Jersey Joel Kamenoff knows advertising and the automotive industry. He’s worked in both arenas successfully, with his gift of gab and outgoing personality prominent in his business and for another passion: He’s a recreation ambassador.
It’s an unofficial title, but necessary when he’s organizing youth and adult sports leagues, particularly co-ed softball. The sport is popular in Southwest Florida for players of all abilities, and Kamenoff mixes and matches skills to coordinate teams, leagues and tournaments. It’s meshed into the services he provides with SportsGroupFlorida and the website JerseyJoel.com.
“What I’ve done for a long time is to try to help people make friends,” Kamenoff says, explaining the social emphasis of co-ed softball and his “job” since 2004. “I just try to put people together.”
Via coordination with county recreation departments and YMCA programs, Kamenoff is, in his words, “the guy everyone goes to.”
From beginners to advanced levels of play, co-ed softball encourages exercise and friendship and emphasizes safety. Strong competition exists among higher-skilled teams, but social interaction reigns over winning. Umpires are volunteers; civility is expected.
“In Fort Myers, it’s more competitive because there are more teams,” says Kamenoff, who also organizes youth group sports and corporate activities. “They have lower, middle and upper skills levels and the upper teams are really good. But every weekend, somewhere, there are two or three tournaments of all levels.
“It’s all very social; it’s definitely social via dating. I would say right now in our league there are probably at least 10 couples just in this area who are married with children and who met through softball.”
Unlike long-standing traditions of slow pitch and fastpitch softball, the co-ed version has modified rules to help prevent injuries. Batters start with a 1-1 count. Screens are installed to protect pitchers. Two home plates and two first bases are used to prevent collisions. Sliding into and stealing bases are not allowed. Games last one hour.
Co-ed softball also relies on equity. Teams can have 12 players, with five infielders and five outfielders preferred. A minimum of nine players is required. While not mandatory, teams with five men and five women are ideal. When a man is pitching, a woman has to catch. If a woman is pitching, a man has to catch. Rules vary slightly in different area cities.
While co-ed softball is prominent throughout Lee and Collier counties, it’s particularly popular in Fort Myers. About 30 teams play nearly year-round with games held at the CenturyLink Sports Complex, the training facility of the Minnesota Twins. Nearly 20 co-ed teams play in Naples at North Collier Regional Park.
More women are always needed, and teams needing players and players needing teams often call Kamenoff for help at the last minute. Softball player want ads are posted on Meetup Group boards and Facebook group pages.
“It’s just been one of my goals,” Kamenoff says of his enjoyment of co-ed softball. “If you’re new in town and you don’t want to sit alone at home and watch TV, then, hey, we live in beautiful weather. It’s a natural way to make friends. You meet people you don’t work with and who don’t live on your street.
“(Co-ed softball) gives you the opportunity to meet people who aren’t in your normal social circle. Co-ed softball is like a happy hour. It’s like we’re all here together playing.”
For more information, visit jerseyjoel.com.