18 to 79: Redwood Empire Baseball players are competitive at all ages

The 2023 35+ Giants celebrate a 19-2 season championship with their kids. Started in 1990, REBL has grown to 40 teams and brings families together at the ballpark on Sundays from spring to fall.
The 2023 35+ Giants celebrate a 19-2 season championship with their kids. Started in 1990, REBL has grown to 40 teams and brings families together at the ballpark on Sundays from spring to fall.
Courtesy Muhammed Abdullah of the 35+ Athletics

The crack of wooden bats, the grunts of pure hustle, and the inevitable dad jokes. These are the sounds of Sunday mornings at many Sonoma County baseball fields.

But the dad jokes aren’t coming from the stands. They are coming from the players on the field. And the hustle is real. Sure, their bodies may slow down by the ninth inning, but the effort doesn’t subside a bit.

It doesn’t matter how old these men are. It doesn’t matter how skilled they are. All that matters is that they want to be out there competing.

The Redwood Empire Baseball League (REBL) is based in Sonoma County and has provided a place for adults of all ages and skill levels to play competitive baseball since 1990. REBL is the local chapter of the Men’s Senior Baseball League, which has more than 45,000 members nationwide.

REBL consists of six divisions (Two 18+/25+, 35+, 45+, 55+, 65+). Each division plays an 18-21 game schedule beginning in mid-April and ending in early October, with games played exclusively on Sundays at local fields in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties.

Santa Rosa resident Rick Cantor took over as commissioner of REBL in 2003 and has led the league through a period of extensive growth. When he started, the league had only eight teams. Now there are 40. “I think it’s longevity,” Cantor said. “You’re in the community for a while and guys know about it. In the beginning we used to advertise in The Press Democrat…but over the last 10 years, we just put it on the web.”

He may be humble about his role, but he exudes an energetic passion for the game. “I literally can say that I have not missed a summer of baseball since I was 5 years old,” he said grinning. He has had a couple of shoulder surgeries, but ironically they had nothing to do with decades of pitching baseball. He hurt himself running into a wall playing racquetball. It didn’t stop him from being out there though. He was just limited to playing first base for a season.

Rick’s father-in-law, David “Doc” Charp, pitches for the Jazz in the 65+ league. “He comes to a game and he will never sit down,” Cantor said. A month ago, the 79-year-old dove off of the mound for a ground ball, landed awkwardly and broke his hand. “Yeah, but I still kept pitching six more innings. My right arm was fine,” Charp said. These men won’t stop until their bodies make them.

It isn’t the first time Charp injured himself on the field. “I have had both shoulders operated on, I had a knee operation, an ankle operation. This is the second fracture I’ve had on that left hand; the one before that was worse and they had to put a metal plate in. I got four broken, crooked fingers, but I would do it all over again,” he said. “I’m only 79. What am I saving it for, when I’m 80?”

One of the highlights for the fathers in the league is an annual tournament in Sacramento where family members are invited to play hardball together. This last year, three generations of Cantor family members were on the field together. “It was a unique experience because I pitched, my son-in-law Rick pitched, and my grandson, who is 15 years old, were three of the four pitchers for our team,” Charp said.

REBL holds a yearly tryout/draft for new players, but returning players are free to play on the same team. This helps build a sense of community and fellowship throughout the league. The team Cantor’s Pirates played against in the 45+ division on May 7 were the Blacksox, who have played together since they were in the 25+ division. “I’ve been playing against those guys for 25 years,” Cantor said.

David Meads, 59, has played with the Blacksox for 20 of those years. “It’s great,” he said. “Right now I’m hurt so I can’t really go out and play. I only come out because I want to be on the bench and have that camaraderie with the guys. The banter, the fun. That’s a lot of it.” 

Meads played college baseball, pitched in the minor leagues, and spent two years pitching for the Houston Astros in the eighties. “I played a lot of baseball, a lot of years and so many times at the end of the seasons I say I don’t really feel it, I don’t really have that joy about playing the game as much, but what really keeps me coming back is being on the bench with the guys. It’s a family.”

The fellowship may be the best part for Meads, but he said it isn’t the only reason he plays each summer, “My dad played until he was 78, so I got a long way to go. I gotta at least do what he did. I just try to stay healthy, that’s the big thing.”

They may not all have played professional baseball or even be the most physically fit athletes, but for hundreds of Sonoma County ballplayers, it’s the continued passion for the game that counts. Like the Blacksox’s Malcolm Jordan said, “Hey, round is a kind of shape.”

Opening day is April 14. Check out the league schedule to see where games will be played. More information on the REBL baseball league can be found at rebl.org.

REBL players will dive to beat a throw home, if that’s what it takes. (Courtesy Muhammed Abdullah of the 35+ Athletics)
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About the Contributor
Sean Shanks
Sean Shanks, Reporter
Sean is in his first semester at the Oak Leaf. He would like to travel and tell people's stories, partially because life can be so insufferably boring, but mostly because people's stories are beautiful and accountability is awesome.

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  • C

    Carolyn ShanksApr 20, 2024 at 4:27 pm

    Bravo! I enjoyed reading every word. Makes me wish I could be in the stands.

  • E

    Ernesto AstorgaApr 13, 2024 at 1:39 pm

    What a great article, I’m playing in the league for the first time, and that just gets me more excited to be a part of this baseball fellowship in Sonoma county. Thankful to be playing baseball again in this great REBL organization.