Pat Rachels recently suffered a setback to his nationally known athletic endeavors.
The Appling resident hurt his knee last week, indefinitely postponing his schedule as a travel softball player.
"He's all swollen up," said Earl Babbit, Rachels' friend and fellow softball competitor.
Rachels probably will return to the field soon. After all, he's got a reputation to uphold.
The 72-year-old was inducted into the Senior Softball Hall of Fame on April 19.
"I just like to be active," he said. "And I like softball."
The slumping economy has diluted the competition Rachels faces each month.
From Florida to Texas and North Carolina, the number of players Rachels sees on the diamond decreases as gas prices rise and the dollar shrinks.
The rising gas prices forced the 72-year-old softball player to park his RV in favor of an SUV carpool on road trips.
"It's too expensive," Rachels said. "You can drive a car and stay in a motel."
Rachels is still able to play two or three times a month with Southern Pride, a softball team of seniors based out of Montgomery, Ala. He has teammates from Atlanta and South Carolina with whom he carpools to save money. Rachels said he and the other players pay most of their own cost, with an individual sponsor who pays entry fees.
The process has allowed Rachels to compete nationally for more than 20 years, and he's been successful.
To qualify for the Senior Softball Hall of Fame, a player must build a national reputation by making all-star teams and winning national tournaments.
Rachels has played for 12 national title teams.
"He's a real good hitter," Babbit said.
National tournament season begins during the summer with multiple national titles handed out each year by five different senior organizations.
The number of competitors has plummeted in recent years. Babbit, Rachels' friend of more than 50 years, said the lower numbers were a result of the smaller pool of players in the upper age brackets.
"We have to drop down an age bracket to find players to play," Babbit said.
Rachels has played softball throughout his life, but said he really began taking the game seriously when he reached 50. After he retired from his job at the post office, he was able to devote more time to travel.
Long trips to states like Utah and Texas usually require Rachels and his teammates to fly.
But tournaments held in the Southeast typically are within driving distance. And Rachels takes advantage of as many as possible.
"It's big time with us," he said. "I play more as a senior than I did as a junior."
While many his age trade the eight-hour work days for 18 holes on the golf course, Rachels is content to play two sports.
"Between golf and softball, I stay busy," he said. "It keeps me young."
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