseball it’s totally different. You could be losing 10 to nothing — which we have been here — and the last inning, with two outs, we’ve come back to win. In base- ball, there’s always a possibility. There’s always a hope. Because it’s not over until it’s over.”