Juan Campiz protects first base on a softball field at Miami Lakes Optimist Park. He leans toward the batter, ready to field whatever may come from home plate.
His spot on the diamond is one he has held since he was a boy.
That child’s love for the game has continued to present day, when he is a youthful 96.
“I started playing baseball when I was 10 in Puerto Rico,” Campiz said in Spanish. He stayed with the game after his family moved to New York and continued through middle age when he settled in Miami.
“Every Sunday I played softball,” Campiz said.
Campiz is a key man on the Miami Lakes Senior Softball Program’s Geezers team. They are up to 30 men who are mostly older than 60 and meet twice a week at the park.
“Juan is our No. 1 idol,” said Dave Oliver, coordinator of the program. “Juan is truly special.”
To recognize Campiz’s longevity, Oliver presented him with a personalized jersey and #1 on the back.
Campiz is the only Geezer to have that honor; other players wear their own gear or jerseys from The Graham Companies, team sponsor for more than a decade.
A Geezers game is fun to watch and has rules designed to accommodate the players. There’s no base running. If a ball flies over an outfielder’s head, it’s a home run.
There is also a lot of teasing, in Spanish and English. One player is nicknamed the attorney, because he talks non-stop.
Off the field, Campiz follows the Miami Marlins. His current favorite player is Garrett Cooper, who is also a first baseman.
A retired custodian with the Miami-Dade Public School District, Campiz is a widower. Two of his stepchildren live in Florida, a third is in New Mexico.
He said there is no real secret to living as long as he has.
“It’s eating right, trying to work out and [taking] my medicine,” Campiz said. “It’s [also] not being stressed.”
If he doesn’t play with the Geezers each week, he begins to feel tired.
“It’s a few hours of entertainment,” Campiz said.
Game days include team celebrations of players’ birthdays at the field, with singing, pastelitos and Cuban coffee.
Oliver memorializes their fun with statistics and humorous game notes.
Otherwise, Campiz keeps busy with tasks at home.
He will turn 97 on May 22 and has no plans to quit the Geezers.
“I’ll keep playing softball until I can’t anymore,” Campiz said.