Pick-up teams are baseline study in friendship

COPAKE–The lives of a diverse group of men have become closely connected because of a pickup softball game played 25 years ago.

The game started out with a few guys just looking for something to do on a Sunday morning. But it has turned into a quarter-century-long tradition upheld by men who have now been part of each other’s lives for generations.

 

Norm Ettenger is a radiologist from White Plains. When he started spending summers in Copake with his family in 1985, he complained to his wife, Vicki, that “there was nothing for me to do.”

He was not a golfer or a tennis player, but he longed to be involved in some kind of sport on the weekends.

He had always liked softball.

When Mrs. Ettenger told her husband to stop complaining and do something about it, a cure for his boredom slid into home plate. Dr. Ettenger ran an advertisement in The Independent, the local newspaper at the time, inviting players to come to a pickup game of softball Sunday mornings at the park throughout the summer. There were and still are no age or skill requirements.

To his surprise and delight, several men showed up, and so began the Copake Sunday Morning Softball Game. Depending on the weekend, (the number of players tends to increase on holiday weekends), the game may draw enough players, sometimes as many as 35, to support the choosing up of four teams and the playing of two separate games. There are no set teams, new teams are chosen every week–July 4 through Labor Day.

Over the years, Dr. Ettenger estimates between 50 and 60 players have come and gone, but a core group of 12 to 15 players have stayed with the game, and a network of 20 to 25 men still remain in touch year-round by email.

Some of the original players, now in their 50s and 60s, like Dr. Ettenger, still play, now alongside their sons and their sons’ friends who are in their 20s. Players are local, year-round residents and weekend residents. They are doctors, lawyers, correction officers, construction workers and songwriters.

Through the years players and their families have been invited to the weddings and graduations of each other’s children; they share tickets to basketball games, news of illness and even death.

Dr. Ettenger said that the softball players came together to raise money for a scholarship fund in the name of Chris Ganz, a Copake teenager who was killed tragically a few years back. Chris and his father were softball players. They also raised money to help one of their own, who was mired in medical bill debt due to the illness of a child. “We were pleased to do that, we felt good about it,” said Dr. Ettenger, adding, “It’s not just about softball anymore.”

Nearly 20 years ago, when one of their regular 10 players was killed in a car accident, the players had a t-shirt made up calling themselves the Copake Nine, to symbolize the absence of their tenth man. “That’s the kind of camaraderie we’ve engendered,” he said.

One player, who was moving out of the area, packed up his belongings in a trailer and on his way out of town drove it onto the ball field as a farewell gesture to the team, said Dr. Ettenger.

This Labor Day weekend, as is their tradition, the players and their families will gather for an end of the season barbecue.

They will socialize like the big extended family they have become, give out an award for the most improved player of the season and then put their mitts and bats in the closet until another summer, their 26th season, rolls around next year.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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