Babes play ball after all these years
As the Babes of 1916 softball manager Dave Kulka reviews his team’s lineup, he writes down the numbers, 92, 88, 88, 87, 85, 97, 89. The players’ jersey numbers? No. The number of games they played? Nope. It’s the ages of his players.
Yes, everyone in this little group is over the age of 85. Although the Babes of 1916 Senior Softball league has over 150 active members ages 65 and up, these are the ones who have reached at least the 85-year mark. And they are still playing ball, still going strong.
The Babes of 1916 organization was started in 1983 with just 14 men taking part in the first organizational meeting. Today, their organization includes almost 200 members. They offer a summer softball league, fall league and an indoor softball league in the winter.
“We also have bowling weekly from September to April, weekly volleyball, golf outings and numerous social events,” Mr. Kulka said. All of these activities help keep the players in shape for the summer season, he said. “Last year we had nine teams actively playing roughly 32 games from May through August at Solon Community Park.”
On a recent Wednesday, it was bowling time at Roseland Lanes in Oakwood Village, where five octogenarians and two nonagenarians got together on the bowling lanes.
“These guys are still bowling, still playing softball even after the age of 85,” Mr. Kulka said. “They play through pain, fatigue and everything else purely because they love the game, the competition and the camaraderie. They all believe that, if you stop, you stop hard.”
They also seem to believe in having a good sense of humor about their age and what they called “our diminishing skills.”
One player, Jack Guyon, said to put him down as 97 years old, even though his birthday was in a few days, and he would be 98 that day. “I’ll only be 98 if I make it to Monday,” he said. “You never know,” he added with a hearty laugh.
He knows that the Babes organization is a place where he can go see his friends, meet up with the guys who are “like me,” and be part of a group that helps him stay active. Although he had to stop playing softball a few years ago, Mr. Guyon still bowls. Last year he bowled a 264, which was the highest score of anyone in the bowling league.
Don Schmidt, 92, of Twinsburg, joined the Babes in 2004.
Mr. Kulka’s stat sheet on Mr. Schmidt reads, “amazing – pitches and still runs well in softball, bowls regularly, very active.”
Even Mr. Schmidt’s daughter-in-law Venus Schmidt is quick to sing his praises. “My father-in-law Don plays softball with my husband, Keith. Keith is 67, and Don is 92. Don is a really good player,” she said.
When asked who was better, father or son, she didn’t hesitate. “Oh, my father-in-law is better,” she said. “He even runs for the other guys who aren’t able to run anymore.”
Mr. Schmidt acknowledged that he has some athletic talent, but he thinks that his skills have changed a little lately. “Well, I used to be a good bowler years ago. But now that I am 92, I am not that good.,” he said with a smile.
He said he plans to continue playing softball and bowling, however, as long as he can. “This group is just fantastic,” Mr. Schmidt said. “I have been 28 years with the Babes. I love it, because we are all just the same.”
His wife, MaryAnn, goes to every one of his games, including bowling each week, as she has done for all of their adult lives. “We have really traveled all over the country thanks to his softball,” she said.
Another player, Roger Thresher, 88, of Munson Township, joined the Babes when he first retired from his job in national sales. Eventually, he was recruited to join other travel softball teams and took part in highly competitive games and tournaments, even being enshrined in the Senior Softball Hall of Fame.
Mr. Thresher is still a good hitter and a great outfielder, according to his manager. He should be. As a college student, Mr. Thresher tried out for the Cleveland Indians. Although he was cut on the last day of tryouts, he signed a contract with the team. He has played baseball or softball almost all of his life. So, at 88, he rejoined the Babes of 1916 and plans to play with them as long as he can.
Norm Singer, 85, of Orange, is well known in his community for a reason other than softball. He served as the village’s mayor in the 1980s. He joined the Babes in 2007, likes to play catcher and still runs well. He likes being part of the Babes, because “of all the people I have met who I would never have known.”
Mr. Singer encouraged his friend Dennis Spector, 88, of Beachwood, to join in 2008. Mr. Spector is listed as a good hitter and outfielder. He said he “is still available to run for whoever needs him,” explaining that some of the players ask for a substitute runner but still take their turns at bat.
Al Prietz, 89, of Solon, joined the Babes bowling league in 2012. Although he doesn’t play softball now, he still works as a certified public accountant when not bowling.
And there is Tony Leonardi, 87, of Aurora, who joined the Babes in 2010 and is on the list of the “over 85s.” He was not in attendance for the bowling recently, because he was in Florida. “He has managed a team for many years and still plays outfield on the team,” according to Mr. Kulka.
Although it was not discussed openly, it could be that Mr. Leonardi was really on a softball recruiting trip in Florida.
The Babes are always looking for additional fast runners, according to Mr. Kulka.
The Babes of 1916, including their group of 85-plus-year-old players, referred to as the “1930ers” and “1920ers” because they wear their birth years on the backs of their jerseys, will be training throughout the next few months. They are waiting for May, for the sun to come out, the sound of their bats to hit the ball and their chance to run the bases once again, thrilled to be back for another senior softball season in Solon.
“Good Lord willing, I will be back in uniform this coming season,” Mr. Spector promised.
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