Del Moon , NSGA Communications and Media Director
Softball has the second-highest athlete participation of all sports in the National Senior Games. If you guessed Pickleball is the biggest, you are correct, and Bonnie Strang is a fierce competitor in both sports.
While Bonnie has enjoyed picking up pickleball and badminton in recent years, she got hooked on “America’s Pastime” as a kid and developed a burning desire to play with a bat, glove and ball. “When I was growing up there was no baseball for girls at school,” she recalls. “Girls weren’t allowed to play with the boys in little league, so I would play sandlot ball with them and watch their games through the fence.
“In 7th grade, there was a call for fast pitch softball players in the next town over,” she continues. “I found out they were all over 18, out of school or working. But they let me play with them and even came to give me rides to practice. My coach, Nancy Grafton, taught me everything about the game. I later played on my Westchester college varsity team and it was like a step down.”
Bonnie kept playing recreational and tournament softball while keeping up with a 41-year career as a high school band director. Primarily a catcher, and more recently taking second base and now shortstop duties, she has been recognized as All American three times, All World four times and All Tournament numerous times by softball organizations and tournaments. She has played with four different teams in her past decade with National Senior Games, winning gold three times.
She likes how National Senior Games fits into her softball activity. “The cities where you go are not on the usual circuit of tournaments we do every year,” she says. “The fields are top notch, and I get to see a lot of teams that I don’t see at other events.”
With a desire to keep improving, Bonnie talked softball coach Fred Dohrmann at nearby Widener University into helping her refine skills in 2018. She also still gets an adrenaline rush from participating in annual Philadelphia Phillies Phantasy Camps. “It’s very competitive – fast pitch hardball with 90-foot bases, and they use these monster wooden bats I can hardly swing. There’s maybe four ladies that come out each year, and we play with the men. I was actually awarded a game ball the first year I went.”
Bonnie has become a familiar face around the Phillies organization. “Every year, I get on the team with catcher Mike Lieberthal and shortstop Kevin Stocker. I’ve met many of the players and become friends with Larry Anderson, the announcer,” she says. “One year, the team even invited me to come see a game in the owner’s box. I was happy to invite my coach to come along and talk baseball with the people there.”
Whether she’s digging up a grounder in Columbus in May, or diving to return a pickleball volley in Pittsburgh in July, Bonnie Strang will be recognized as a force to be reckoned with.
Recent years have presented challenges with major surgeries almost every year since breaking her wrist while playing ball in 2010. “I just finished left shoulder work this year, and before that it was my right shoulder. Then, I had a knee replacement that involved three surgeries. There were other knee surgeries prior to that, and I’ve also had kidney stones.”
Some might quit after a string like that, but Bonnie explains “I use sports as a way to get through it. I’ve got to get better each time so I won’t have an excuse for not playing. It would be easy to do that.”