At a time when most major league ballplayers are well into their pension years, three Spokane area athletes are still lacing up their cleats and oiling their gloves in the Inland Northwest Men’s 30-and-older Baseball League.
The 10-team league holds an annual tryout where teams have a chance to replenish their stock. The players wear the uniforms of various Major League teams, although there is no affiliation.
In a league made up predominantly of thirty-something players, three men stand out.
The senior statesman is 64-year-old Ed Antak. The Butte, Mont., native splits time between first and second base for the Pirates.
Of the three, Antak has the most baseball experience. He was a scholarship catcher for Pepperdine University in the early 1950s and signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1955.
Antak spent two years in the Army, however, before he got a chance to play for the Phillies minor-league team in the Penn-Ontario-New York League.
While Antak was serving a two-year stint in France, things changed in regard to the baseball draft.
“When I went into the service there was a rule that if you received more than a $4,000 bonus to sign, you went straight to the major league team,” said Antak. “When I came back I was 26 years old, competing against an 18-year-old kid that the Phillies signed for $80,000. I played for two years before they released me.”
The last time Antak played organized ball was 1960 - until this year.
“The minister of my church asked me if I’d like to play,” said Antak. “My wife encouraged me to give it a try, so here I am.
“The funny thing is that even when you get older your mind stays the same. I throw just as hard as I ever did, but the ball doesn’t get to second base any more.”
Some things haven’t changed in the last 37 years.
“Hitting is still a lot of fun,” said Antak. “The hardest thing, though, is since we only play on Sundays, if you get into a slump you have to wait a week for a chance to break out of it.”
Steve Harvey, 56, is in his fifth season playing first base and designated hitter for the Twins.
Harvey, who went to high school in Castle Rock, Colo., had never played organized baseball before 1993.
“The high school I went to didn’t have a baseball team,” he said. “I played basketball and football and ran track in high school and then in college at the Colorado School of Mines, but I never played baseball.”
Harvey played plenty of softball and decided in March of ‘93 to give baseball a try.
“I was shocked when I got a call saying the Twins had drafted me,” Harvey noted. “I got hooked after three or four games.
“I’d had four at-bats, all strikeouts, when they finally let me play first base. My first time up I hit one over the center fielder’s head and I was hooked for life.”
Harvey has steadily improved each year, and this year, after going 5 for 7 in a recent doubleheader at Sandpoint, his batting average stood at .436.
It seems he’s taken the advice of his former college coach, Jimmy Darden.
“I talked to him before I started playing to see if he had any advice for me,” said Harvey. “He said the only thing I have to tell you is ‘hit ‘em where they ain’t.”’
For Tom Sullivan, 51, his baseball-playing days ended at the Babe Ruth level, although he spent a lot of time coaching the teams of his two sons.
Sullivan’s wife also encouraged him to give it a try.
“My wife said that now that our two sons are done I should go play,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I went for a tryout last year at Seafirst Stadium and I really enjoyed playing.”
Sullivan, who moved to Spokane in 1967 while with the Air Force, is also the director of the league.
“I decided to get involved for the good of the league,” he stated. “It takes a lot of time, but I enjoy it.
“We try to leave the fields in better condition when we get done playing. We’ve hauled in dirt, raked, watered and cleaned out the dugouts. A lot of the schools and Legion teams appreciate what we’re trying to do.”
It isn’t often that something exceeds expectations, but that’s what happened to Sullivan.
“It’s been a lot more fun than I expected,” he said. “My teammates have helped me improve my game. We joke around, play hard and have fun doing it.”
Sullivan also plays on a 19-and-older team and says the difference is evident.
“With the 19-year-olds, their speed and reflexes are so much better. The kids have real positive attitudes and they’re a lot of fun to be around.” , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ALL-STAR GAMES At Seafirst Stadium July 24: 19-and-older, 7 p.m. July 25: 30-and-older, 7 p.m. July 26: 40-and-older, 7 p.m.
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