The Battered Boichiks of Softball: Competitive Camaraderie since 1945

Every spring and summer, the Mayerson Jewish Community Center facilitates one of its longest-running programs: the men’s softball league – started in 1945. Players – ranging in age from late teens to late 70s – have been coming back for decades for a cornerstone of the Cincinnati Jewish community.

“It feels like I’m coming to the weekly fraternity get-together with my buddies to play softball,” said Rick Lefton. “I’ve been a JCC softball player since my rookie year, 1983, which means this is my 40th season; I have not done anything [else] for 40 years…I didn’t meet my wife until 1984.”

Every Wednesday night members gather at Triple Creek Park where they fill all four of the park’s baseball fields for league play. Players’ families often come to fill the stands, bringing an age range as wide as the players themselves – with a few four-legged spectators joining in as well. 

“I started when we still played at the Roselawn JCC, we had one field with lights at the time, we thought it was the greatest thing,” Lefton said. “I like this setup even better because all the teams are playing at the same time.”

Unlike traditional softball leagues where players sign up with pre-established teams, the JCC Men’s Fastpitch Softball League takes a different approach. Here, players register individually and then undergo a draft process, allowing them to experience playing with and against different teammates over the years.

“The camaraderie in this league is like no other,” Lefton said. “After playing in this league a couple years you’ve literally played with everybody.”

The social fabric of the league plays a crucial role in its enduring appeal. Most of the players chose to join the league as a way to meet people and connect with the community. 

“My wife works for the federation and had heard great things [about the league] and we were new to town, and it seemed [to me] like a great way to meet people and stay active,” said Landon Krantz, who is playing his first year in the league. “I’m glad she told me to do it, it’s a perfect balance: friendly but still competitive.”

One of the league’s unique characteristics is the broad range of ages represented among its players. The majority of players fall within the early-30s to mid-40s. But with a significant number of individuals returning season after season, there are players in their 70s who continue to play hard every week.

As with all adult sports, the combination of age and gap between perceived ability and current ability begins to widen and some injuries occur. Luckily, injuries beyond the superficial hamstring pull seem to be uncommon in the league. 

“Yeah I’ve got a couple of injuries, but the goal is to play forever,” said Stuart Solomon who has played in the league for 10 years.

The fraternal aspect of the league is what leads to the highly competitive but friendly nature of the league. 

“I enjoy bullshitting, you know, yelling at people on the other fields, I like the competitive camaraderie,” Solomon said.   

Brad Wagner, who has been playing in the league for 20 years, agreed. “I love playing against these guys, even the umps are sometimes just as entertaining as the game,” he said. “Sometimes we joke they make major league calls but have minor league brains.” 

Playing with family members is also a large part of the draw for the league. On more than one team there are brothers, in-laws, and cousins all playing together.  

“I don’t know if it’s an unspoken rule [during the draft], but with siblings and in-laws they can all be on the same team so the captains know to let them stick together,” said Stephanie Ganson, who was in attendance to watch her husband, Phil Ganson, who has been playing in the league for seven years. 

Now that the league is at Triple Creek the games take place simultaneously. But this often leads to a treacherous aspect for spectators and players, who have to keep an eye out for foul balls because three of the four fields butt up against each other. 

“You know you’ve got to keep your head on a swivel sometimes,” said Zach Zakem. 

Besides the odd errant fly ball, things are running smoothly for the league. Players enjoy the competition and camaraderie – whether they win or lose. 

“It’s a healthy amount of competition, guys are passionate and there is friendly trash talk across fields sometimes but…it never goes overboard because at the end of the day, everyone knows what it’s about and it never carries off the field,” said Zach Zakem.