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  ‘CLASSIC’ BASEBALL UNDERWAY  
  June 25, 2020 Edition  
     BY GREG GULAS
      Boardman News Sports
      bnews@zoominternet.net
     
      “I still have that competitive feeling and the league is exactly that, competitive...
      My mind says I can still play but my body tells me otherwise.”
     
      The Boardman FOG defeated the Youngstown Classics, 12-4 in the season opener last week for both teams of the Youngstown Baseball League’s 58-plus division at Fields of Dreams Complex on McClurg Road.
      The game was the first of a 10-game modified schedule – with rules adjustments due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) – for the group since Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine gave the official word back on May 14 that sports leagues could commence play starting May 26.
      The 50-plus division began play on June 20 with play-offs slated in early-September for both groups.
      Dave Smercansky, Jack Hay and Mike Glinatsis combined to limit the Classics to four tallies with Carmen Nocera and Mike Homer each lacing three hits, and Ed Prence two safeties to pace the FOG’s 14-hit attack.
      “We were worried that we might not have a season and at our age, we cannot afford a ‘red-shirt’ year,” said Jon Wallace, FOG player-manager. “Opening day every year is the same as you cannot wait to put on your uniform and get started. We only had two practices heading into today’s opener so we had a chance to work out some of the cobwebs that have developed during the off-season.
      “This squad, along with our 50-plus team, has a chance to be pretty good and contend for a title.”
      Wallace’s 58-plus squad has won the YBL’s league title on four occasions, losing in the semi-finals a season ago.
      The 50-plus group are defending league champions and have won two titles overall.
      Unlike their youthful counterparts who like to show-off their arms, offensive prowess and range in the field, foul balls seem to be just out of reach of the defense, catchers have a hard time throwing to second base after their pitchers’ warm-up tosses while batters sometime stumble out of the box trying to leg out an infield hit.
      A sure double is “stretched into a single” because the legs aren’t what they used to be, infield pop-ups are sometimes a challenge to catch up to while pitchers, if permitted, would take more than six warm-up tosses prior to an inning.
      While many players on both teams have remained active for three, four and sometimes five decades after their initial season of play, Charlie Harris of the Youngtown Classics is a ‘classic’ in his own right for at age 80 – he became an octogenarian when he celebrated his birthday on June 10 – and playing the diamond sport now in his ninth decade, he definitely qualifies for a ‘Bobblehead Day” give-away.
      “This is great and I feel absolutely great,” added Harris, a 2006 Curbstone Coaches Hall of Fame honoree who laced a one-out single off Hay in the fourth inning but was caught looking and called out on a Hay ‘fastball’ for a third strike in the sixth frame. “Opening day is still special to me after all these years. You get to renew friendships, meet new teammates and have fun with a group that loves the game a much as you do.”
      Each player was responsible for a self-examination prior to the game with social distancing observed over the course of a game.
      The 62-year old Smercansky, who also serves as YBL commissioner, was pleased with his outing and the play of both teams the first time out this season.
      “The 58’s were created for guys not getting enough playing time in the 50-plus league,” he stated. “The pandemic really had a negative effect on our schedule because we lost six games. Today, however, was our first step back and everyone was excited to be back on the field.
      “For a guy who has a 16-year old trapped inside him, as long as I can get my uniform on and make it to the field then I am going to play.”
      Hay, who graduated from BHS in 1969, relieved Smercansky in the fourth inning and proceeded to toss three innings of scoreless ball against the Classics.
      “My arm felt great and I was ready to go,” Hay noted. “The knee was sore, but that’s another story. We didn’t know if we would even have a season this year so it was great to be back among teammates and friends.”
      Mark Cherol, a 1973 graduate of the former Woodrow Wilson High School who resides in Huntington Woods, played collegiately at both the University of Mount Union and Youngstown State University, usually catches but started in left field – he would catch Glinatsis in the final inning – made an inning ending catch in right field for the FOG that thwarted a Classics third inning rally.
      “I’ll play anywhere they put me,” said Cherol, who is in his 25th year in the league. “I play in two other leagues and you simply cannot beat the camaraderie amongst all the players. There’s silliness, a lot of jibber-jabber and we have a lot of fun, but we’re serious when necessary.”
      Glinatsis, a 1973 Spartans’ alum, threw the last inning to Cherol to work out some of the kinks of an eight-month lay-off.
      “We have to take this slow and easy,” he added. “Even after all these years, I’m still excited to get on the field and be among friends and teammates.”
      Nocera, 58, is a 1979 graduate of New Castle High School and a four-year baseball letterwinner at Geneva College in his 11th season in the league.
      He spent this past season as an assistant baseball coach and academic advisor at Eastern Gateway Community College.
      “We’re like little kids going to an amusement park,” Nocera stated. “Opening day is always special and today is one that you cannot beat because we weren’t sure there would be a season.”
      FOG second sacker Larry Kelly, who is a New Castle native and four-year letterwinner in baseball at Slippery Rock University, is in his 17th season in the league.
      He has been an attorney the past 32 years with the law firm Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George.
      “I miss playing baseball so much and just the thought of turning a key double play is enough to get me to the ballpark,” Kelly noted. “At our age, I’m not so sure there’s anything better than hitting a line drive with a wooden bat. The fact that we can still do it at our age is amazing in and of itself.”
      Cedric Hawkins, a service representative with Liberty Mutual in New Castle, is in his first season with the FOG and has spent six seasons with the 50-plus group.
      “The coronavirus drove me nuts but I was able to work from home,” he said. “I looked forward to this day for quite some time and like my other teammates on opening day, I had butterflies on my drove to the park.”
      Rob Armeni, BHS Class of ‘82, is also in his first season in the league. He batted fifth in the line-up, roamed center field and walked in the third inning, also singling in the fourth frame.
      A former YSU baseball standout, he has served as a physical therapist at Youngstown Orthopaedic Center the past 16 years.
      “I think the last time I played was in 1988 so it has been 33 years between hits for me,” Armeni laughed. “I do work out every day and have a batting cage in my backyard, which I use to throw batting practice to my sons. Today was a lot of fun for me.”
      Tom Banna, former YSU football standout, is player-manager for the Classics. At 67 years of age, he is beginning his 12th year in the league. “I still have that competitive feeling and the league is exactly that, competitive,” Banna added. “My mind says I can still play but my body tells me otherwise.”
     
 
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