It’s a night like no other for fastpitch softball in Cortland as young and old gathered again for the annual Dick “Fingers” Finn Memorial Old-Timers Classic Wednesday at Meldrim Field.
Mick Lowie ripped a single down the left field line in the bottom of the fifth inning to plate Gene Barnes as the Old-Timers won in walk-off fashion after they rallied with four runs in the bottom of that final frame for a 6-5 victory over a squad of current Cortland Fastpitch All-Stars.
That made a winner of relief pitcher Denny Zech, the gritty mound veteran whose worn uniform was adorned with suspenders, and kept alive an Old-Timers winning streak that has now stretched well into double digits.
It was a night where Gabe Newton received the Roy Teeter MVP Award and Shawn Samson the Ray Spada Pitching MVP Award for their play last season in the Cortland Fastpitch League. Due to personal reasons, neither could attend last night’s festivities.
Cortland Standard sports editor Alan Butler received the Dick Aylesworth Good Guy Award for his 36 years of covering the fastpitch softball and local sports scenes.
Like the players who come back to remember the glory days of Cortland fastpitch softball, Butler remembers it all as well.
“I, too, remember coming to Randall Field to watch fastpitch tournaments being played when the field was tucked into the east end of the football stadium,” Butler said, that fact having been pointed out in pre-game remarks by Old-Timers Classic organizer and former fastpitch first baseman Mike Dexter.
“The outfielders didn’t have to deal with the sun then, like they do here at Meldrim Field. I just remember people like Roy Teeter being such an immense presence in those games, and the quality of play was simply amazing,” he added. “So it’s also amazing that people like Mike Dexter and Jeff Carr and Dick Finn were and are so dedicated towards keeping the sport going here in Cortland.”
“Go figure,” Lowie chuckled after the latest Old-Timers comeback against pitcher Jeff Carr and the other youngsters on the All-Star side. “They let us back into the game. It was a solid hit. I think Jeff thought I might take a couple of pitches because the strike zone was very small at that point. I just thought we were going to win right now and hit the ball well. He threw me a fat one.”
Lowie went 2-for-3 to lead the Old-Timers while former Cortland High coaching buddy Yale Hughes was also 2-for-3 with three runs scored and a stolen base. It was hard to imagine a former Red Dragon and The Tavern player working so well together, but that’s the fun part of this night.
Carr went 2-for-3 with a triple for the All-Stars with Lowie’s son, Mike, pacing the young stars with his 3-for-3 bat. Mike Myers belted a home run for the All-Stars.
While the focus was still remembering Cortland fastpitch softball, there was also an undercurrent about the game’s future. Just a dozen Old-Timers were in attendance and the All-Stars started with nine guys, but finished with 10 which had many wondering if this might be the end of the Old-Timers Classic — and Cortland fastpitch in general with just four teams currently struggling to keep the game alive.“I think the problem with the younger guys is the league is getting smaller,” the 70-year-old Barnes said, a notorious fastpitch slugger in his heyday. “They do only have four teams to select players from. When we were younger, we had teams from everywhere. There are just a lot of guys out there who won’t come have some fun with us. I have noticed though that the Old-Timers who do show up every year, we are getting older.”
Game heroes Lowie and Barnes, Zech, Hughes, Dexter (who paid tribute to the late “Fingers” Finn), Aylesworth, Chris Dewey (who made the defensive play of the game at first), lefty catcher Art Daddario, Dick Braco (who is still a sponsor and part-time player), Kent Finklestein, Bob Thomas, Jim McGuinness and John Hicks were the Old-Timers taking part or watching from the bleachers.
Barnes still has fun coming back to play in this game every year.
“I always loved the game of softball,” he replied. “I like the guys. It’s a great game to play and the guys who use to play are great people. They are fun to be with and we have a good time.”
“There were times when we had 30 guys here,” Lowie said of the Old-Timers. “It was the same for the younger guys too. It’s sad to see that there are so few guys here now. It’s good to see the guys who are here, but it’s sad the numbers are declining in fastball, but they are declining in slowpitch as well. It’s not like it was. In the 1980s there were tournaments every weekend.”
Lowie had been fortunate to play in the Cortland Fastpitch League with his son Mike for the Red Dragon and has gotten to play against him in this game.
“It’s cool being able to do that,” Lowie said. “Of course it means you’ve played a long time, but it is cool to be able to play with your son. It’s more fun to play with him than against him and I was able to do that for a number of years. I’m sure Jeff (Carr) would like to do that.
“It’s good to see guys like Jeff working hard to keep fastpitch going,” he continued. “It would be sad to see it end. It was sad when it ended in Oswego which really was like a mecca of softball when we started. I don’t understand why high school kids who played baseball in high school would not want to play fastpitch softball, assuming they are not playing American Legion ball or something. Any player who pitched in high school, I can’t imagine them not wanting to pitch in fastpitch softball because you can do so much more with the ball. It really is fun and that’s what I enjoyed about fastpitch was pitching. I don’t think I would have stayed in it so long if I wasn’t pitching,”
“It does seem to be diminishing every year, like fastpitch softball in general,” Carr said. “It getting difficult to get the young guys to come play. Not really sure what the cause is, but it’s unfortunate because this is such a great sport. It’s been good to me the last 23 years.
“I have slowed down a bit too,” he added. “I do have kids getting older and being involved with them more. I use to play in 13 tournaments and I’m down to four now. I would like to see a day when I could play with my sons like Yale did with his son and the Lowies did.”