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WWII vet has 'gotta play until I'm 100'

By Mike Miller, CNN
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Young Viejos still swinging
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 88-year-old outfielder for "Young Viejos" says it's a miracle his team can still play
  • Tony Snetro, 93, says he plans to play until he's 100 years old
  • They have gathered enough men to make up two teams
  • Some players use a pinch runner once they make contact with the ball

Coral Gables, Florida (CNN) -- World War II U.S. Navy veteran Tony Snetro doesn't need any help running around the bases. At 93 years of age, he's the oldest member on the "Young Viejos" softball team, as well as one of the originals.

He was there when the league for players 65 years and older started more than a decade ago in Coral Gables, Florida. "Little by little, as it built up, we had enough men to make two teams," says Snetro.

With an average age of close to 80, they're not as fast as they once were. In fact, a few can't even make it out of the batter's box. Some players use a pinch runner once they finally make contact with the ball.

One of those players is the starting catcher, Augustin Gonzalez. Bending down is a major challenge for the second-oldest player on the team, and running to first base is certainly out of the question.

Still, the 88-year-old backstop shows up for games every Tuesday and Thursday, slowly taking his position behind the plate while his teammates cheer him on.

"If a miracle exists, this is a miracle, because to have people here 80 and 90 years old playing ball, I think that's remarkable," says 81-year-old Manny Alvarez.

Alvarez had a close call five years ago, suffering a heart attack while playing in the outfield. With two stents in his artery, three months later he was back on the diamond, taking his regular position.

Nothing was going to keep him from rejoining his pals. "We are all blessed," Alvarez says quietly.

Juan Montes fondly recalls playing alongside former Major Leaguer Cookie Rojas when they were teenagers in Havana, Cuba.

Montes' father would tell him that only Rojas had the desire to be a baseball player. "You don't have that hunger," the elder Montes would tell his son. "Besides, you're too heavy."

The team's name is a mix of English and Spanish and means young old men.

Montes, 74, says it's older players like Snetro who inspire him now.

"Tony is a symbol for us to come here," Montes says, adding, "Why should I stay home in bed while there are guys out there?"

That's Snetro's message as well. "If you feel good, don't just sit in a rocking chair," he says. "Get up and move around! You'd be surprised, by doing this your mind stays sharper."

Snetro's secret to his everlasting youth? "I eat hot peppers," he proudly states. "Almost every day since I was a kid raised in Connecticut."

The question now is how much longer Snetro can play. "The good lord knows that number," he says with a smile. "I don't know it. It's up to him." As he points to the sky, he says, "Who knows, maybe another year or two."

Snetro looks around the field and jokingly says, "I gotta play until I'm 100 years old."

 
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