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For the love of the game

By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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If you saw Vern DeVincenzi at the grocery store, you might not be able to guess his favorite pastime. Although his suntanned features hint at an outdoor lifestyle, the fact that the octogenarian lives in Lincoln Hills might lead you to believe he’s an avid golfer. De Vincenzi, however, isn’t taking it slow. The quick-to-smile 82-year-old plays three days a week for the Lincoln Classics softball team in Sun City Lincoln Hills. “He’s the senior man in the league,” said teammate Jim Datzman, 70. “He enjoys life. He’s an important part of the team.” According to Datzman, De Vincenzi is “bubbly all the time” and has a true passion for the game. “It’s a lifelong thing,” De Vincenzi said. “I played varsity baseball all four years in high school at third base.” Making the varsity team as a freshman gave De Vincenzi a sense of accomplishment and pride, but when he graduated, he wasn’t able to pursue baseball. It was 1944, and De Vincenzi found himself in the U.S. Navy, serving as an electrician on a destroyer in the Pacific. During the invasion of Okinawa in April of 1945, De Vincenzi’s ship carried underwater demolition teams to the island in advance of the main assault force. When De Vincenzi was sent ashore, it wasn’t long before he was pursuing America’s pastime once again, managing to take part in games with his fellow servicemen. After the war, De Vincenzi married and had four sons. Like many fathers, De Vincenzi involved his sons in Little League and he traded his bat and glove for a coach’s clipboard. De Vincenzi coached and managed Little League teams in the Bay Area for 18 years and, he said, his greatest sense of accomplishment “was simply to be able to teach boys how to play ball.” “It got to where I’d walk into a restaurant, and a guy would say, ‘Hi, Mr. De Vincenzi,’ and I wouldn’t recognize him,” De Vincenzi said. “Then he’d tell me he used to play second base for me or something and it was great to see them grown up and successful.” When De Vincenzi’s wife of 53 years died in 2003, he moved from the Bay Area to Lincoln Hills to be closer to his son in El Dorado Hills. It wasn’t long before De Vincenzi took up softball in 2004. “It’s like a second childhood,” De Vincenzi said. “It’s like we’re almost as good as the Little Leaguers,” he added with a laugh. De Vincenzi plays catcher, second base and anywhere else he’s needed. “I use him as kind of a utility guy in the infield. He can play anywhere,” said Manager Bernie McCoy. “He’s got a good bat, he does his own running, we don’t have to substitute a runner for him. He’s a good ballplayer.” According to McCoy, De Vincenzi rarely misses a game and is a team player, always supportive of his teammates. “I’ll play any positions as long as I can play,” De Vincenzi said. “I’ll play as long as my old body can handle it. When you get to be this age, you just hope you can hit the ball. As long as you’ve got good hand-eye coordination, you can play.” De Vincenzi said he doesn’t do anything special to keep in shape. “I walk the dog in the morning and the evening, that’s about it,” he said. When he saw the Lincoln Hills fields, according to Irene Douglass, De Vincenzi’s significant other; De Vincenzi knew he had to play ball again. “He enjoys it so much,” Douglass said. “It’s his life.” For De Vincenzi, however, it’s not the game itself that provides the greatest draw. “The comradeship of all the people involved and the atmosphere itself is invigorating,” De Vincenzi said. “We have 250 ball players up here and they’re all gentlemen. They’re all first-class players and they’d do anything for anyone.” After games, which often cause the team to travel as far as Lodi, the players will often stop for a sandwich and a milkshake. “I enjoy having a good time,” De Vincenzi said. “I enjoy meeting people and playing the game. I’d like to think of everybody as my friend.” Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com.