Slow-pitch softball fosters loyal players and fans that span more than three decades.
After reaching a certain age, slow-pitch softball isn’t about wins and losses anymore. And it’s certainly not about winning an $8 t-shirt or trinket trophy.
One of the goals is survival. You don’t want to get hurt, and you don’t want to hurt anybody. But the main reason these guys keep coming back for more – more than the home runs, double plays or league championships – are the friendships made in the process. It’s a process that, in the case of the Schnieders Brothers Excavating (SBE) Parks and Recreation men’s team, spans more than three decades.
Certainly, the relationships built on this softball team have lasted longer than the average marriage. A lot longer. “You go out there with your friends, and it doesn’t really make any difference if you win or lose,” says Ron Schnieders, the unofficial coach of SBE. “It’s still important because the guys you play with are a very competitive breed. But at the end of the evening, we get together and solve all the world’s problems.”
This team is one of a kind. Only four players on the 14-man roster are under 50 years old, and the remaining core of 10 players have – get this – more than 350 years of softball experience. No, really, 350 years. Schnieders, 58, is in his 38th year of play, and he’s considered young compared to the team’s oldest player, Augie Buechter, 62. “He’s unreal, just unreal,” Schnieders says. “He’s an inspiration, he’s kind of our team leader.”
An inspiration indeed as this will be Buechter’s staggering 47th year of playing slow-pitch softball at a high level, and he’s still one of the most effective pitchers around.
“If I couldn’t catch, I wouldn’t be playing because my reactions have slowed down,” says Buechter, speaking about how fast line drives can get back on a pitcher. “But I can still mess people up pretty good, and I’ve always had the ability to get umpires to come over to my side of the equation. I stretch the limits. I try to make it tough for “the batters” and I still love the game and the socializing after the game.”
When these guys were in their 20s and 30s, every player wanted to play every pitch of every inning of every game. Now? Not so much. The substitutions flow free and easy. “That’s why we carry about 14 guys on the roster,” says Schnieders, who, like most guys, started when their baseball “careers” ended. “Everybody plays when they want to, everybody sits when they need to.”
Game in and game out, SBE faces teams full of young guns who must look at the opposing dugout and chuckle. At the end of the game, however, it’s SBE that gets the last laugh the vast majority of the time. “It’s great,” Schnieders says. “Old age and treachery beats youth and skill, sometimes. We just have a bunch of guys who play really good defense. Augie does a great job pitching, and we have enough timely hitting.”
Without question, this team seems to be getting better with age. Last year SBE went 17-0 and won both the summer and fall leagues. And this wasn’t in the senior league. This was in the top competitive league offered by Parks and Rec. How do they remain so competitive, so good and so successful? Well, it’s not the practice-makes-perfect approach since the team has one practice a year, usually in March. They’re also getting a little help from their younger friends and teammates, especially at the most important position on the field. “Our shortstop is Sterling Caley”, Schneiders says. “He’s only 23, and he keeps us in a lot of games. He’s about 6-foot, 4-inches tall, 210 pounds, and he’s an athlete. He plays a lot more mature than his years, and he fits in good with us.”
There’s no substitute for experience. “That’s a definite asset of playing with the same guys for so long,” Schneiders admits. “You know exactly what they’re going to do, and they know exactly where you’re going to be in different situations. There’s something about playing together for such a long time. You’ve seen about every situation you can imagine, so you have an advantage. You’re bound to get lucky after a while.”
The team has won at least 20 league championships through the years, Schnieders says, and they’ve done it as a family, literally. Ron still plays with his brothers, Chris and Mike, while Augie’s son, Jared, doesn’t play anymore due to recent injuries, but he still coaches and “screams at the opposition,” Schnieders says with a laugh. Mark Johnson and his son, Marty, are also key players on the team.
Then there’s the off-the-field family, the “real” family, if you will, folks who’ve been there to support SBE through the years.
“It started with the girlfriends coming to watch the games,” Schnieders says. “Then it graduated to wives, and it wasn’t much longer before it was the wives and the little kids in the stands. Then the kids got bigger, and they became the ball boys and girls. Now all of a sudden, it’s the wives, the children, the grandchildren and grandmas and grandpas. We generally fill two bleachers (at the Binder Complex) with people who come to watch at every game. They’re pretty impressive, and they can sway an umpire. Nobody wants to argue with the women.”
Both are great families to be a part of, on and off the field. Playing the game is one thing, but the social hour(s) after the game are just as important as who wins and loses. “As a group of guys,” Schnieders says, “we take care of each other, we look after each other and we look out after each other’s families. That’s what we’ve got to do.” Even when SBE suffers a rare loss on the field, they still win.