Mudville Maniacs become the Comeback Kids - BlueStone Press
August 14, 2022

Mudville Maniacs become the Comeback Kids


There are three illustrious, long-running New York softball games.

One, the Broadway League, has existed since 1955, where casts, crews and staff of Broadway/off-Broadway shows play softball in Central Park. Current teams include people from “Book of Mormon,” “Jagged Little Pill,” “Tina” and other productions.

This past summer, at the 65th East Hampton Artists and Writers softball game, the artists beat the writers and raised big money for charity.

And right here in Marbletown, the Mudville Maniacs, clocking in at over 30 years of consecutive play, had a bit of their own drama: Would they field enough players to continue the game? In 2019 it seemed that the game was out of gas. Then the entire 2020 season was called on account of Covid-19. Facing the bottom of the ninth, they needed divine intervention – fast and furious. They got it!!! A big rally of legendary players came back in force, and new players suddenly discovered the game. But we’ll get to that in a moment …

First a bit of history. The Mudville Maniacs, aka “The Boys (& Girls) of Summer,” have played at the Town of Marbletown’s Tongore field forever. The games start in early spring and usually last until the first snow falls. (Except in 2001, when winter was so mild the game went on for 12 months.) The male and female players – old hippies, hipsters, hell-raisers and artists, electricians, carpenters and lawyers, too – with a few seemingly normal humans thrown in – are legendary. So much so they have their own Hall of Fame for players like John Wonderling and F-Stop Fitzgerald. These players are immortalized on plaques that hang above a handcrafted scoreboard built by longtime player (and sometime soccer-traitor) Alex Wassell. New this year, a bench branded “Mudville Maniacs 2021” was built from black walnut trees milled by former Rosendale judge and team philosopher Bob Vosper.

On a recent September Sunday, the soccer players are already in full warrior mode, flying across the field. They’ve been playing for an hour as the Maniacs start arriving. Currently, Roger Santerre is the keeper of the team’s bats, balls and the all-important scoreboard numbers (“because we never can remember the score”), including the red P (for protests; “it cuts down on the arguments”). Roger is a longtime player, a newly retired operating room nurse with a long braid reaching down his back. One of the most (possibly the only?) chill players, he tosses eight softballs on the grass haphazardly for those who want to warm up something other than their mouths. Roger shows players photos of his mushroom collecting the previous week as gallerist and very longtime player Mark Gruber and Vosper update their medical status. They vie for the most bionic player on the team. Vosper: “I’m vertical, that’s good. What’s not good is when the doctor says you’re not eligible for a clinical trial. I’m not allowed to put my hands above my head.” Someone suggests he move to third base. But he’ll ignore the advice, stay on first, and later has to be helped up when a batter slides in. Gruber has a toe injury from two games ago “Hitting the ball I hyper extended,” he says. “But I did finish the game and now I can’t run, bat or play in the field, other than that I’m fine.” A 20-something player volunteers, “I’ll be designated everything for you, Mark.”

Other players arrive, and David LeVine (movie grip) notes, “Pete Head, former national softball league pitching superstar, Tom Sarantonio, artist supreme and retired professor, Chris Silva, who can get you last-minute tickets to some of the best music performances on the planet, Bennie Talutto, social butterfly of Rosendale who, like all of these guys, has a heart of gold … There are multiple Joe’s (one of which, Old Joe, is sorely missed).”

Newcomer Domenico Bernardo realized recently that he and Vosper grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same Catholic high school. “Every week he tells me what someone posted on Facebook about the old neighborhood,” says Bernardo. “I wish I had found these guys earlier; it reminds me of growing up in Queens.”

Joining the legends are a talented collection of youngbloods who are reviving the game. Some came via Abe Rosenburg, a SUNY New Paltz baseball player who brings his dad, Mark the vet, a father-and-son dynamic duo for the last five years. In August three generations played on the field for the first time when newcomer teen Nathan brought his dad, Scott, and his grandfather to play. Other recruits include former weekenders who have now moved up permanently, including James Harmon, who was “drafted” when he was in a canoe with his wife on the river. Ross London, a former judge and criminal justice lawyer, now retired, shows up with orange cones to delineate the foul line – to cut down on the arguing from last week: “Was that fair or foul?!” In general arguing is kept to a minimum by the use of the aforementioned red P (for protest) on the scoreboard. Ross has played in the distant past, and now he’s moved up and can play every week. “It’s a beautiful game. Competitive. Fair.”

The game that was about to disappear is about to start. “Batter up!”

Ross continues, “Every team has its own mini-culture. Ranging from SOBs to angels. And this game here is definitely on the side of the angels.” Perhaps that’s why the Mudville Maniacs continue. As LeVine says, “ … We find a little simplicity in the busy week to get back to the basics: sunshine, the beautiful outdoors, and the joys of running around, swinging the bat, having some laughs. Making some plays, and plenty of errors. Loving life and each other.”

Join them every Sunday at 10 a.m. No experience necessary.



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