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Softball and suspenders: Amish play ball in Florida

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

The procession of 3 wheel bicycles rolled down 17th Street before turning right into the 17th Street Softball complex.

Once inside the drivers, either women wearing long skirts or men in long pants, shirts and suspenders, parked their bikes against a side fence, a metal barrier nearly obscured by them.

Only the Tour de France features more bikes. The number would have made envious the owner of Sarasota Cyclery.

The men and women, several speaking Pennsylvania Dutch, walked the sidewalk to field No. 2 and the scene to what has become an annual skirmish, the weapons of choice a softball bat and softball.

And, no, the Amish teams didn’t make their own bats.

At the pitch of battle on Wednesday between members of the Sarasota Senior Softball League and those from Amish communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania, a crowd estimated at 250 packed the two sets of bleachers surrounding the field, the area behind home plate and down both the left- and right-field lines.

It started last year, the softball game between our area’s senior players and Amish snowbirds in their 50’s and 60’s who spend weeks and sometimes months vacationing in and around Sarasota’s Pinecraft community.

“We had 19 buses come down from Lancaster (Penn.) before Christmas in one day,” said Mlse Stoltzfus, watching the game from the aluminum bleachers.

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For this year’s game the Amish from Ohio and Pennsylvania contacted Manny Mullett, a Sarasotan and former member of the Amish community, to organize it.

In turn the 82-year-old Mullett reached out to SSSL president Jack Zimmerman, who said members of the local Amish community often attend the seniors’ games.

“They are big fans and they come to watch us play,” Zimmerman said.

“A lot of them used to play softball when they were younger,” said Mullett, who was born in Ohio.

“Usually when you get married, you quit (playing),” said Amos Fisher, the manager of the team from Pennsylvania. “But down here it’s like an old-timer’s game.”

“I used to play softball in school,” said Mary Troyer, born in Ohio and watching the game with her husband Ben. “Recess and play ball. Then when you meet the Savior and you meet Christ, you get a different view, but you still enjoy the game.”

Said Mullett, “Most of them went to schools that didn’t have gyms. All they do is play volleyball and softball.”

Mullett was asked why he’s no longer a member of the local Amish community.

“I got a car. I left the horse and buggy and got a car.”

Both the teams from Pennsylvania and Ohio were organized through word of mouth. “We didn’t know who was going to show up this morning, actually,” said Dave Hershberger, manager of the club from Ohio. “We just put it together.”

The Amish team from Pennsylvania didn’t practice prior to Wednesday’s game. They even had to borrow gloves from their hosts.

“We’re going to get our act together next year,” said Fisher.

Play started at 9 a.m. and didn’t finish until about 12:30 p.m. In the first 7-inning game the Sarasota seniors lost to Ohio 22-16. Several of the Amish players, all in suspenders, rolled-up long-sleeve shirts, long pants and work shoes, could play.

On one hard-hit one-hopper the team’s second baseman dove to his right, snared the ball and flipped to his shortstop for a force out.

“I think you guys are tired from running the bases,” Zimmerman told the Amish fans seated near the Sarasota dugout.

Our local seniors rallied in the second game to beat the team from Pennsylvania 24-11. Afterward players from both teams formed lines to shake hands.

“It’s a blast,” said Amos Beiler.

Soon, 17th Street was, once again, teeming with 3 wheel bikes.

This story originally published to heraldtribune.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.