| March 2010
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The hard-charging athletes who make up the Noe’s Bar team know how to celebrate. The team has won 16 championships in 15 twin seasons in the city’s adult recreational league. Shown standing, left to right, are team members Kevin Schneider, manager Sid Aguilar, Lionel Aguilera, Fred Aguilar, and Gary Romero; seated are players Ryan Keating, Sil Gonzales, and Dave Frederico.
Photo courtesy Noe’s Bar team
By Corrie M. Anders
Every year, in early March, the local boys of summer start to get antsy. They start itching for the smell of the grass, the crack of the bat, the joy of camaraderie, and the post-game rewards of pizza and pints of beer.
But the agony is almost over. After the long winter layoff, softball season is about to start for a motley collection of athletes who represent Noe Valley in the city's recreational league.
"I'm absolutely looking forward to it," says Sid Aguilar, the player-manager for "Noe's Bar," one of San Francisco's premier softball teams. "When you win, it never gets tiring."
By the end of the month, Aguilar and his 51-year-old knees will be squatting behind home plate in his New York Yankeestyle, pin-striped uniform.
Noe's, sponsored by--you guessed it-- Noe's Bar at the corner of 24th and Church streets, is a hardcore team, whose nucleus includes Aguilar's identical twin brother, Fred, and four others who've been with the squad since its inception 15 years ago.
Daniel Owens is younge r than the Aguilars. He's a 33-year-old outfielder for a fun-first bunch of players on a team known as O'Greenberg's Joint Subcommittee, the "Joint Subs" for short. This year, the nine-year-old team's goal is to rise above mediocrity and reward its sponsor--O'Greenberg's tavern at Dolores and 29th streets--with a trophy.
Then there's the team that doesn't have a nickname or fancy uniforms, just simple black jerseys for the "home" games and gray tops for "road" contests.
"We just call ourselves Haystack," laughs Jason Howe, who as shortstop guards a patch of infield dirt between second and third base. Haystack Pizza Restaurant, on 24th at Sanchez, has been the team's patron since 2004.
Haystack the ball club is full of optimism after coming off its best season in six years and winning its slow-pitch division last summer. The perfect 8-0 record elevated the team into a more competitive division.
"We want to see how successful we can do up there," says Howe, 36, regional manager for a computer training company when he isn't running the team. "We'll see what we're made of."
City Fields More Than 300
The string that loops Noe's, O'Greenberg's, and Haystack together is the San Francisco Municipal Adult Softball League, which operates under the auspices of the Recreation and Park Department.
The league runs two eight-week seasons, each culminating in two weeks of playoff games. The spring season starts March 26, and league director Joann Dillon says she expects 275 teams citywide to participate. The summer season begins in July, and by then the number of teams should grow to 330.
With games sprinkled around a dozen city parks, including Christopher Field in Diamond Heights, the league offers a variety of sports divisions: all-women teams, senior teams, slow-pitch teams, and fast-pitch teams. There are divisions for players who like their games casual and loose, and others for those who seem hell-bound for glory.
Noe's is in the fast-pitch division, and it's not a place for gimp y players with poor eyesight. The game's signature is defense, speed, and pitchers who can throw a 60-mile-an-hour fastball.
Team Dominated by Sluggers
Noe's fields a team that ranges from a fresh-legged teenager to an intimidating 59-year-old pitcher who once pitched two complete games in a double-header, to a 61-year-old player who Aguilar says "can't move all that well, but he can still hit."
Aguilar, who grew up on both Jersey and Sanchez streets, is a physical education teacher at an elementary school in Half Moon Bay. He left San Francisco a few years ago "with a very heavy heart" and moved to San Bruno, but he returns every week during the season to help mold a team that has been "very successful."
"In the last 15 years, we've won about 16 championships," says Aguilar. "And we went on one incredible run where we won 10 of 13 championships."
There was a personal-best game a few years ago that Aguilar vividly remembers. The contest came two days before his marriage, when a bunch of college chums and friends from Spain were in town for the wedding. He had already scored one run in a tie game when providence interceded in the late innings.
"I hit probably the longest home run I've ever hit to win it," says Aguilar, still in awe about the 2-1 victory. "Two days before my wedding, with all my friends."
Boys Just Want to Have Fun
The O'Greenberg's team, which shows up to play in forest-green jerseys, has its share of peak moments. But they're more mirth than miracle, concedes Owens, a supervisor with the National Labor Relations Board.
"One of the most memorable games was one we tied that we should have won. We made some serious base-running blunders that definitely would have made the blooper film on ESPN," says the Duncan Street resident. "We kind of gave the game away. That sums up our team."
But the Joint Subs are in it to have a good time. "It's more social than athletics," says Owens, whose nickname is "Noodles" in reference to his curly hai r. "It's a chance to connect and reconnect with your buddies and with the folks in the neighborhood. Win or lose, we always go back to O'Greenberg's."
Haystack, too, is more focused on the game than on the final score.
"It feeds that competitive edge you have as a guy and the camaraderie of playing with friends and hanging out," says Howe, whose players range in age from 28 to 56. Once the game is over, "we go to Haystack for pizza and a couple of pitchers of beer."
Lineups Starting to Change
Over the years, each team has had its ups and downs.
After more than a dozen successful seasons, Noe's got a little crusty in 2007.
"We're getting older," says Aguilar. "A lot of teams just got sick of us beating them, and they reloaded and got younger players. For two years we didn't win."
Noe's responded with its own young recruit, Nick Wyatt, a 17-year-old speed demon who plays the outfield and can hit with power. Wyatt's first assignment simply was "to show them what I had," says the Skyline College student, who's played ball off and on since he was 6.
Wyatt helped Noe's to bounce back last year. The team earned a playoff berth in the spring and then won a second-half championship.
"We beat the younger guys, and it was really satisfying," says Aguilar.
The chrome-and-blue championship trophy now sits on a mantle behind the bar at Noe's. Wyatt doesn't get too broken up that he can't share the after-game social hour with his teammates, some of whom are old enough to be his grandfather.
"I go to visit my girlfriend," he says.
Age is also a factor in the changing constitution of the O'Greenberg's team. Back in 2001, a group of guys started the team for kicks and "a reason to drink beer on Wednesday nights," says Owens, 33.
The players then were mostly single and in their 20s and 30s. "As of late, more and more guys are having kids and settling down," says the now married Owens, who has 14-month-old twin girls.
"Weekend time is family time," so there's scant opportunity fo r batting practice or to perfect the double play.
"My guys stopped practicing years ago...which might account for our lackluster seasons of late," says Owens.
For more information about the city's softball league, visit www.sfsoftball.com or call the league office at 415-831-6316.
O’Greenberg’s tavern has sponsored the Joint Subs team in the San Francisco Softball League since 2001. The squad posed for pictures just before a game last year at James Lang Field. Manager Daniel “Noodles” Owens, rear, fifth from left, says the players hope to improve upon the .500 record posted during the summer season
Photo courtesy the Joint Subs