It's been about a quarter of a century since he moved here, but Rick Ivey still loves to put on his jersey, slip on the knee pads and grab his bat and play softball on Tuesday nights.
Ivey, 50, is manager and player on the Ivey League softball team that competes every Tuesday night as part of the city of Destin's Men's Recreational League.
But he's been playing softball in Destin long before there was an actual league.
"We played for almost four years before the city started a league," Ivey recalls.
The first team he played on was the Barbery Coasters in 1989 put together by Tim Lupori, who owns the Barbery Coast barbershop on Main Street. The other team in town was Buster's.
"We'd just show up and play," Ivey said.
The teams would meet on Monday nights on the field behind Destin Elementary and play ball. Ivey said they paid Bob Ford $20 to come out and umpire the games. Back then they played nine innings and had a 12-game season, with a 13th game to decide the city championship.
The Coasters won that first city championship.
"Tim reminded me, he said, 'You forgot that you hit me in from second base to win the first city championship,' — Yes Tim I forgot. I can't remember everything."
However he does recall a lot from those early days on the ball field in Destin.
His best memory was the first night on the new fields at Morgan Sports Center. Ivey had put together the Jetty East softball team complete with full uniforms.
"There was a culmination of a lot of work to make the fields ready in time," Ivey said. And on opening night, Ivey who usually bats third dropped himself down in the lineup to No. 9. But on his first time at bat on the new fields he blasted a three-run homer.
"That was really kind of cool," he said.
But more than the big hits and competition, the friendships he's made over the years is what keeps him coming back each week.
"The people are what really make it for me," Ivey said. "I enjoy everybody, but as you get older it's harder to remember everybody. After a while, more people know you than you can remember names."
Back in the day
Many years ago, Ivey recalls buying what he thought was a "hot bat" for $150.
"People thought I was crazy for spending that much money. Now they're $300 or more," he said.
And the bats are "definitely hotter today and just about anybody can hit a home run out of here now," he said.
Ivey has played almost every position on the diamond, even pitcher.
"I had to pitch out of necessity," he said. One night his pitcher didn't show up and he had to pitch.
"That's how I learned to pitch and I was scared too … I hope I can throw a strike. I think I walked the first couple of batters before I threw a strike."
Ivey likes to play first base, but his favorite is third base.
"It's tough. It's a hard position … not much time to react."
The only guy playing in the league that started when Ivey did is Mitch Kenney.
"I can't think of anybody else in Destin that is still playing," he said.
Ivey said he ran into Ted Corcoran, a former teammate, a few months ago, and Corcoran called him “the Destin Iron Man of softball.”
"As long as my knees and back hold up, I guess I'll be alright," Ivey said.
Ivey's not planning on hanging up the cleats anytime soon.
"I'll play as long as I possibly can, grant it, it doesn’t keep me in excellent shape, but it does get me out there. I do run and I do stretch, and I do enjoy being with everybody. But it's got a lot to do with staying in shape too. I pay the price the next day. I'm sore. It's not like it used to be. It takes longer to get over it," he said, pointing to the Aspercream on the coffee table.
"I wish I was as strong and competitive as I was when I was young, but we can't all stay young and strong, and I know that. But I'm still out there, and I'm still taking the shots at third base … just like I was 20 years ago," he said. "I may not be able to field them as cleanly or throw it as hard over to first base, but I'm still out there."
Love of the game and Destin
"I've played ball all my life," Ivey said, noting he started in Little League and played in high school. He went to school in North Carolina and moved here in 1989 to work in the restaurant business as a sous chef.
"I was going too move around with this chef all over the southeast," he said. But he turned the offer down and 25 years later, Ivey is still on the Emerald Coast and loving it.
"I'm so proud to be here in Destin and watch Destin grow," Ivey said.
And he's thankful for the many sponsors of his softball teams over the years. Some of his sponsors include Barbary Coast, Hooters, Emerald Coast Realty, Great American Remodeling, Buster's, Doug's Sidepockets, Pro Tech Services, Frangista Seafood and Spirits, Capt. Dave's, Coastal Carpet and Tile, Harry T's, Landsharks, Bonefish and now Ivey League.
"Somehow I've been able to scrape up a sponsor here and there," Ivey said. "And without the local folks being kind and generous, the teams probably wouldn't have existed. It gets more and more expensive every year to have a team. But it's still a cheap hobby."
In addition to ball, Ivey likes to fish as well.
"I fish an awful lot," he said, noting he likes to fish off his jet ski so he can sneak up on the big ones.
"I just enjoy Destin. You get the free launch at Joe's Bayou, free entrance to Henderson Park, post office is right around the corner … what else could you ask for? It's great to live in Destin.
"It's been a long fun road …" Ivey said. "I've loved every second of it."