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POPS softball perseveres amid pandemic

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Just like every sports organization at every level, 2020 brought unprecedented challenges for POPS 40 & Over Softball, which recently completed its 22nd year of operation on the South Shore of Nassau County.

“We’re thrilled to say we played a whole season without any member testing positive for the virus,” said POPS founder and commissioner Keith Pastuch, a retired chiropractor who resides in East Atlantic Beach. “It took a lot of work to pull it off, and this was the most rewarding year out of the 22.”

POPS traditionally conducts two seasons each year from early May through late August, but had to eliminate fall ball for 2020 after Covid-19 forced its spring/summer schedule to be delayed by more than two months. “The thanks and appreciation I’ve received from players and their wives and family members has been incredible,” Pastuch said. “Probably the one thing everyone missed was the camaraderie after games. We had to ask guys not to hang out in the parking lot or stick around to watch other games after they played.”

POPS, which had 400 players this year, down from the usual 550, not only followed New York State Department of Health guidelines for Covid-19, but also took additional precautions to keep everyone safe, Pastuch noted. “Because we’re dealing with older players, we were advised to have everyone wear a mask in the dugout areas,” he said. “Because of guidelines, catchers wore masks during games, as well as the first- and third-base coaches and the umpires.”

Similar to youth organizations, POPS players were not permitted to share equipment or drink bottles, or celebrate with the usual high-five or fist bump. Postgame handshakes were replaced by the tip of a cap.

One unexpected hurdle to get the season off the ground, Pastuch said, was securing enough field permits. Because if Covid-19 restrictions, some familiar fields were not available or only available through the end of August. Because of this year’s delay, fields were needed until mid-October to get a 12-game regular season in, plus playoffs. “It came down to the wire in terms of getting enough permits,” Pastuch said.

When the action finally began July 13, players took the field with heavy hearts. A beloved member of the POPS family, longtime director Bob Lashinsky, lost his battle with Covid-19 in March. Pastuch organized a drive-by past Lashinsky’s Bellmore home to pay respects, and nearly 100 cars took part. A scholarship, presented to a graduating high school senior related to a POPS member, was established in Lashinky’s name in honor of Bob and his father, Leo.

While there’s long been a waiting list to join POPS, Pastuch said that would not be the case for 2021. With the help of six directors and seven field supervisors, he has already secured additional weeknights at various fields to accommodate more games. For more information, visit www.popsoftball.com.