By PAUL ANTONELLI
When Tom Loucks first laced up his cleats to play in the Amsterdam Recreational Softball League back in 1959, there were 59 teams competing on 12 different city fields.
It was unquestionably the golden era of men's softball in the city -- a time when players, family and friends put their summer vacations on hold to attend the games. No pair sacrificed their spring and summers for the league more than the organization's two mainstays, Bob Cetnar and Richard "Dick" Hartig, both who passed away within 48 hours of each other last month.
The legendary duo was remembered during a brief ceremony to open up the 2014 Amsterdam Recreational Softball League at Four Diamonds on Monday.
"They were two individuals, who demanded respect," said Loucks who is now 68 years old. "The younger guys today want to be home texting or playing Xbox. Not Bob and Dick. They were at every meeting. We had a big Super Bowl III party that had shrimp and clams and we had raffles to help pay for a weekend baseball trip every year. Bob and Dick were always a part of it. You could depend on them because they were organizers and they were sportsmen. Players respected both of them."
Tom's younger brother Jim Loucks -- a 38-year veteran of the league -- made the opening remarks at Monday's tribute.
"Today, we start the 2014 season," Jim said. "We lost two great guys this year -- Dick Hartig and Bob Cetnar. Two guys who played, coached and just loved the game. Two guys who will be missed. The game will go on and the next generation will step in."
Jim followed his initial comments with a short story.
"There was a time I laughed at the old guys sitting up on the hill," Jim said. "The ones who played before us and tell us how they played better, faster and further. I laughed because I was still playing and all they could do is talk. If our goals were not met, there was next season. But it never occurred to me that one day there would not be a next year. And that guy sitting on the hill, wishing they can have one more year and willing to settle for one last game, could be all of us. Dick and Bob, coached, played and sat on the hill in almost every game to the end. Today we play this game for Dick and Bob and the guys before and now who sat and still sit on the hill."
A moment of silence was observed by players lined up on the basepaths and spectators followed by Jim's command, "Let's play ball."
Jim, a pitcher for Marcellino's, has been in the league since 1975. He started out as a shortstop and has transitioned into a pitcher and expects to see some mound time this season.
"God gave me an arm, but took away my legs," Jim said. "I look forward to this every year. It's nice seeing people bring out the lawn chair to watch the games. Everybody gets along. That's what it's all about."
The softball league is currently comprised of 17 teams that will play on the three softball fields at Four Diamonds. Each team will play 16 games apiece with playoffs slated to begin in early August. The playoffs will have a unique look this season with the top four teams having their own postseason tournament and the other 13 having a playoff system of their own. The top four teams are expected to be Robin's Nest, El Caribe Market, Rick's Robo Car Wash and Russo's.
"The league decided in the offseason that this was the direction they wanted to go," said Amsterdam Recreation Director Rob Spagnola. "The league is top heavy so this should work. The playoffs should be more competitive."
One player who admits that Opening Day never grows old is Tom Loucks. Tom attends the games and will play when needed. He played shortstop for 25 years.
"I'm sure I'll be out there sometime this year," Tom said. "If they need me, I'll be there."
Tom also assists in the coaching of great grandsons Jordan Schmidtmann and Jamie Innes. The pair play for Music Man Entertainment in the Amsterdam Youth Baseball League Rookies Division. Another great grandson, Mason Skotarczak, plays in the T-Ball Division.
"I try to stay involved," Tom said. "Both Rick and Bob were like that. They lived, ate and drank softball. They volunteered their time. We're just trying to follow in their footsteps. They will be missed."