Oh, my Gosh! What an unbelievable streak that our 412 Club Senior Softball team put together late in the 2008 Summer/Fall Season. We first played in the Age 55 and over Senior League at Turner’s Club in 2006, finishing with a 10 win/8 loss season. Then we started out with a 3 – 5 overall record in 2007. We were a very strong hitting team our first year, but our bats went silent in early ’07. It was perplexing that virtually our entire team could hit that poorly. But alas, we did a complete 180-degree turnaround. The rest of the season, we won 8 in a row and 10 of our last 12, including a win and then a loss in the end of the season tournament. Overall we had an excellent 13-7 record. Including a final 4-tourney finish in the 10-team league. We were thrilled with how we finished the season. But you know, winning this thing was never a goal we had anyway. I never have heard any of the guys even mention it! We only have 3 or 4 practices a year. Before joining this senior league, most of us hadn’t even played softball in the past 7 to 12 years! We just wanted to get the old guys together, add some new ones, and go have some fun! And maybe get a little exercise at the same time. Don’t misunderstand, we are still VERY competitive. We try to win each game. But win or lose, we go down to the 412 afterwards for some tacos and beer, enjoying each other’s company, including the wives.
Fast forward to 2008. After barely splitting our first night double header, we got blasted by Rack and Helen’s, 16-1 and 18–1. Ouch! Overall after our first 11 games, we were 4–7. About that same time, our second baseman, “Kip” (Bruce Kipfer), one of the few guys hitting and fielding great, broke his wrist diving for a ground ball (Yes, I did say diving. He must have thought there was gold in that ball!) He was done for the year, and we were outscored in those first 11 games – 121-71. There was absolutely no indication at all that we could turn things around. None! Let alone go on a 12-game winning streak! We edged Pizza Hut 6-4, and then we won doubleheaders over CM Sloan and Raytheon. That night we really broke out, scoring 39 runs in the double bill. I remember thinking that our team’s hitting confidence should really be high going into next week against the first place team, Rousseau. Some of Rousseau’s players had even played pro-softball many years earlier with the Fort Wayne Scouts and Huggie-Bears. They had been and still are- the class of the league. In 2007, Rousseau ran the tables though the entire regular season and tournament, a 21-0 record. This year, they had a 14-2 record coming into the regular season’s final night. We surprisingly won both games, 8–2 and 7–5, to finish with a solid 11-7 record. But that was still only good for 5th place in the Turner’s league. However, we were “Hot” going into the double–elimination playoffs, having won our last 7 games. Rack & Helen’s edged out Rousseau for the regular season title with a 15-3 regular season record.
By tournament time, we just wanted to “keep on, keepin’ on”. We were firing on all cylinders. We had a poor year fielding earlier, but now we were playing solid “D”. Coach Ken Prather had Mike Marks and I split most of the season pitching. Bob Petrie, sidelined most of the season with an injury, was able to help pitch some in the tournament opening night – and he did very well! B.J. Miller, a solid player that Ken could plug in at almost any position, was back by then too, and most of the team was hitting fabulous. Plus third baseman Tim Mihalik was starting to look like Brooks Robinson at the “hot corner.” We opened with Dennis Signs, who easily beat us both games earlier in the season. We struggled early, trailing by 5 runs after 5 innings. Our bats finally awoke, and we tied it up in the top of the 6th inning. But nobody could score at all in the 7th, 8th or 9th inning of this nail biter. In fact, these tough Dennis Signs “old timers” almost won in the 9th. With the bases loaded, 2 outs, and a winning run on 3rd base, they lased a low-line drive to right field. 412 Club’s Bernie Ebetino, made a full-speed running catch about shin high to save the day! We finally exploded for 7 runs and a 19–12 tenth inning marathon victory. Our reward? Rest for 10 minutes, and play league champ Rack & Helen’s. They are a fabulously strong team evidenced by their 34-2 doubleheader whitewash of us way back in week 2.
It was a low scoring game, and we clung to a 6-3 lead going into the final inning. Our fielding was absolutely fantastic all game! Then in the 7th, we broke out with another 7-run inning for a 13–3 win. Our 412 Club team was still in the winner’s bracket, but so was Rousseu, our next opponent. I pitched the whole game, though B.J. was ready to change positions in case they would catch on fire. But “D” was the key for both teams in this low-scoring game. It was 6–6 going into the final inning. Our strong hitters came through again with three big runs in the top half of the 7th for a 9 – 6 win.
Next up was the Sea Dwellers, the only undefeated team (except us) left in the tourney. We were cruising until they scored 5 runs to tie us after 5 innings. But our M.O. throughout the tournament was to stage a big inning late. On cue, we scored a whopping 10 runs in the last 2 innings for a 17–9 hard fought win. In the battle of teams with only one loss, Rousseau played great – knocking out Rack’s. Since we had not yet lost, Rousseau would need to beat us twice to claim yet another senior city championship. Speaking for myself, I wasn’t extra-hyped up before the game at all. I just wanted to go out there in a “business as usual” manner. Yeah, that worked until I threw my first pitch. Then, adrenaline kicked in like I couldn’t believe! I never expected that at 60 years old. I haven’t been in any sporting event for probably 10 – 15 years with a chance to win a championship as a player (outside of coaching) in anything. I have always been extremely competitive, but this was different. That adrenaline lasted throughout the game! Though I didn’t hit well, I had my best pitching and fielding game of the season. Again we lost the coin flip, just like every tourney game. Visitors again. Both teams went down 1-2-3 in the opening inning. It was a game of tweaking out 1 or 2 runs here or there. We were playing really solid with a 7–1 lead going into the bottom of the 6th inning. Suddenly Rousseau had one of the best hard-hitting innings I have ever seen. They scored 5 runs to pull within 1 run (7-6) entering the 7th and final inning. In the top half, Denny Westrick (a .600 hitter) lashed a 2-out single to right field knocking a key runner in from 3rd base. A 2-run lead over these great hitters isn’t much, but it sure beats being up by only one! I remember thinking “we’ve got to get their first batter out”. He hits a real slow roller between pitchers mound and the 1st base line. This would be my easiest-and hardest play of the night! My left foot stepped on my right shoestring. I tumbled straight down, face first, landing on my hands. I was flat on the turf, and saw that the ball had stopped dead. Here I am, CRAWLING towards the ball like a dumb looking alligator! I tossed it to first baseman, Mike Lamborne. We think 6’4” Mike is the best first baseman in the league, and he proved it there, snagging if off his ankles to nip the runner. The next Rousseau batter singled. But two ground balls, the last one scooped up by Terry Hanks, sealed the Senior Softball Tournament Championship for the 412 Club! Wow, what a feeling! CITY CHAMPIONS! Four wins and seven losses – then twelve victories in a row! Sixteen wins and seven losses overall. We had just one error in the title game! Coach Prather did a super job with his lineups all year.
In our first two years, outfielders Cody Falk and Ron Magsamen were awesome! They were clearly our two best players. They both had great seasons again this year! But I feel that the key to our success this season was we had two other great players to help them out and solidify our entire lineup. Dan Opliger, a virtual human highlight film at shortstop, rejoined the team after taking 2007 off. He was also our leadoff hitter. And Terry Hanks, with a great bat and tremendous versatility in the field, got his hours switched at work, becoming a great full-time player. Those two enabled coach Prather to put everyone else in their respective best positions on the field! That was so key to our success. This accomplishment was truly a TOTAL TEAM EFFORT. Every player contributed and it seemed everybody was playing at their highest level. These include Jack Blavelt (2 B, SS, Everywhere), Chuck Nelson (1B/OF), Larry Petrie (OF), Richard Rumbla (OF), Ron Timma (OF), Dick Noll (C) and myself, Tom O’Brien (P). Tim, Cody and Mike Marks played hurt all year.
Looking back, I’m still amazed at what we did! How DID we do that? We gave no signs of improving at all – let alone to the level we did. We still weren’t the best team, or even the 2nd best. Rousseau and Rack’s were those in no particular order. I’m not even sure we were 3rd best. After all, we finished the regular season in 5th place. But, there is no doubt that our 412 Club team was the Hottest team! It’s like they were the 2007 N.E. Patriots (leagues best team), and we were the 2007 N.Y. Giants (who won like 9 road games in a row). It just goes to show you what a total team effort can accomplish! Also, what a great bunch of guys to play with. In three years, I have never heard even one guy ever get on another player. Not a cross word from anyone. That’s the way it should be. All for One and One for All. Though winning is always fun, when it really comes down to it, the new friendships developed with these guys is the thing I’ll remember the most. I love these guys! Since the title game, we’ve celebrated at Bandido’s and partied down at the 412 Club three times, presenting 412 with a large sponsor’s trophy. We all truly enjoy each others company and that is the best part of all!
FOOTNOTE: Within a couple weeks, the 412 Club downtown’s landmark place to go for many decades, shockingly announced that it was closing its doors for the 1st time since opening in 1948! So we’re City Senior Champs without a sponsor. If you might know of a possible sponsor, please call Tom OBrien at 494-8100. Thank you.
TURNERS SENIOR LEAGUE INFO
Want to learn how Turner’s Senior Softball is played? Any different rules than regular softball? You betcha! Rosters are bigger for most teams, especially because for the first time, we played double headers this year. Starting times are 6 to 9 pm. The first week is usually late April. We have 19 guys on the roster, and we averaged about 15 to 16 players each week. Eleven players (not 10) are in the field. Some teams go with five infielders; some go five outfielders or four outfielders and a short fielder. Our coach does a lot of “flip-flopping” in some positions between two guys who switch every other inning. Every player bats in the rotation, whether they are playing the field or not. Pinch-runners are allowed for each other, even from home plate. But they are regulated. There are two first base bags, side by side. The inside bag is for the first baseman. The outside one is for the runner. Also, runners can overrun 2nd and 3rd base. Sliding is not allowed. There is a white line painted from home plate to the back stop (fence). The base runner needs to cross that line before the catcher catches the ball on the plate, to be safe. This avoids possible collisions. Batters start with a 1 and 1 count. After the batter has two strikes, the next foul ball is an out. Bats must be single wall, one-piece bats that conforms to ASA regulations.
Here’s something definitely worth mentioning; our 1st season (2006), our teams average age was about 58. Many of the guys pulled their hamstrings that year. One night, we had four guys pull their hammys in one game. Our team soon learned the hard way that at nearly 60 years old, you shouldn’t try to run as hard as you did in your 30’s! In this 3rd year, our 412 Club never had one player all year go down with a pulled hamstring! And we had an absolute blast!
If you have other questions, or would like more information about the Senior Softball League, please call Jim Baker at 422-6625.