When Lamar Young moved to The Villages in 2002, he had no intention of playing softball. He hadn’t played in 15 years and besides, his plan was to play golf.
Then, he saw his neighbor had a pitching mound in his backyard. That got Young interested in softball again and he went to get evaluated for league play.
In fall 2003, The Villages Recreation Softball League’s Division 4 held its inaugural season and Young, of the Village Santiago, was in that season’s draft as a player. In the summer season of 2004, Young became a manager as well as a player — and he hasn’t looked back since.
In fact, he is the only remaining player or manager from the start of Division 4.
“I’m in my 53rd season,” Young said. “It’s really just a thrill to be able to get out here on the diamond with all these guys.”
Young has seen softball in The Villages expand quickly during his 18 years in the sport. When he first moved here, there were only five fields — one at Knudson and four at Saddlebrook. Since, he’s seen the Buffalo Glen, Soaring Eagle and Everglades softball complexes built. Along with that growth, many players and managers have come and gone since 2003, but Young remains the last person standing from the inaugural season of the league. According to Young, the last person besides him from 2003 left a couple years ago.
When he started managing along with playing in 2004, he spent a few seasons managing the Saints. But when the division switched to NBA team names instead a few years later, Young chose the Pacers. He grew up in Indiana, so it was a simple choice, and his team has held that name every season since.
With so many seasons under his belt — there are three seasons per calendar year in The Villages — Young has had many memorable moments and experiences on the diamond and in the dugout. The Pacers manager has won multiple regular-season titles, but one of his favorite moments was winning his only postseason tournament championship.
One of Young’s strategies when it comes to managing is to keep things positive for his team.
“I tell my guys, ‘When you make an error, forget about it. Move on. Because if you look like a little leaguer, the next play you’re gonna look like a big leaguer. So don’t worry about it,’” Young said.
On game days, Young brings a folder filled with information for the game. In the back of that folder, he keeps a document he made when first becoming a manager — a list of 11 guidelines he wants his team to follow. On the list are items such as being prepared to play any position in the field or showing up at least 45 minutes, preferably an hour, before the start of the game. And one item on the list is important enough to be listed twice — both first and last: Have fun.
Young is known around Division 4 to always field a competitive team. He can’t remember the last time he had a losing season. Celtics manager Don Barry, of the Village Alhambra, has managed in Division 4 since 2013. Barry respects Young, not only for drafting teams well, but as someone who is easy to get along with. Barry knows when he matches up against the Pacers, it will be a competitive game.
“Lamar’s a shrewd guy. He picks some good teams,” Barry said. “They’re always up there in the standings.”
Young is revered by his players as a great manager as well. Paul Handzel, of the Village of Hemingway, has played in Division 4 since 2005. In those years, Handzel has played for Young for a total of 31 seasons. One of the best traits Handzel said Young possesses is his ability to communicate and know all his players well.
“He’s very positive,” Handzel said. “He’s constantly keeping us in the game and supporting us when we’re down. He’s just a good all-around manager.”
In spring of 2014, Young’s playing days came to an end after he had a knee replacement surgery. But he’s continued to manage in Division 4 after the operation, and he has no plans to retire any time soon. Young knows one day he’ll have to hang up his Pacers hat, but he isn’t ready for that moment to come just yet. He keeps coming back because he loves being around the players and his friends in The Villages.
“The Villages is one of the greatest places to live,” Young said.
Staff Writer Ryan Weiss can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5408, or email@example.com.