CHAPEL HILL — The older you get, the better you were.
That’s a running joke on the United States senior softball circuit, where injuries come and linger in bunches, the legs you swore …
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CHAPEL HILL — The older you get, the better you were.
That’s a running joke on the United States senior softball circuit, where injuries come and linger in bunches, the legs you swore wouldn’t give out on you do so quite rapidly and the home runs you’re hitting at age 60 are lucky to even sniff the warning track 10 years later.
But Chatham County’s Joe Glasson is bucking that trend — relative to his competition, at least.
Glasson, 81, is no more immune to Father Time than anyone else. Fifteen years into his senior softball career, though, he remains about as consistent and successful as they come in the sport.
“On a relative basis, I feel like I’m as good of an athlete as I ever was,” Glasson said last week. “I’m not anything like I used to be in terms of physical nature. But from a mental standpoint, I understand the game so much better.”
Last month, Glasson’s Carolina Blazers traveled to Myrtle Beach for the International Senior Softball Association’s 2020 U.S. Open and left as champions in the highest division for men 80 and up.
It was another notch in the belt for Glasson, who keeps a garage closet full of plaques, medals and jackets from the dozens of state, regional and national softball championships he’s won since first entering the sport as a 65-year-old retiree who grew bored of golf.
Never one to brandish his gear or boast about his accomplishments, Glasson also maintains a collection of imitation gem-studded championship rings that would put the Boston Celtics’ Bill Russell to shame.
“Joe’s a legend in senior softball,” one friend, Donald Parson, said in an email.
During two hours of conversation at the Governors Club home he shares with Tae, his wife of 59 years, Glasson never took that bait, instead remaining consistently humble and self-deprecating when it came to describing his softball career and accomplishments. But he did have plenty of stories to tell.
“I just love the game,” Glasson said.
He grew up in San Antonio and was a “pretty darn decent” four-sport athlete in high school — enough to finagle preferred walk-on spots for the freshman football and baseball teams at the University of Texas, where he enrolled in 1957. A rib injury, however, derailed his varsity dreams pretty quickly.
Glasson’s teenage years still instilled in him a lifelong love for sports. He graduated from Texas in 1961 and married Tae, a NASA mathematician, in 1962. As they moved around the country — Glasson most notably had a long career as a senior executive at Allstate — he always made time for recreational athletics.
But work and family naturally took precedence. Glasson didn’t throw himself at any specific sport for a long time, and he was fine with that. Once he officially retired at 56, though, he started searching.
In search of warmer weather, he and Tae officially moved into Governors Club in 2000, where he took up golf. For five years, Glasson played four or five times a week with some Triangle buddies.
Always one to stay active, Glasson dabbled in other sports, too, and stumbled upon a lowkey senior softball league in Raleigh. In 2005, he was playing there and caught the eye of Walt Gustafson, a local circuit player.
“We have a travel team, and we play a national schedule,” Gustafson said. “Would you consider playing for us?”
“Are we talking high-level competition?” Glasson said.
“Yes, high-level competition.”
“Talk to me in six months.”
Glasson was in shape, but he wasn’t in softball shape. At least to him. So he spent half a year lifting weights, doing aerobics and practicing drills — including throwing a weighted ball at a bounce-back machine, something he still does daily — before calling the guy back and joining his first serious roster.
Since then, he’s played all over the field (outfield, first base, second base) and country (Ohio, Utah, Nevada) for about 25 total teams, most notably the Carolina Cardinals, Carolina Blue Skies, Carolina Blazers and Burlington Classics. His other appearances have come as a ringer — or “hired gun,” as he calls it — for teams across the South on a select, often one-time basis.
“What struck me, the very first time I ever went on the circuit, is how collegial it is,” Glasson said. “The respect everyone has for each other is unbelievable ... we trash talk each other like you wouldn’t believe, but it’s all in sincere good fun. It’s never personal.”
And he loved the non-stop competitiveness regardless of circumstance: “When each one of us walks onto the field, we get serious about playing, even though we’re a mere shadow of what we used to be.”
When he started playing at age 65, Glasson’s stated goal was to hang around long enough to be on an 80 and up team, which he’s now done as recently as October. And, obviously, he’s no placeholder — at 81, Glasson remains an effective shortstop offensively and defensively and pledges to keep chugging “as long as I can play as an impact player.” His secret?
“I’ve become a student of my body for the past 15 years,” Glasson said. “Like, how have I changed in quickness and strength and everything else? And how can I accommodate for that?”
For example, he finds himself reading batters’ feet much more frequently now. If someone’s lead foot reveals what direction they’re trying to hit, Glasson will cheat over a full step. He can’t casually read the ball off the bat anymore like he used to in his 60s (a feat in itself).
It’s a subtle tweak that keeps the game cerebral and engaging — one of the many reasons Chatham County’s Glasson still relishes any and all chances to play in senior softball tournaments, which he’d argue have done as much for him as he’s done for his teams while competing in them.
“There are guys out there whose bodies are torn up from previous injuries, but, by God, you’re still out there playing,” Glasson said. “To be able to see the three things — collegiality, competitiveness, and that true love of the game (from everyone) — I feel honored just to be among them.”