Bean bag baseball a big hit with local seniors

Residents at Cascade Inn enjoy the game, whether they're playing or cheering

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Maybe the cheerleaders don't show quite as much leg as they used to, but they sure wave their pompoms and clack their blue clackers with spirit. Maybe the players are slower getting up to the pitcher's line, but Rick Owen is there to cheer them on and then challenge them with his cries of "Hey batter, hey batter."

Maybe 102-year-old Dolly Anders can't play anymore, but she's still recording the scores and calculating the stats. "We take this very seriously," she said, her smile tightening at the suggestion that anybody wouldn't.

There's the windup — and the pitch. The blue bean bag tumbles through the air and plops directly into the "Home run" hole. The crowd erupts in hollers and applause, activity director and team coach Kathi Walko hoots through a big white megaphone, and one gray-haired champion pumps her fist in the air.

Bean bag baseball fever has hit the Cascade Inn, a 186-apartment senior citizen home on Southeast Seventh Street, as well as many other retirement homes in Clark County and throughout the nation. Nobody on hand is exactly sure who got it started and how, but the game has become a popular pastime for residents looking for camaraderie and laughs, exercise and excitement.

"They are competitive. They get a little rowdy. I love it," said director of services Kathryn Merrill. The Cascade Inn once hosted a daylong tournament that drew teams from sister retirement inns and featured special courts, lunches, popcorn and other festivities; sometimes competitions are held at other facilities and even at the Firstenburg Community Center. The National Anthem is always played before the game, of course.

"The biggest thing is social," said executive director Denny Kartchner. "They are with their neighbors and fellow residents, their tablemates and teammates. It's something to look forward to."

It's a lot more than that, actually. The physical and mental activity that comes with stepping up to the line and standing tall, sizing up the approximate 15 foot distance to the tilted target board and pitching that blue bean bag is great for strength, balance and range of motion -- especially for elderly people who need gentle but consistent exercise. If you get on base, you go and sit in the appropriate chair; if you're advanced to the next base, you move to the next seat. If you score a homer, you might celebrate by wiggling your hips in a silly, self-congratulatory samba, the way 76-year-old Richard Welch did. "I love this game," he said.

And that's what really draws folks to bean bag baseball: that spirit of old-fashioned fun. "Part of the reason it's so popular is, this age demographic identifies with baseball more than with any other sport," said Kartchner. "Everybody knows baseball."

The game is open to everyone — women and men, independent or assisted living.

"We have exercise classes, of course," Merrill said. "But we have better turnout for this."

Dolly up!

There are 16 bean bag baseball regulars at the Cascade Inn, said community liaison Claire Howard, but more who participate occasionally. An equal number of residents turn up just to cheer and clack those clackers.

Like Dolly Anders, who said she has been the Cascade Inn's home run queen "four years in a row." She never missed a game, she said, until recent surgery slowed her down.

"I never excelled in anything, especially," Anders said, "but I liked the game and the game liked me. I guess I have good eyes, is all." She's always been a baseball fan, she said, since her three sons all played the game.

"Dolly is my inspiration," bubbled Donna Alderin, 74, who struggled to the pitching line and gave her pal the thumbs-up. "Dolly up!" she announced, and Dolly, seated nearby with her note pad out and her eyes keen, grinned and returned the happy gesture.

"One step at a time. You've got plenty of time," Rick Owen, 58, told Alderin as she got into pitching position. Owen confessed he's always been more of a football fan — "a Seahawks man," he said — but he's among the most enthusiastic players at Cascade Inn, frequently bursting into chants and songs.

"It's a lot more challenging than it looks," he said. "What's the secret? I don't know."

"I never heard of bean bag baseball before this," Alderin said. She said her knees are "bone on bone and hurting all the time. But when I'm playing the game, I forget all about that."