By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
Al Boggia asked the question again and again.
"Why did we ever quit?"
When Boggia joined the Youngstown Old-timers baseball team nearly 15 years ago, he was reconnected with a sport he had grown to love.
He knew a 25-year absence from the game was too long, and he yearned to return to the way it used to be.
"I had to go find my glove," he said.
On the horizon: He knew the game was going to be different, and he suspected to find a group of washed-up men with weary games.
"I had the feeling that it was going to be a bunch of old guys out there throwing under-arm or side-arm," said Boggia, 77. "As I approached the field, a ball came sailing over the fence. I thought I was at the wrong field."
Boggia's final steps to the diamond revealed a vision that took him through his past playing days.
"Here's the guys who I played with a number of years ago in Double A," Boggia said. "We all had quit around age 35."
Why did they ever quit?
That question is one Boggia doesn't ask much anymore. He wears the sparkling uniform of the Youngstown Old-timers, whose influence has helped fade the regrets of not playing.
"A lot of these guys quit at a time when it was thought, at 30, 35 years old, you were over the hill," said Boggia, who serves as a coach and pinch-hitter for Youngstown. "Things have changed quite a bit. They rediscovered they can still be active."
That drive is what Youngstown hopes will bring it the 2001 tournament title, which will be contested this weekend at Cene Park in Struthers.
Executing: "They may not get to all the balls they got to when they were younger, but the ones they get to, they still make the plays on," said pitcher Don Christian, 50, a Poland High graduate.
Outfielder Jack Hensley, 51, said, "I found out the guys can still throw, they can still hit, they can still catch."
If there is one part of the game that has been affected by time, it's running.
"Everything else, we do as well as we did in our 30s," said Hensley, a Los Angeles native who moved to Girard.
That includes the competitiveness in which they play. Just ask Christian, who paid the price for hitting a grand slam earlier this season.
In Christian's next at-bat after the grand slam, "the pitcher took two tries to deck me, and he hit me the next time," he said. "They still throw at your head.
"Every guy is so much of a competitor still," he said. "If they were really going to embarrass themselves, they wouldn't be here."
Youngstown coach Ed Winsen still marvels at the players' ability.
"It's unbelievable," he said.
Winsen said the normal reaction to the Old-timers is, "You mean you guys are over 50 years old and doing what you're doing?"
Snickering onlookers quickly become serious once they see the team play, Winsen said.
Unfinished business: Youngstown heads into this weekend's tournament with an 11-4 record and a first-place standing in the American League.
Certainly, Youngstown hasn't forgotten the way last year ended, losing to Penn-Ohio in the tournament title game.
"Momentum is leaning our way, with the acquisition of Don Christian and Jack Hay," said Winsen of the team's first-year pitchers. "Our guys are playing well defensively behind them."
"It's still basically pitching," he said. "If you have the pitching, then you're in great shape. Fortunately, this year we picked up some pitchers who bolstered our staff. We feel we can win the playoffs."
Hensley said, "We're playing more as a team. We have more camaraderie this year, and I think we have a chance to win it all. We have the team to do it."