They came to Cherokee County for many different reasons, but many have become friends for just one — the Cherokee Senior Softball Association.
The CSSA, which is currently holding tryouts for its upcoming fall season, is more than 400 members strong. Paul Knotts, vice commissioner of the league, said what makes the group special is that it’s comprised of players from so many different walks of life, but find common ground on the diamond.
“We have some guys who have played all their lives,” Knotts said. “There are others that quit when they were younger when they started families but have returned to the game, and then those that didn’t pick up the game until they were older.”
The CSSA, which was founded in the early 1990s, plays spring and fall seasons for players 50 and over.
Maurice Brosio, Ferrell Sparks and Les Taylor represent some of the league’s most veteran players — not only in terms of age, but in how long they have been a part of the league.
Brosio, who celebrated his 81st birthday a few days ago, has been a part of the CSSA for the last 15 years. Prior to that, he was a part of other leagues, and even played some travel ball, but there’s something special about the senior association.
“I’m very pleased playing at Hobgood Park,” Brosio said. “It’s well-organized and they have a draft procedure so you don’t get one team that has played together for 10 years and sucked up all the top players. It keeps the level of play even. I like the fact that, in the morning leagues, they are mostly retired guys.”
Brosio grew up playing football in San Francisco. It wasn’t that he didn’t like baseball — there just weren’t many opportunities to play the game.
“In the ’40s and ’50s, San Francisco wasn’t a good place for baseball,” Brosio said. “There was no organization. For more kids growing up, you either played in the street or on the asphalt. They would paint the basepaths on the asphalt and you would play with a rubber ball. After about 20 innings, that ball was like a marshmallow. After a few innings, you didn’t even need a glove. That was it. We didn’t know any better. I didn’t really see grass softball games until I came to Georgia and I was almost 40 years old.”
When Brosio transferred to Georgia as an employee of Lockheed Martin, he joined a departmental softball team.
“I stepped right in as soon as I got off the airplane,” Brosio said. “We had regular umpired games with record-keeping and all that at Lockheed. I played there for about three years, and then I got involved with church leagues.”
That’s when Brosio got involved with fast-pitch leagues. He was a part of various teams that traveled to mill towns to compete.
As he got older, he returned to his slow-pitch roots, although many of them were traveling teams. Somewhere along the way, Brosio moved to Waleska and that’s when his involvement with the CSSA began.
“Now, that’s the only league I play in,” Brosio said. “I play on Wednesday nights. For years, I played on Monday morning, and I would love to get back to that league because it’s really fun.”
In the most recent spring season, Brosio was a part of the Legacy League. He played mostly first base, having moved in from the outfield.
“In my younger days, I played shortstop or third or outfield, but my arm is limited in how far I can throw the ball with any degree or speed,” Brosio said. “I just like team sports. I really love them. I told my wife four years ago that I am going to play until I’m too old. I just love it. I really do.”
Sparks has been playing with the CSSA for nearly 20 years. The 80-year-old has played ball ever since he was in high school.
“I’ve always been active in sports,” Sparks said. “I was pretty good at baseball, and when I retired, this (league) became available and I joined. I have been there ever since. It was just formulated and I was one of the first.”
Sparks served on the board of directors early on, but in recent years, he has just been a player. Currently, he competes in the masters division.
During 10 games in the spring season, Sparks batted .600 with seven runs scored, a double, two triples and 14 RBIs.
Sparks admitted that, over the last several seasons, he’s entered each new campaign saying that it would be his last — not because he’s slowing down, but because other parts of his life are picking up. Sparks and his wife are raising two children, ages 11 and 13, which is taking up an increasing about of his time.
“I’ve been thinking it was my last year for the last four of five years, but when the time comes, I give it a try and have been able to stick with it,” he said. “For someone my age, raising children takes a lot of energy and time, but so far, I have been able to work both of them together.”
Sparks, who plays third base, says he still has a good enough arm, even if it isn’t as strong as it was when he was younger.
“My arm has pretty well stayed with me,” he said. “Of course, it doesn’t have the velocity, but the players don’t run as fast anymore.”
Sparks was a runner before he took up softball.
Sparks is not only active in the CSSA, but in two other traveling teams. He’s playing in the National Senior Games in Ohio next week and in the Senior Softball-USA National Tournament in Las Vegas later in the year. His team, which is based in Florida and competes in Las Vegas annually, is the three-time defending champion of the event.
“I’ve seen a lot of leagues around the country when I travel to play and Cherokee County has one of the best leagues in the country. I am sure,” Sparks said. “There are so many participants, and it is so well-managed and so well-organized. I think that it is one of the best in the country.”
Taylor retired to Cherokee County from Brooklyn in 1995.
“I saw a sign a Kroger that said ‘ball players needed,’” Taylor said. “I went there and starting playing. That was the year they started playing and I was right there when it started.”
Taylor, now 80, has kept up with the game ever since.
Before his retirement, he was the director of a senior citizens center. He said that he has seen plenty of senior softball leagues, but nothing like the CSSA.
“I like the camaraderieship,” Taylor said. “I’ve always liked sports.”
Currently, Taylor manages a team and plays catcher, but his favorite part of the game is batting.
During the spring season in the Monday morning Legends League, he hit .375 with five RBIs and five runs scored in 10 games.
In his younger days, Taylor was quite good. He played baseball in high school and during his freshman year at Bloomfield College in New Jersey.
“I played plenty of ball in New York,” Taylor said. “I’ve never really stopped playing ball. I worked for the New York Department of Social Services and played in their league. I’ve always loved the game.”
At times, Taylor has served on the CSSA board of directors and managed a couple of teams at one time. Taylor said that one of the great things about the association is that there are so many different was to get involved.
“A lot of people stop playing when they are very young because they have children and that sort,” Taylor said. “Once they retire, they have plenty of time to come back to the game, and there are different levels in the CSSA, so there is a place for them. You don’t have to be a superstar to come out and play. A person of average ability can come out and be a part of a team.”
More information about the CSSA is available at www.cssasoftball.com. The fall season begins Aug. 12 and tryouts are ongoing.