At 80, the Moms’ Duryea no charity case

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Photos by Roxana Pop | Staff Photographer

Libby Duryea braces herself against the fence and folds her leg up behind her, the toe of her shoe skyward, her calf flat against the back of her thigh. She looks out onto Sharpe Field. Her focus is best described as the cliché “game face.”

She and some other members of the Moms throw a few balls around before the game starts. Someone throws a ball high. Libby reaches for it, her arm fully extended, and pulls the ball down into a well-weathered glove. It looks like the effortlessness of muscle memory, like turning a doorknob or flicking on a light switch. Libby has plenty of muscle memories to draw from. Eighty years of them, to be exact.

John Chubb is a Slug and a Chautauqua softball enthusiast. He said that Libby is the oldest player in the league to land a hit in a game. She’s no charity case, either.

“She comes out with her ‘A-game’ every time she shows up,“ Chubb said. “The other ladies look at her and admire her and say, ‘Hey, if she can do it, we can do it.’ ”

Libby attributes her continued athleticism to her life as a physical education teacher, as well as to the competitive fire that was kindled by her three older brothers.

“I played softball from the time I could walk,” she said. “I played lacrosse, hockey — you name it. I stayed in shape. My husband married me because he wanted a tennis partner. I can’t run anymore, but as long as you keep trying, that’s what matters.”

Libby is a catcher, at least in this game. The positions, like everything in Chautauqua softball, are fluid.

Tuesday, July 9 —
Moms vs. Boomerangs:

The Boomerangs are young and play a young team’s game. With each hit, base runners play hard and make it look easy.

For a few innings, it seems that the Moms have their work cut out for them. Maybe they are too old, or maybe the off-season has left them soft.

Or maybe not.

At one point, a Boomerang pounds a double into left field. The runner on second goes, pumping her long legs. When she rounds third, Libby steps on to home plate and waits for a throw. There is no hesitation. Libby lowers her shoulders and widens her stance.

The young girl barrels down on her. Libby doesn’t move. She watches the sky for the ball, her center of gravity lowered. She is part of the landscape, solid, like a tree that has grown over the plate.

The throw from the outfield doesn’t get there in time. In a balletic sidestep, the girl curves around Libby at the last second, tapping home plate.

In the fifth inning, the Moms’ bats heat up. They tuck the Boomerangs into bed with a loving pat on the head and shut off the lights.

After the game, the Moms gather around Libby. She knows what’s coming, but it’s too late to escape. Her game face is gone, dissolved into the slight blush of humility. For a second, a young Libby is visible — the Libby who played hard with her brothers decades ago. She covers her smile with her hand, but it is still visible in her eyes. The Moms sing “Happy Birthday to You” and lead her away for cake.