Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guys My Age Swingin' Bats

A couple of lifelong buddies have been making the rounds of the local TV and radio shows, drumming up support for their dream of a softball league for guys 55 and over. Ray Blum and Bob Ruhland played together decades ago, and they’re going to again – this summer, at Goodman Park.

My pal Doug Moe wrote a great column about the Greater Madison Senior Softball League, a few days ago, in the State Journal. I saw Ray and Bob on Channel 3’s “Live at Five” the other night and since then the softball bug has bitten me again. But I’d pound my beautiful titanium left hip into a pile of shrapnel if I did.

I have always loved baseball and softball, and they are two very different games. My very first baseball coach was the legendary Russ Tiedemann, who left Hortonville High to eventually become head baseball coach of the UW-Oshkosh Titans, and Coach Tiedemann has sent more than his fair share of young men to Major League Baseball.

Does the name Jim Gantner ring a bell? Gumby, as they called him, was second-baseman for the Brewers from ’76 to ’92, a member of the World Series team. He was one of Coach Tiedemann’s products, a member of the Titan Hall of Fame.

Like Ray Blum, I’ve faced legendary fast-pitch softball star Eddie Feigner, who campaigned around the nation for years as “The King and His Court”. That guy could make a softball dance! I got a solid single to right off Eddie at the South Side Lighted Diamond in Oshkosh back in the 80's and I’ve replayed the moment in my mind thousands of times. The radio station I worked for back then brought Eddie to town for a charity event, and after the game, I got to buy The King a beer at the Holiday Inn.

I was decent at bar-league softball. I could hit the cover off the ball, but couldn’t leg a single into a double to save my soul. I still have a softball trophy on the shelf in my office, of a game ball the team gave to me after I hit a one-out bases-loaded blast to left field to clear the bases and win the game. Probably any other guy on the team would have had at least a triple, if not an inside-the-park homer on that massive hit, but I barely made it to second. The next guy struck out, which was good, because if I’d had to run, I would have been thrown out at third. We hung on to win the game and the guys gave me the game ball and later gave me a nice trophy to put it in.

If my friend Steve, up in Oshkosh, is reading this, he may remember the night at Sportsman's Park. After I connected with the ball, he said "Boy, did he get a hold of that one!" - and it was one of those audio/video moments that's burned into your memory. I believe another friend named Steve, who lives in Neenah, was pitching for our radio station team that night.

So I’m happy that Ray and Bob are having great success in organizing this over-55 softball league. They said they have room for 8 fifteen-man teams, and they already have a hundred guys signed up.

I have a feeling I’m going to be hanging out at Goodman Park on Wednesday mornings to get my vicarious softball fix. Play starts the 12th of May. Can’t wait!


  1. The Steve in Neenah says that he only has two clear memories of playing softball for "the radio station I worked for back then":

    1) Facing some guy at the plate from WAPL, I believe, who was really into competition. He stood at the plate, maneuvering that bat like a pro and stared out at me. He looked like he was going to WILL that ball into the perfect spot over the plate to smash it for a home run. I looked at him and I doubled up laughing.

    2) After one game -- it may have been that same one -- came a tremendous lightning storm and gully washer. I drove my '75 BMW 530i into water 14" deep near the corner of Bowen and Murdock. That BMW had a novel design "feature": the air intake was positioned in front of the right-front tire. It sucked water into the engine thereby destroying it.

    I'm sorry, Colonel, that I didn't retain anything more significant from those games. I wasn't brought up to appreciate competitive sports and what they can do for a growing boy. My participation as pitcher just meant that I got closer to the plate than the other guys some additional fraction of the time.

    My sports-related memories of that time include singing "Oh Lord, It's Hard to be Humble" in some bar with the girl's softball team for which a couple of our co-workers played.

    I also remember quite vividly playing the brand spanking new Sentry Insurance Company golf course in Stevens Point with you and McCoy (and Lewis? Or the Captain?). Especially the havoc wreaked on a driver you'd just purchased from a friend of mine after a particularly egregious shot. Both you and McCoy, as I recall, tossed a club each into the lake in the middle of the course at one point. (McCoy had great difficulty escaping the woods.) Those are the moments SEARED into my memory!

    The Town Crank

  2. Oh, Steve - you forgot the time WYTL was playing WAPL - I believe, the very game you referenced - and you, the starting pitcher, lobbed a giant red APPLE to the plate for the opening pitch? We'd arranged it with the ump, Buzzy Wilcox, so that the first "pitch" would be called a ball....but Mr. Lead-Off Hitter took a vicious cut at it, and smashed the apple to smithereens. I was playing my usual position at first base and got showered with apple-fetti.

    My memories of the golfing events are hazy; do you remember playing "Speed-Drunk Golf" with Mark Lewis and crew at some small exurban course?


  3. The phrase "Speed-Drunk-Golf" made me laugh out loud.

    Of course, how can we forget the Oshkosh Common Council passing (nearly) a resoloution recognizing the radio station team for actually winning a game. Or the famed Don Pardo team introductions.

    Nice memories to start such a beautiful day!

    Steve in Oshkosh

  4. I've seen the reports on thes guys and their 55 and over league. In hope it's around in 3 years. Maybe one of those teams will need a 2nd baseman when I'm old enough.

  5. Steve and Tim - I googled Russ Tiedemann and stumbled on this article. Steve - I remember that gully washer on that very corner you mention. I gave you a ride after seeing your BMW had stalled. But, I don't remember if I drove you to work, the car shop or home. (Or, perhaps I didn't give you a lift at all?) Cripes that was 30 years ago. Good times. Bill Kiefer

  6. Bill,

    I was so distraught at having tried to motor through that lake that I don't remember how I got home. Half my life ago! They certainly were good times, though. I tell everyone who'll listen that that my tenure at WOSH/WYTL the most fun job I ever had.

    Colonel, I remember now the apple pitched to WAPL, AND "speed drunk golf"...though the particulars are vague.

    The Town Crank