Rick Trenary has played ball since he was 4, taking line drives in the eye playing with kids three times his age. Dave Hofmann grew up playing in the streets of Baltimore, played college ball, and then returned to play softball in his 50s when his three kids were grown.
The two were forces on the Stokes Toyota of Hilton Head team in the Beaufort County Parks and Recreation adult softball bronze league for years. But in 2020, Trenary now found himself playing with and against kids three times younger than him.
“We had a core of older players but most of our players’ kids were now playing on the team,” said Trenary, who, along with Hofmann, had been relegated to coaching and utility roles. “It was time for a change, time to play against players our own age.”
The two got together with fellow late-sexagenarian softball mates Jim Lorenz and Doug Newton to form Senior Softball Beaufort, a league for seniors across Beaufort County and beyond.
Many in the Lowcountry might have thought this existed already, and it did, in a way – a senior league thrives inside the gates at Sun City, and is for residents only.
The idea was that there were plenty more players beyond the retirement community looking to stay active and keep playing the game they love. Newton did research and found that Charlotte had a 500-player league, with Charleston boasting 200 players and Greenville close to 100.
So, the crew put together a board of directors and started promoting the concept to gated community homeowner associations and through local media such as the Bluffton Sun and Hilton Head Sun. Hofmann, Trenary and Newton had a gentleman’s bet on how many would show up March 15 for their first open tryout and workout.
“I had 30, Doug said 45 and Dave was really optimistic. He said 60 or 70,” Trenary said. The turnout was even higher, with 90 players showing up for that first practice.
“That’s when I knew we were on to something,” Hofmann said. “You hope for the best, but it was so encouraging to see that we weren’t alone, that there were plenty of seniors just like us not ready to hang up the cleats.”
Initially hoping for a four-team inaugural season, the league started with six teams when play began April 20 at Hilton Head Island’s Barker Field, the infamous home of decades worth of Lowcountry adult softball.
“The ghosts are calling for pop flies there. A lot of great memories and it’s exciting to make new ones,” Trenary said.
Hofmann and Trenary are quick to point out that there are many heroes behind this new league launch. Lissa Klipp secured four of the league’s six sponsors that have allowed officials to ask for just a $35 per player entry fee.
Sadly, the old adult county Stokes team disbanded without the core elders to guide it, but Stokes joined on as a founding sponsor for the new senior league.
The members of the powerhouse Stokes crew were spread out over three teams to try to inspire competitive balance. But alas, the Stokes Toyota team was atop the standings at 5-1 alongside the Howell-Chase Heating & AC crew through May 12 games.
Newton built the league website, seniorsoftballbeaufort.com, and Suzi Huisman has helped expand and maintain the site.
Island Rec Center recreation director Bob Rozek helped spread the word in the center’s newsletter. And they received county support from Parks and Recreation director Shannon Loper and deputy directors Justin Petock and Evan Christian.
The last name holds special meaning to Trenary.
“Evan was one of my baseball sons, my boys,” he said of Christian, who he coached from youth ball through American Legion on the island. “It’s incredible for it to come full circle like that.”
The league socializes at North End Pour House after games, one of the founding team sponsors. “The socializing is just as good as keeping in shape and keeping the bat swinging,” Hofmann said.
The initial season got off to a rousing start, with a highly competitive first two weeks of play. But the injury bug soon spread throughout the league, as players who hadn’t played in years or may have sat the bench in the county all-adult league were now trying to play regularly.
“We built a database of about 170 players and we called on many beyond the initial 90 to come in and fill injury spots,” Hofmann said. “Now, we’re encouraging everyone to be competitive but play smart and within what your body will allow.”
Trenary said seeing players older than him going out and smacking long drives has been a constant inspiration.
“You see a 74-year-old leg out a seeing-eye single and you tell me that doesn’t put a smile on your face,” he said. “We have an 88-year-old out there. Man, I want to be playing when I’m 88.”
The league has tailored rules to help ensure player longevity. Every player that shows up will play at least three innings, there are unlimited pinch runners allowed and an auxiliary home plate and first base to help prevent collisions at home and sprained ankles at first.
Trenary said the league is currently made up of about 45 percent Hilton Head players, 35 percent from Bluffton and the other 20 percent from Beaufort, Hardeeville and beyond.
The spring season ends May 26. An informal series of pickup games and workouts is planned for the summer, with another season set for the fall.
“The fall is prime time – that’s when most seniors like the weather and want to be out there,” Trenary said. He and Hofmann said that interest has been so strong that the only thing holding back further expansion might be field availability.
“We likely could go to eight teams in the fall and we’re working with the county on other field options,” Hofmann said. “The demand is there. This age group population is exploding here, and most of us grew up loving baseball.”
Hofmann is more of a recent transplant compared to Trenary, who has been playing softball on the island since he moved here 42 years ago.
“Ron Costello, he had a thriving adult league going back in the day. He was a legend in so many ways, but he kept that love alive for so many of us,” Trenary said. “We want to be that force for good and for laughs and high fives among the senior crowd.”
Officials know it was natural for the long-established Sun City softballers to feel like the newcomers were encroaching on their turf. Hofmann said SSB has players from Sun City, and he hopes their presence and spreading the word will build goodwill between the two leagues.
“Hey, we’d play if we were in there. They have great players and teams, for sure. We’re all in this for the same end goal: to have fun and stay active,” Hofmann said.
Trenary couldn’t help but stoke the competitive fires a bit. He envisions a growing league with six teams apiece in Hilton Head, Bluffton and Beaufort, competition divisions and promotion between divisions. And he would love to play a season-ending World Series against the Sun City champion.
“How fun would that be? Man, that would be the ultimate. Putting the titles on the line in the interest of camaraderie,” he said. “We’re proud of what we started here, and so excited for the future.
The league is always looking for new players, managers and behind-the-scenes organizational support. Register on the league website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at email@example.com.