It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful Bayonne setting than Don Ahern Veterans Memorial Stadium. This exquisitely renovated facility is set against the alluring industrial backdrop of Newark Bay with its container cranes seemingly set alight by the setting sun.
This was the scene that greeted me on a perfect spring evening when On the Rocks (OTR) took on the Starting Point Diamonds. It was a bit windy as the powerful Kelela hit fungoes to her Diamonds teammates. But you could tell that a little wind wasn’t going to deter these women.
The phrase “senior women’s softball” conjures images of ladies hitting the sandlot at the local assisted living facility.
These women are seasoned athletes, many of whom have been playing the game for decades. Take Mary Borrella-Cerreta. A Bayonne native, her first team was the Unico Debs. Her father, who was president of Unico, agreed to sponsor the girls, who were students at St. Andrew’s Elementary School.
“I was the youngest of three girls and the closest thing to a son my father had,” Mary says. “My sisters didn’t show any interest at all, but I fell in love with baseball.”
She currently teaches sixth grade at Walter F. Robinson School and has been playing for the On the Rocks team for 24 years. The team is known as OTR because the full name is deemed not appropriate for teachers.
Playing softball is a family affair. Mary’s daughter, Catherine, has played for OTR for 20 years, and Mary’s ex-husband, Michael, coached varsity softball at BHS.
When she was 12, Mary played for the legendary Coach Don Ahearn, who started the Junior Girls League. At the time, girls were not allowed to play Little League with boys. Ahern pitched, and the girls played the field. Ahern said something that influenced Mary’s athletic life: “You’d make a great coach,” he told her. The reason? She’d change his lineups. Her baseball and softball coaching credits would later include Saint Andrew’s, where she coached for 12 years, winning nine city championships, and four CYO county championships; PAL; Little League; Holy Family; and Dr. Walter F. Robinson Elementary School, where she coached the Lady Royals from 1992 to 2014. Two current OTR players coach at Marist and BHS.
Mary loves to talk shop, like the times she intentionally walks a batter to load the bases and set up a force. The pitcher might get pissed but is happy when they get the force. “I’ll be the bad guy,” Mary says.
What is it about softball that keeps adult women coming back each spring?
“You can play it forever, and you don’t even have to be good at it,” Mary says. “It brings a sisterhood to the field. We know when someone is having a baby or a wedding. It’s a wonderful feeling when springtime arrives.”
Women’s softball is also a social activity. The OTR team used to go to the Big Apple after games, but after the Big Apple closed, the team is now happy to join the Starting Point Diamonds at the Starting Point.
“We’re friendly rivals,” Mary says.
You have to be age 15 and a freshman in high school to play, but there is no upper age limit. Girls who were rivals on high school teams are now playing together.
Diamonds are Forever
Laura Ayala is a veteran with the Starting Point Diamonds. An accountant by day, she’s now 54 and has been playing since age 6. She played with Saint Andrew’s, and then when she went to BHS, she jumped right into the varsity, skipping junior varsity altogether. She also played for Jersey City State.
Though she usually pitches, she considers herself a utility player. “I prefer not to catch, but I will if I have to,” she says.
She’s played basketball and was a shot-putter in high school, “but I didn’t care for that.” Softball is her true love.
She pitches fast balls and curve balls on the inside and outside of the plate. “I’m a good jammer and have a good changeup,” she says.
For a pitcher, she’s pretty good at offense, too. “I single every time or walk, depending on who’s pitching. I prefer fast pitch.”
What she really likes is the camaraderie. “I love being around a group of friends, meeting new ones who grew up with the same interests I have. Some teams are aggressive, some play for the fun of it all. At the end of the day we go out to the bar.”
Is it nerve-racking?
“When you’ve played as long as I have you can relax and enjoy it,” Laura says. “Just remember the fundamentals. In a championship game, after the first five pitches, it’s like any other day, just a day in the park.”
Her team has won seven consecutive championships. She won the MVP trophy when she was age 32 and playing for the Positively Fourth Street team.
Bayonne Supervisor of Recreation Pete Amadeo has been on the job for nine years and with the recreation division for 15. “My first assignment on my very first day, I was handed the softball folder,” he recalls. “Enjoy.”
And enjoy they did. Currently, there are five teams in the women’s league: On the Rocks, Starting Point Diamonds, Vamps, Most Wanted, and Fully Loaded. If you’re talking name creativity, Most Wanted and Fully Loaded have it over wussy bird names like the Cardinals and the Blue Jays any day of the week.
“Some games are really intense,” Amadeo says. “The championships draw tremendous crowds. It’s great softball, sometimes with extra innings. But at the end of the day everyone is having fun playing the game they love.”
The season starts in April and ends in June. The six-inning games are played Monday through Thursday. In February, an awards ceremony is held for the teams.
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The Final Score
As for the game on that beautiful evening in early May?
“It was a crazy game,” Laura reports. “We always have at least one chaotic inning when we forget the fundamentals.” She admits to making a coaching error, too, but in a back-and-forth nail-biter they were ahead 16 to 13 at the top of the fifth, and the rest is history.
“It was a slugfest,” Mary confirms. “The Diamonds won 18 to 17 in a two-and-a-half-hour contest.” The teams didn’t get to the Starting Point Bar & Grill until about 9:45. “I had a single and a run scored,” Mary says. “Not bad for a 62-year-old girl!”
Not bad indeed—BLP