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Locals find ways to stay in the game
Every year around this time, when days get longer and warmer, the baseball fields on Mercer Island get busier. The Parks and Recreation softball leagues kick into high gear, playing once a week until August.
The slo-pitch league features teams of all ages with players from around the area, but one team might have the distinction of playing for the longest. Several members of the Spank Me men’s softball team have played in the league for 20 or more years. The team, named in part for the 1960s band Spanky and Our Gang, also holds the honor of having the oldest player in the league — Michael Levin, the team’s pitcher, is 62.
On any given Thursday night, the team files onto the field — made up in part of members who have played for 10, 15 or 20 years, and a newer generation, including a few sons of original members. This season there are 10 coed teams playing on Tuesdays, six competitive men’s teams playing Wednesdays and eight men’s intermediate teams on Thursdays.
Levin said he has been playing softball in some form for at least the last 35 years.
“I used to play shortstop or second base, but some years ago I realized I needed a unique skill, and I started pitching,” he said. “It’s about trying to make sure you’re not expendable. I’m sure eventually I’ll have to stop playing, but not right now.”
Dallas Otter, another longtime member of the team, said the team started in 1990 — Levin joined the squad about 10 years ago.
“There were fewer braces back then,” said Otter.
The team has played in several championships in the league, winning twice.
“The great thing at the beginning of the season, when all the grass is freshly mowed and fresh chalk is laid, is the sense of being a part of something special. A lot of these guys you don’t see until the season starts, so it’s been almost a year to catch up on,” said Levin.
Some days, like a Thursday evening in late June, the team barely scrapes together enough guys to play. Levin said with summer schedules and family vacations, getting eight on the field can occasionally be tricky.
On that particular night, eight players showed to play against the Shockers. Spank Me jumped to an early lead, thanks to two home runs in their first at-bats by Greg Moll and Derek Baer.
Baer, one of the younger members of the team, started playing two seasons ago. He and friend Ryan Dawson played together in high school. Dawson is one of two father-son duos on the team. He plays with dad Dave Dawson, while Mike Curtiss plays with son, Keven.
“I’ve known a lot of the guys for a while,” said Baer. After the former junior college player hit the homer in the first inning, he had to be careful for any repeat attempts — in this league once one team has hit a home run, they must hit any other home runs toward center field — past the pole in the outfield, otherwise it won’t count.
Against the Shockers, Spank Me was up 11-2 in the fourth inning, but as often happens in slo-pitch, the Shockers scored four in back-to-back innings to make the game 11-10. Three runs by Spank Me and the gang in the sixth gave the team the win, 14-10.
Levin said that’s the way it typically is — you never know on a weekly basis what’s going to happen.
“Our second game was a thriller and we won 8-7, but the next week we got pounded. You never know,” said the pitcher.
While for some of the more senior members of the team, the competitiveness has dulled slightly, Levin said they still enjoy the wins.
“We have a lot of fun,” he said. “People still take it pretty seriously. No one wants to be the one to make an error.”
No matter how the game ends, the team usually winds up finding something to celebrate at the Roanoke afterward.
Spank Me includes: Michael Levin, Josh O’Connor, Rob Weller, Keenan Adams, Ryan Dawson, Dave Dawson, John Besteman, Derek Baer, Bill Deklerk, Ray Cafarelli, Greg Moll, Dick Ehrig, Adam Krumwiede, Steve Adams, Brad Pietila, Mike Curtiss, Keven Curtiss, Jeff Scanlan and Dallas Otter.