Jim Laeng is 79 and still playing softball.
Richard “Dick” Anderson has him beat — he’s 85.
They are two of the 40 or so guys who play in the Men’s Senior Softball League or, as some folks lovingly call it, Old Men Softball. Four teams have met on a Standard Park field every Wednesday night since April for the spring season. Summer season began in June with a record number of teams.
The league was established nearly 30 years ago and both Laeng and Anderson played in the first season and every year since.
They wouldn’t miss it, although Anderson did have to sit out much of one season after a zinger line drive caused his middle finger to get jammed back into his hand.
"Comradeship, the teasing, the laughing. It's kind of like a family because you meet every Wednesday night," Anderson said.
“It’s a ritual,” Laeng said. "I'll play until I get tired. I'll play until it is not fun."
They’ve even got something of a following — besides wives and family sometimes neighbors show up and owners of businesses that sponsor the individual teams. Anderson said he’s seen as many as 40 people in the stands.
The athletes come with varying degrees of ability and competitiveness. Laeng never played in school, in fact, he quit school at 16 and spent 32 years working for the Postal Service.
“I was never a great athlete,” he said. “I show up every week.”
He catches and gets to talk to everyone who comes up to bat. He loves that. The camaraderie is what keeps him coming back, week after week, year after year. At this point, he bats and someone runs for him.
Anderson is a competitor. He’s at the park 30 minutes before the game starts and wakes up on Wednesdays with the thought he’s going to get to pay ball that night. He plays second base.
"I give 100 percent in playing ball; I am excited about (baseball)," Anderson said.
He spent most of his working life as an administrator with the State Department of Corrections, which may explain his analytical powers about his softball performance.
“I always review my games in my mind even when I am driving home. I say 'I made a mental mistake today,' and I review," he said.
But the guys keep lifting each other up.
“We used to not even keep score,” Laeng said.
Anderson said for a time there was a guy who had played in a professional softball league.
Phil Nichols keeps stats and emails them to everyone after the game.
A few years ago, participants didn’t think they’d have enough people for the league to continue. There were three teams and so each Wednesday two teams would have to play a doubleheader, which was something of a stretch for some of the players.
Anderson said he doesn’t know precisely why the interest in the league has grown so much this year, other than that the players talk about it to their friends and neighbors.
Anderson gives a presentation to SIRS (Sons In Retirement) every March. He always gets one particular question: How many times have you had to go to the hospital?
And everyone laughs.
Anderson tells the truth. There was the one time he collided with a teammate in the field trying to snag a fly ball — they both called “got it” at the same time and didn’t hear the other. His glasses caused a gash over his eye that required 17 stitches .
And then the finger episode. He said he hates operations and didn’t seek medical attention until he was unable to bend his middle finger. He worried some people might have the wrong idea about what he was saying. He ended up with two screws and four pins.
The next season he was back. Playing second base. With a good story to tell his SIRS friends.