The timeless game: Senior citizens thriving in competitive baseball

Delran’s Bill Curzie, 84, and his fellow senior citizen friends continue to play in an organized baseball league. They’ll look to defend a national title this fall.

Bill Curzie, 84, continues to play in a competitive senior baseball league throughout the spring and summer, along with his buddies Steve Elliott (left) and Tommy Faherty (right). “Every time I go up to the plate,” he said, “I work with my guardian angel.” (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

In October of ‘46, an 11-year-old boy in Riverside cozied up next to the family radio and feasted his ears on the program of the night: a World Series game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox. 

He was enthralled with the action. He kept his own makeshift scorecard for the game.

“(Red) Schoendienst, (Marty) Marion, (Enos) Slaughter, (Stan) Musial, boom boom boom,” Bill Curzie said. “What a team. And I’m writing them down. And so I stayed with them. A couple of years ago Bob Costas said on TV, whatever team you rooted for at 11 years old is probably the team you’ll stay with.”

The Cardinals went on to win their third World Series title in five years that fall. Curzie, now a longtime Delran resident, hasn’t just stuck by the beloved team of his boyhood. 

The 84-year-old puts on their uniform every Sunday throughout the spring, summer and fall and makes a pilgrimage south to Florida to rub shoulders with guys like Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith during the winter, too.

Curzie isn’t just a baseball aficionado. He’s a baseball player. 

Curzie founded the South Jersey Men’s Senior Baseball League in 1992, when he was 57 years old. More than a quarter century later, Curzie continues to play for the Delran Cardinals in the 65+ age division in the John A. DeBenedictis League, an eight-team league with games running from late April through early October. 

Curzie also forms a collection of his pals from across the country for the 75+ Jersey Cardinals team that competes in the Roy Hobbs World Series in Ft. Myers, Florida, each November. His Cards were crowned champs in 2018 when they beat the New England Red Sox. 

How the heck does Curzie, who will turn 85 two weeks after Christmas, continue to play?

“Like the famous ad they have on baseball now, ‘I just want to play,’” Curzie said of the wooden bat leagues he helped form three decades ago and continues to participate in. “That’s what baseball fans do. ‘I just want to play ball.’ That’s what baseball fans do.”

When Curzie joins his fellow Cardinals fans at Fantasy Camp in the winter, he’s greeted by the teams’ greats affectionately as “Jersey Curzie.”

“‘Hey Jersey!’” Curzie said, mimicking them. “It’s a lot of fun. When I get down there these guys say, ‘You’re incredible, you’re my hero.’ And I’m like, what do you mean, some of you are Hall of Famers? ‘But you’re 84! Will I still be able to get out here at 80? Can I come out at your age?’ 

“They’ll ask, ‘What’s your diet, what do you eat?!’ And I say, make sure you have a glass of red wine before you go to bed at night.”

Curzie laughed.

“I try to stay with a Mediterranean diet mostly,” he said. “Fish 90 percent (of the time). Very little meat. Vegetables. My wife makes salad. But I do have a thing for ice cream, which she’s trying to get me off of. But I say I gotta have my ice cream!”

Curzie laughed again. He also tries to go to the gym a couple times a week to stay in shape.

Curzie also gets together every Wednesday with players from around the JADBL for a weekly practice, usually held at Delran Community Park. On a recent, steamy August afternoon, longtime friends Tommy Faherty and Steve Elliott joined Curzie for a midweek baseball workout.

Faherty is 75 and Elliott will celebrate his own 75th birthday in September.

“The friendships, the guys,” Elliott said of why he still comes out to play. “I’ve been with these guys since the late ‘80s.” 

“I’ll tell you something about this guy,” Faherty interjected. “He only has one eye, he got his eye shot out by a BB as a kid. And he was my catcher for years. And he went 15-for-15 one time. Hitting. I mean, I don’t care where you are, that’s a phenomenal streak. I call him the one-eye cat peeking into the seafood store.”

The group let out a collective belly laugh.

“I enjoy organizing and running the game,” said Robbinsville resident Faherty, a player-manager for the New Jersey Wonderboys. “But if the Lord says you’re 83 or 84 or whatever and I’m going to allow you to keep playing baseball then you should be thankful. It’s a gift. … Baseball is like life. It teaches you to be able to get through the slumps and the good times. It’s a life lesson.”

The Delran Cardinals and New Jersey Wonderboys will meet for the second time this season this coming Sunday (Aug. 25) in Vincentown. Curzie’s Cardinals are unbeaten since July 14. He went 2-for-3 in a game against the Plymouth Braves earlier this month.

The league’s playoffs are a little more than a month away, followed by the trip to defend their 75+ championship in Florida after Halloween. 

Curzie and his pals have no intentions of slowing down.

“Every time I go up to the plate, I work with my guardian angel,” Curzie said. “I thank God every day. Probably a few times.”