Four years ago, Rick Cohen of Marietta received accolades for “Faded Glory,” a documentary about his over-35 amateur baseball team. Now, Cohen, 48, still plays a mean third base — and a lot. His local team, the Rangers, competed in the Greater Atlanta 35+ Men’s Senior Baseball League championship series this weekend. And play continues in October as Network, the 45+ national team Cohen manages and plays on, and the focus of his documentary, attempts to capture another World Series title. Cohen discussed what drives these older “boys of summer,” despite their failing eyesight, sore arms and creaky knees. For more on Cohen’s adult leagues, visit msblnational.com and dugout.org
Q: What kind of men are drawn to adult amateur baseball?
A: Every day people — university professors, doctors, laborers, etc. I’m a filmmaker. You can’t get any more eclectic than that.
Q: Have they all played baseball before?
A: Everyone has played at some high level, even if just in high school. There are great players, good players and average players. But no one is soft. We have a saying in our leagues —“Softball for soft players.”
Q: Why do grown men play baseball?
A: It is part of this whole “faded glory” concept I talked about in my film. We were good in our youth and we want to prove to ourselves that we haven’t lost it. We crave the competition.
Q: How competitive is the baseball?
A: Extremely. For some of the good teams, the competition almost supercedes the fun and sometimes that is a shame. We like the guys on the other team we play in the championship but we’ll hate them during the games.
Q: Why do you play baseball?
A: I love the sport. It’s so situational. I love football, too, but as a 48-year-old man, I can’t go out and play against 28-year olds. I also love the camaraderie, the male bonding and the friendships that I build through baseball. I can catch up with 15 guys on the bench, share some laughs. You can’t do that over lunch.
Q: Your teammates have gone through all kinds of life changes: divorce, illness, job loss. Some have even died. Does that make you even closer?
A: Our game time is a form of group therapy. When I was going through my divorce, baseball games were a safe haven to discuss issues with other men who have gone through similar situations. Plus, you know they truly care about you.
Q: What do your kids think about your baseball obsession?
A: My 16-year-old daughter Lexie says I should stop playing because I’m always hurt. Jacob, my 18-year-old, is pretty indifferent. “That’s cool, dad” is about the biggest reaction I get from him.
Q: What does baseball say about a person beyond athletic ability?
A: How someone conducts himself on a baseball field is a good indication of how they run their businesses and their lives. Sports are a great metaphor for life.
Q: How is playing at your age different from playing Little League?
A: I think we take it more seriously than the kids. They have a lot of other things going on to distract them. Besides our jobs and families, this is all some of us want to do.
Q: The physical toll must be tougher than when you were 12?
A: I’ve had 16 surgeries related to sports for incidences that either happened during a game or just body parts that wore out over time. I work out six days a week just so I can play sports at a high level. At our age, the biggest thing is not the injury. It is how long it takes to heal the injury.
Q: Any plans to quit?
A: I don’t think I am ready to give up just yet. The guys I manage on the national team come from all over the country. They depend on me to organize this team every year. It’s like our annual reunion. It’s a three-to-four month job and no one pays me. I do it because I love the guys and the game.
The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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