LOCKPORT — You're never too old to act young again — at least once a year.
Sure, the throws might not be as snappy these days, but guys like Mark Devine, Gary Diel, Jack DiMaggio, Jim Grundy and Joe Stranges can still toss it there with plenty of time to spare.
And it might take a few seconds longer to get down the first base line these days, but some of the guys can still dig in their cleats and beat out an infield single with either a potential run, or better yet, the game on-the-line.
Former members of Lockport's once prominent, thriving Lockport Softball Association and Old Timers League got together recently at Outwater Park for some food, drinks and a reunion softball contest that brought back a lot of fond memories for most, including Reunion Committee member Bob Speck.
“This is why we wanted to have it and this seemed like the perfect time of year,” Speck said.
“It's because the guys haven't seen each other. We're going to try and do something like this every year at about this time — get the guys out, have a few beers, hotdogs, reminisce, things like that,” he added.
Speck and the dozens of others who attended the event were active in a sport that once thrived tremendously in this city with municipal and other leagues, including the Industrial League, Ontario Fast-Pitch and Old Timers.
The venue for many of their contests was Outwater itself, which once featured lights that made night games possible and drew large crowds. Most city residents can recall softball events “under the lights” of Outwater including Eddie Feigner (The King and his Court) and a traveling Buffalo Sabres softball team 40 years ago, which featured popular defenseman-enforcer Jerry Korab.
“This reunion means everything,” said retired district gym teacher and one of the best athletes of his generation, Vic Cleri.
“I started when I was 16 years old. One of the teams in the old Lockport Softball Association back in 38 or 39 dropped out of the league,” Cleri said.
“We were just a bunch of kids playing in Lowertown (adopted, well-established nickname for an area of the City of Lockport, northeast of downtown, below the escarpment, north of the Erie Barge Canal), so we decided to get a bunch of guys together and take their place.
“We needed to get ourselves a sponsor. There was a garage on Clinton Street called Jex Garage and he sponsored us the rest of that season and I played ever since,” said Cleri, now in his 90s.
“Softball was really big in Lockport back then because we had the Lockport Municipal League and there was also an Industrial League with eight teams and all the major manufacturing places in Lockport sponsored a team, like United Board and Cartons, Norton's Flintkote, Upson and Corson's,” he added.
Follow veteran US&J sports reporter/editor John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.