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Still playing

Persing, Thomas have competitive drive to be on the field

Submitted Photo From left, Ron Thomas, 65, and Larry Persing, 73, meet up while playing baseball in the Roy Hobbs World Series in November in Fort Myers, Fla.

Because they can.

Larry Persing’s and Ron Thomas’ passion for baseball has far outlasted their bodies’ ability to handle it.

Through broken ribs, back surgery and cancer, the 73-year-old Persing puts playing baseball ahead of pretty much everything but God and family.

“One may ask why I’m still playing in my 70s,” said Persing. “Just saying, ‘Because I can,’ is not a complete answer for me. I guess I could say the competitive drive is still alive and well. There were 40 teams in the 70s age bracket at Roy Hobbs; so many are playing and still playing at a high level.

“Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter,” said Persing, “even playing with all the aches and pains that go with it. And without seeming arrogant, success at this level is not something someone can give to you. In the 70s, a five-tool player is hard to find; baseball players know what this means. I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t consider this.”

Submitted Photo From left, Toledo manager Paul Saggese awards Warren native Larry Persing Team MVP at the Roy Hobbs World Series in November in Fort Myers, Fla.

Specifically, Persing and Thomas, 65, are talking about playing in the Roy Hobbs World Series.

Every fall, more than 10,000 baseball players (and their families) — on 240 teams — flock to Fort Myers, Florida to play in Roy Hobbs Baseball’s annual World Series. They come to celebrate the great game of baseball, perhaps recapture their youth and engage in two great American pastimes – baseball and capitalism, according to royhobbs.com.

They come for the games and camaraderie, the fun and the competition, the sunshine, green grass and swaying palms of Southwest Florida.

They come to relax, to recreate and even relocate … and they make Roy Hobbs Baseball into an economic powerhouse for the Lee County Business Community on an annual basis.

The players come from near and far. From Tallahassee and Nova Scotia, from Florida’s east coast to the Great Northwest, from Chicago and Boston and towns across the fruited plain you’ve never heard of before. They’ve even come from Canada, Russia, the Ukraine, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Submitted Photo Ron Thomas poses next to a banner at the Roy Hobbs World Series in November in Fort Myers, Fla.

And Persing and Thomas go to win; both being named Team MVP by a vote of their teammates after two weeks of ball.

“I’ll keep playing the game until I’m no longer competitive,” said Thomas. “These travel tourneys provide the opportunity to play within your age group and stay competitive. My wife, Mary Jane, goes to every travel tourney with me and enjoys meeting new friends with the same passion.

“Both weeks I played with the Philadelphia Cutters, a team Larry and I played against in February 2013 in Ft. Myers. I pitched against them and have been playing with them ever since.”

In his ninth year at Roy Hobbs, Thomas still pitches, catches and plays third base for the Cutters in the 49-team 60s Classics. The team played nine games in a week, winning its last five and the ‘A’ Division tourney title.

The next week, Thomas played for them in the 65s Vintage division. The Cutters were 2-4 in the ‘AAA’ division. Thomas pitched two complete games with 11 strikeouts. He had 13 hits in 18 at bats for a .722 average, and was voted team Most Valuable Player.

“I’ve been playing travel ball since 2010 when I went to the Phoenix MSBL World Series with Team New Era from Buffalo,” said Thomas. “Mutual friend Charlie LaDuca from Fredonia got me a spot on the team. Phoenix MSBL led to Legends of Baseball tourney in Cooperstown, and Hobbs World Series in Ft. Myers. I went to all three this year.”

In Fort Myers, Roy Hobbs’ games are played at the same spring training facilities as the major leaguers use.

“I’ve always loved the game since my sandlot days at Lacy Playground on the east side of Warren,” said Thomas. “I played in some form or another all the way through my first year at Penn State Behrend. After college, softball was the only game around, so I played that for 40 years. I rekindled the baseball bug after a nudge from Ted Morrison when I turned 50. (I’ve) been playing with the (Jamestown) Old Timers ever since.”

Thomas and Persing played for Jamestown this summer when they won the National Division of the 50-plus Baseball League based in Ohio.

At one point, doctors told Thomas he needed hip replacement surgery, so he solved that by catching less.

“Had a bout with elbow tendinitis about seven years ago after throwing too may curveballs in Cooperstown to my teammate who was a former catcher for the Russian National Baseball team,” said Thomas. “Laid low for a bit and the issue subsided. Changed from a traditional curveball to a knuckle curve and the issue has never come back.”

Two types of cancer, eight broken vertebrae in his back, broken ribs, four surgeries on his throwing arm and one on his left tearing a tendon swinging a bat, Persing still plays the game.

“Actually from the waist down I’ve never had any surgeries,” said Persing, who played this year for the Nova Scotia Monarchs and Toledo McGuires over two weeks. He had 18 hits (five doubles) and 10 RBIs over 49 at-bats (.462).

He pitched 18 innings with the Monarchs, including a seven-inning, sudden-death 8-7 win over the Youngstown Astros.

He played 106 innings at shortstop when not pitching.

Two weeks from turning 74.

“I was definitely humbled by my teammates voting me MVP of the team,” said Persing. “Let’s say at this late age of mine, and even with all my health issues, I still have the competitive drive to be on the field. My opponents recognize two key positions on the field — the pitcher and the shortshop, and as we shake hands after the game they recognize your play at those positions … and they actually say ‘Nice job short.’ It is a gratifying experience from total strangers.”

This was Persing’s 18th year playing in a tournament named after a character in the book, “The Natural,” by Bernard Malmud, written in 1952, and turned into a Hollywood production in 1984, thrusting the fictional baseball hero Roy Hobbs on the American public. Hobbs is drawn away from baseball at an early age and returns in later life to enjoy and appreciate the game for what it is. The allure has brought back former major leaguers such as Dante Bichette, Bill Lee, Gary Allenson and Ron LeFlore, to name a few.

“Many put on the uniform, and I applaud those who do. They must love the game at this age even if their skills are greatly diminished,” said Persing. “But, for me, just being there in a uniform is not enough; a measure of success must be attained. Baseball can be a stressful and frustrating game. Ask Pete Rose, he made over 10,000 outs in his career. So I plan on going to Hobbs next year, playing every day for two weeks, and coming home with memories of the game that has had a tight grip on me — yep — since my dad tossed me a glove when I was just a kid.”

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