Just as the ballgame was about to begin, the leadoff hitter stepped out of the batter's box, pointed to the shortstop and looked over into the opposing dugout.
"Hey, he can't play in this league!" the batter shouted. "He doesn't have any wrinkles in his legs!"
This is the 10-team North County Senior Softball League, where players must be at least 55 years old, and the umpire sometimes calls the game while sitting in a chair.
Wrinkled legs or no, these are just a few of the 40 million Americans that the Amateur Softball Assn. estimates will play organized softball this year. In North County, there are city leagues designed for every age and level of skill.
Whether it's on a men's, women's, co-ed or senior team, the softball version of the national pastime continues to be discovered as a great way to meet new friends, spend time with old friends or family and even get some exercise.
"It's a tremendous amount of fun," said 64-year-old Bob Connell of the Encinitas Elks of the Senior League. "The friendships we've made are worth their weight in gold."
Fred Wood, 42, is a veteran of Carlsbad and Oceanside men's leagues.
"When I play softball, I can relax and have some fun," said Wood, the head golf pro at the Oceanside Golf Course. "I can enjoy the company of my buddies. I like the camaraderie. We play to win but most of all to have fun."
Lloyd McDaniel is a Super Seniors player who is anxious to begin playing again after a five-way heart bypass operation. "The game is very therapeutic for me," he said.
The Senior Softball League has implemented subtle rule changes designed to protect the players by preventing collisions.
Women playing with men in co-ed leagues are afforded no special considerations.
Kelly Louis, a catcher who plays in co-ed and women's leagues, says there is a greater level of competitiveness on co-ed teams that she prefers.
During an "A" league co-ed playoff encounter between Lamppost Pizza and South Coast Framers, Louis of the Framers fielded a throw from the outfield and put the tag on John Daniels, a hard-playing veteran of men's recreation and tournament action.
Daniels slid hard and clean, upending Louis and knocking the ball from her glove. Daniels was safe and Louis was, for her part, unfazed. "They knock me down sometimes," she said, referring to the players on other teams, "but they're pretty good about it. They ask me if I'm all right."
Softball is not hardball, but there are more similarities between the two than differences.
There are 10 players in softball instead of nine. The ball is larger and, yes, not quite so hard. Softball teams in full uniform are the exception rather than the rule. It is more common for players to wear matching jerseys and generic baseball pants--some teams just wear T-shirts.
But, just as in hardball, pitchers, home run hitters and slick-fielding shortstops are still at a premium.
Softball teams are organized in a variety of ways--among friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. Each team needs a designated manager, but that person can also be a player. Most teams try to keep a roster of 12 or more players and, in order to play, a team must have eight to 10 players show up for a game.
Most of the softball leagues in North County are run by city-sponsored parks and recreation departments. Most of the leagues have two seasons, some have three. It is not unusual for a player to participate in leagues in more than one community, but a player is allowed to play on only one team per league. There are usually eight to 12 games per season.
Registration packets with rules, fee schedules and roster forms are available from the league offices before each season. Deadlines are strictly enforced.
The registration fees vary from one league to another, but they are typically $200 to $300 per team. Sometimes the fee is paid by players chipping in, other times by a team sponsor, such as an employer or business.
The league schedules games, assigns officials, supplies a playing field, scorekeeper and game balls. In many leagues, it's up to the two teams to pay the umpire--usually $7 from each team. The umpire is paid before the game starts--one never knows how hard it might be to collect afterward.
Before the regular season starts, practice or classification games are scheduled so that a recreation department official can match teams with similar skills.
League 1, or "A" league, usually has the more skilled, competitive teams, but often, one man's "A" league is another man's "D" league.
Some team managers balk at the prospect of having their team placed in League 1, where the competition is the toughest--they may prefer to see their squad in a lower league where a championship might be more easily attainable.
More than one shrewd league director has started his or her classifications with League 3 rather than League 1.
The managers aren't fooled for long, though.