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Softball keeps Canyon Lake seniors young at heart

By Ron Martel  
Contributing Writer 

As a kid, our grandparents would never ever run, slide, or dive after a batted ball. Images of geezers frantically swatting a pinata come to mind. Today, some still think 65- and 70-year-olds are more suited to shuffleboard than softball. But, don’t ever reference those images when speaking to these notable senior athletes. As Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Canyon Lake is home to 11 senior citizens playing year-round elite-level softball. They play weekly recreational games at Big League Dreams in Perris and Diamond Valley Park in Hemet. Then, four to six times a year, they travel out of state, mostly to the Western U.S., to play three or four games in a single day for three straight days. It is not uncommon for them to battle 100-degree heat, 35-degree chill, or 30 mph gusts in tournaments featuring some of the best players in the nation.

On the ballfield, it is not uncommon for these “old dudes” to call each other Denny, Billy, or Robbie, as they did decades ago, or use self-deprecating humor for their teams, such as Weakened Warriors, Advil Knights, or Git-R-Done.

Below, meet these Canyon Lake athletes, ages 62 though 75, who think softball is more than a game, it’s a way of life.

Orlando Lopez played in the Canyon Lake Men’s league for 15 years before joining senior softball a decade ago. Photo provided by Ron Martel.

Orlando Lopez played in the Canyon Lake Men’s league for 15 years before joining senior softball 10 years ago. He is thrilled to be playing again with his longtime Canyon Lake friend, Clay Lilley. 

Orlando has torn his Achilles, meniscus, and rotator cuff, but has managed to win a couple of All-Tournament awards. Most memorably, his team won the Winter World Championships with fellow Canyon Lakers Kent Skidmore, Larry Hixon, and Ron Martel.

Orlando has resided in Canyon Lake for more than three decades. He and his wife, Ann, enjoy the varied community activities and participated in several clubs, including Orlando serving on the board of the Canyon Lake Fine Arts Guild. Orlando retired from a long and successful career in law enforcement.

Having played senior softball for more than 20 years, Dennis McCoy is known as the “Dean” of the group. Photo provided by Dennis McCoy.

Dennis McCoy is the “Dean” of this group, having played senior softball for more than 20 years. 

Dennis has suffered various injuries, including a torn rotator cuff and broken ribs, but his teams have won four World Championships and Dennis was named MVP in his very first National Championship. During one streak, his team won an astonishing 20 of 21 major interstate tournaments.

While most players are thrilled to win even one championship ring (winning a major tournament or being selected “All-Tournament Player”), Dennis has earned two dozen rings. The awards are meaningful, but Dennis plays primarily for camaraderie.

When not playing softball, Dennis displays his 1940 Ford Woody at the Canyon Lake Car Club shows. Before retirement, Dennis was a battalion chief with Orange County Fire Department.

Before joining senior softball seven years ago, Kent Skidmore played softball for more than 40 years. Photo provided by Ron Martel.

Kent Skidmore played softball for more than 40 years before joining senior softball seven years ago. 

Kent plays in two senior leagues, Perris and Hemet, as well as a tournament team. Kent especially enjoyed playing on a team where almost half the senior players were from Canyon Lake. 

Kent has been awarded 14 rings, but his goal is to win the World Masters Championship.  

Kent plays more than 150 games per year, but his favorite events in Canyon Lake are Fiesta Days and the July 4th fireworks, where he and his wife Shari enjoy watching the community come together. In addition, Kent enjoys performing as a singer with the Canyon Lake Choraleers.

Glenn Stevenson has been selected “All-Tournament” about 10 times. Photo provided by Ron Martel.

Glenn Stevenson has been with senior softball for 15 years. He enjoys competing in his own age group and has been selected “All-Tournament” about 10 times. 

Glenn’s most memorable feat was his team winning the World Masters Championship in Las Vegas, where he hit two grand slam home runs and was named MVP.

Glenn, who has somehow escaped significant injury, enjoys getting together with the other Canyon Lake seniors for batting practice at Gault Field. 

When not playing softball, Glenn is a computer science professor and department chair at Mt. San Jacinto College.  

Steve Jankowski has been playing senior softball for 15 years. Photo provided by Ron Martel.

Steve Jankowski has been playing senior softball for 15 years. He loves competing but mostly just having fun. 

Steve had a successful hip replacement prior to joining senior softball. His most cherished memory was hitting three home runs (over the 300’ fence) in one game as well as winning last year’s World Masters Championship.

With the great concerts, restaurants, and golf course, Steve and his wife, Karen, think Canyon Lake is the only place to live. They especially enjoy the many parks and children’s activities for their grandkids. 

Steve was a police officer for the City of Garden Grove prior to retiring from teaching high school six years ago,

Larry Hixon hit five home runs and was named MVP at the World Masters Tournament. Photo provided by Ron Martel.

Larry Hixon has been playing senior softball for eight years. He has won his share of awards and tournaments, but his most memorable was hitting five home runs and 27 RBI at the World Masters Tournament, where he was named MVP. Yet, Larry is quick to remind himself that he, like everyone else, has also had less stellar performances.

Larry had played mostly injury free until tearing a meniscus in one knee and then the other, requiring him to wear protective knee braces. 

When not playing softball, Larry umpires senior softball games. 

Larry is a longtime Canyon Lake resident, where he and his wife, Denise, enjoy the many events, especially playing on Canyon Lake’s own golf course.

Before playing senior softball, Clay Lilley stopped playing for 15 years due to an ACL transplant. Photo provided by Ron Martel.

Clay Lilley played in the Canyon Lake Men’s League for several years, where he met many of his current friends. 

After an ACL transplant, Clay stopped playing for 15 years before Orlando “tricked” him into playing senior softball. Upon returning, Clay pulled virtually every muscle in his body getting back into shape but has now been playing productively for five years.

Clay’s teams have won a number of tournaments. He believes that just stepping onto the diamond each day is a great time with good friends. Clay enjoys how everyone supports each other and is so understanding during “senior moments.” Clay probably says it best, “This is a Field of Dreams for old guys.”

Bill Daily has been playing senior softball for nine years. His girlfriend also plays on a traveling senior softball team, so they can better appreciate each other’s passions and interests. One of Bill’s most memorable events was getting back on the field and hitting his first home run since he was 12 years old.

Bill has suffered several injuries, including a broken finger, but once, while playing shortstop, fielded a wicked hop that struck him in the face; felt like he was sucker-punched. 

Bill loves the serenity behind the Canyon Lake gates, but also the many activities, while he has most recently discovered pickleball. Off the field, Bill is an engineer, designing oil pumps for racing engines.

Rob Robertson and fellow Canyon Laker Larry Trudeau have played baseball together since they were 10 years old. Photo provided by Ron Martel.

Rob Robertson has been playing senior ball since he was 50, but took off five years due mostly to injury. He and Larry Trudeau have played baseball together since they were 10 years old. 

The sport is fun and competitive for Rob, but to him, it’s not about the awards, he just loves hanging with the guys and laughing about the “stupid stuff” they do.

Rob has had three knee surgeries. He also had shoulder surgery while the other was being scheduled. 

Rob loves Canyon Lake, especially the golf course. He also participates in nearby ocean and desert activities. His only advice is, if you like your sunroof, don’t park too close when Larry Hixon is batting, lol. Rob is proud to play with the guys in his community.   

Ron Martel earned the Senior Softball USA Sportsmanship Award and was named MVP at the World Masters Championship. Photo provided by Ron Martel.

Ron Martel stopped playing softball in his mid-20s, so when he started again 30 years later, he suffered numerous muscle pulls.

In his 15 years since then, Ron earned a half dozen “All-Tournaments,” the Senior Softball USA Sportsmanship Award, and a World Masters Championship, where he was named MVP. Ron also competed in four Tournament of Champions in Florida.

When Ron broke some ribs in a Phoenix tournament, he was unexpectedly helped off the field by two players from the opposing team saying, “We got you, Ronnie.”

Ron is a retired IBM sales executive, past president of the Canyon Lake Fine Arts Guild, and 2017 Canyon Lake Citizen of the Year. He and his wife, Leigh, wrote The Friday Flyer movie reviews for 16 years, but they recently moved to nearby Murrieta. 

Larry Trudeau has now been playing senior softball for a dozen years. He enjoys competing with his own age group and level of competition but mostly looks forward to laughing with the guys, downing a post-game beer, and just enjoying life. Larry experiences the aches and pains that age brings, but is fortunate to not have suffered a major injury.

Larry breathes a sigh of relief each time he enters the gates of Canyon Lake. It gives him a sense and feeling of resort living. He loves golf and fishing with his buddies and always manages to have fun at the lake, feeling that life is good.

In conclusion, hopefully, nobody has been overlooked, but the players wanted to mention Steve Miller, Sy Overturf, and Don Barber, who we lost over the last few years. It should be noted that Don played into his late 80s and a few local players have played into their 90s.

Because tournament teams are divided into age groups and competitive levels, almost all of these players are on different tournament teams. However, all 11 are eager to play together for the first time ever as a Canyon Lake team in the SoCal Senior Softball Association Spring Challenge on May 6 and 7 at Diamond Valley Park in Hemet. More information to follow.  

Senior softball can be extremely competitive, so each of these guys pushes their aging bodies to the limit. They enjoy sharing a bond with fellow players; their trusted friends. They play to win, but mostly play to laugh and have fun. Where younger athletes too often view their opponents as mortal enemies, seniors tend to greet their opposition with open arms, laugh at and with each other, and support all players on and off the field. They won’t stop playing because they’re too old; they might get old if they stop playing.

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