“There aren’t many people in their 80s who become World Champs but he’s an ‘old hand’ at it,” says the “Attaway” Award presented last week to coach Joe Stortini from the Tacoma Athletic Commission. The same can be said for his teammates on the Joeseppi’s senior slow-pitch softball team as the longtime friends celebrate the world championship title they won earlier this month at the Senior Softball USA World Master’s Championship in Las Vegas.
Every member of Joeseppi’s team is 80 years old or better, making the win even sweeter for the team that’s been playing together for just about 25 years. During the tournament they scored 123 runs in seven games, batting over .700 and beating California’s championship team in the deciding game by a score of 18-13.
“We kept winning and winning,” Stortini said. “We played against teams from California and Florida that we’ve never beaten before, but we won seven straight. In the seven games we turned 11 double-plays.”
The largest gathering of slow pitch players in the world assembled at the tournament in Vegas. In the 80-and-over bracket, there are 23 teams across the country. The top 13, which included Joeseppi’s, played in Las Vegas.
Stortini said his team’s win makes the players feel like they’re back in high school again. “It’s the same thrill whether you’re 15 or 80.”
This isn’t the first time Joeseppi’s has won the championship. They took the title in 2003 and 2008. “The other years, we’ve been either second or third,” Stortini said. “This (2013) is probably the most rewarding one at the age of 80. We still have that same desire to play, and I have to say we still have that same desire to win as we did when we were teenagers. It doesn’t really change.”
The team received an impressive trophy and equally impressive World Series rings that look like those awarded in the major leagues.
Both the City of Tacoma and Pierce County are expected to issue proclamations, a first for the Joeseppi’s team, acknowledging the honor the players brought home. A banquet will be held at the end of this month to celebrate the team. Special guests will include Mayor Marilyn Strickland and writer/columnist Dorothy Wilhelm will be the keynote speaker.
Stortini said it’s a combination of the team being together for so long and the games they’ve played against guys in their 50s that give Joeseppi’s its winning edge.
“The biggest advantage we have is we play in a league and it’s 55 and older. We’re the 80-year-old team so we’re playing against what I call ‘the young guys,’” Stortini said. Joeseppi’s has a strong league record against “the young guys” at 27-26. “By playing against the younger guys we learned to get the ball in faster and move a little quicker. That’s been really beneficial to us.”
Winning the 2013 world championship means a lot to Stortini personally. In addition to having made the achievement in his 80th year, it is yet another highlight of his long and admirable lifetime of being involved in sports. He played at Lincoln High School (class of 1951) and at University of Puget Sound (class of 1955) and started coaching as well in his early youth.
“I enjoy playing, but I probably enjoy coaching more,” he said, noting with a chuckle that there’s a big difference between coaching his adult teammates and the youth. “I always have a parent who’ll complain about their kid not playing enough, but with our 80 and older (players) I’ve never had a parent complain about their son not playing. In fact, I’ve never had a parent at a game.”
Perhaps Stortini’s most treasured sports memory is his time coaching all-American running back and wide receiver Ahmad Rashād (Bobby Moore), who once wrote a very special message to Stortini.
“The nicest compliment I ever got as a coach was from Ahmad Rashad when he was playing for the Minnesota Vikings. He said, ‘Coach Joe, thank you for teaching me the game of life.’ That was the nicest thing anyone could say.”
Once softball season kicks back into gear in May, the public can see Stortini and his Joeseppi’s team play at their home field at Celebration Park in Federal Way.