An abundance of new research suggests that longevity is not only about good genetics and clean living. Other variables like exercise, meditation, volunteering, and close friendships are also linked to extending your visit here on planet Earth. But more recent findings have revealed that passion — having a cause, purpose or pursuit — can also contribute to an increase in longevity.

For some, passion is about saving: save stamps, save the whales, save the tatas, and/or save the heathens. Others find passion in watching young people and guiding the development of their progeny (you know, grandkids and great grandkids). But a group of older gentleman has re-discovered a passion that has captivated them since their days of yore. They are still “playing ball” 60, 70 and even 80 years after their last Little League game. Sarasota County, in case you haven’t heard, has an impressive collection of retirees. As such, there are several softball leagues for seniors of all ages to join. Many of the men play in more than one league; it is common for the guys to play 4 nights a week.

Okay, sure, it’s not quite the same: the baseball is now a softball, the pitching is slow and underhanded, and no one blames an error on long hair falling over their eyes. The guys are less inclined to use HGH (Human Growth Hormone) and more reliant upon M.O.M. (Milk of Magnesia). The catchers don’t squat, the runners don’t slide — no one wants to risk breaking a hip. But it’s still the great American pastime that these seniors grew up worshiping, like their boyhood idols who dominated their fantasy life: DiMaggio and Williams, Mantle and Mays, Musial and Aaron. The Field of Dreams is their fountain of youth, proving once and for all that the diamond is not only a girl’s best friend.

Take “Scooter”, a youngster in the Senior League of Venice. He hasn’t even turned 70 yet. Scooter talks reverently about his elders, describing the majority of men as “very good ballplayers.” He knows of at least six active players who are already in the Senior Softball Hall of Fame. These include men who played long careers in high school, college and the minor leagues. Several, he insists have even played on the major league level.

Intuitively we would all expect the men, long since past their prime, to display an eroded skill set, making the game almost painful, if not comical, to watch. But, according to Scooter, that’s simply not the case. Of the “five tools of baseball”: hit, hit for power, throw, field, and run, only the latter has diminished considerably. Says he, “[Age] slows you up, that’s it. The guys can still field, hit and throw.” To wit, the game is played on the same size field that the young softball studs play on, with 300-foot fences and yet the ball still frequently leaves the yard. Yeah, you got it. Your Uncle Ernest can still swat home runs easier and faster than he can blow out all 78 of his birthday candles.

Impressive? There’s more. Scooter claims that the ballplayers are still improving. He claims that many of them are, unlike mackerel, getting better with age. As for Scooter, he modestly quips, “I’m not that good yet.” But he is not worried. You see, the players are invested in helping each other improve their skills regardless of which team they play for.

Huh? Helping your opponents hone their skills? Would Jeter offer fielding tips to Pedroia? Cliff Lee provide pitching instructions to Barry Zito? Of course not, but the players in the Senior League are not being paid and it’s not all about winning or losing. They are grateful to still be playing a boy’s game generations after they are no longer boys. They congregate after the game on the pitcher’s mound to pray for the guys who aren’t there because they are infirmed and battling, not with the wicked one hopper, but with cancer, Parkinson’s or even dementia. Their passion for the game is eclipsed only by their care for each other, regardless of which uniform they are wearing. For, at this season of the game, these “boys of summer” understand that they are all teammates in the final inning of life.

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