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Tibbs, 86, not ready to hang it up

December 15, 2012
By CHUCK BALLARO - Special to the Breeze , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

It probably is fair to say that Ray Tibbs is a freak of nature, especially to those who are lucky enough to get to his stage in life.

The 86-year-old Cape Coral resident not only plays softball with people young enough to be his son (and maybe grandson), but still does it at a high level.

Sooner or later, even the best have to slow things down. After three decades of softball, seemingly every day, Tibbs is going to cut back to a couple mornings a week in his eponymous winter league at Shady Oaks Park in Fort Myers. His days of playing in Cape Coral's 50-plus League will be a thing of the past.

Tibbs, who was inducted into the Cape Coral Hall of Fame in 2011, will return to Cincinnati to be with his family during the warmer months.

"I'm just going to be a snowbird. I've lived here full time since 1992, now I'm going back to where I'm originally from," Tibbs said.

Tibbs is proof that being an octogenarian doesn't mean you can't live life to the fullest. Now, Tibbs plays softball four days a week in Cape Coral and Fort Myers as a pitcher, practices when he isn't playing, and regularly goes to the gym.

In fact, until a few years ago, Tibbs played in the 18-and-over division, but Tibbs had to run for himself, which even he admits was a bit much. He said his ability to pitch has kept him in the game.

"Many people can't pitch. The ball has to hit the mat to be a strike and most people can't do it," Tibbs said.

That can be dangerous. Thanks in part to today's composite bats, Tibbs has had his leg and foot broken over the years by line drives back to the mound. Cape Coral pitchers have no protection, unlike Fort Myers and Naples where pitchers can use a screen.

Tibbs has had a legendary softball career dating back to his days in Ohio.

"I read about senior softball in Dayton, Ohio, and I started playing tournaments all over the United States. I even won two World Series rings," Tibbs said.

He played for F.C. Industries, which played in national tournaments in 10 states, and won the 1995 Senior Olympic National with help from a Tibbs grand slam, the only one of his career, he said.

Tibbs' longevity is the envy of nearly everyone, including Steve Fee, who plays with Tibbs.

"He's my hero. He's by far the oldest person in the league. He's not only playing, he's a good pitcher and a great hitter," Fee said. "He's the best role model and the nicest man you'd want to meet."

"Ray's an inspiration to many players. At his age to be drafted so high is an inspiration to the younger guys," said Cape 50-plus League secretary Jennifer Ford. "I'm upset he won't be in the league anymore."

That doesn't mean he won't continue to live an active life. He will still work out three times a week, will still have the Ray Tibbs League in Fort Myers, in which players from 14 states and Canada play, as well as the Ray Tibbs softball Classic in Cape Coral.

The point is, Tibbs said, because you're older doesn't mean you can't still be active.

"I just encourage people to play and not think you're too old," Tibbs said. "Play a lot of softball. All your problems and worries leave once you get on the field."



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