Clad in blue jeans and a jersey with his softball team’s jokey namesake, The Codgers, 86-year-old Jim Firzlaff stepped to the plate Monday with a little pop in his bat.
The retired U.S. Air Force serviceman ripped the first pitch foul along the third-base line, promptly showing the more youthful opposition – their youngest player well into his 60s – he can still swing it.
Running the basepaths, however, is the most taxing pursuit in this 65-and-older men’s Spokane Senior Softball League at the Plantes Ferry softball fields.
When Firzlaff roped the second pitch on a hop to a Performance Physical Therapy shortstop, his small, choppy strides weren’t going to beat out the throw to first. He reached on an error, though.
“This is great,” Firzlaff said after trotting back to his dugout. “It keeps you active and in shape.”
Injuries are common, home runs are rare and the fun is evident in this five-team league that ends its season with a championship series. The league began in 2005 at Franklin Park, moved to Merkel Sports Complex and is now hosted every Monday at Plantes Ferry.
The spectrum of players ranges from retired doctors, teachers, salesman and business owners, many who served in the military.
Irv Sussman, a longtime player/manager of the team Living Legends, said he came across an ad for a senior league but figured he was too old to play. Now 82, Sussman said the league is growing and offers a special camaraderie among its members.
“You’re in your 60s and 70s, but when you get out here, you’re 17,” said Sussman, who does more managing than playing these days. “You’re back in high school, but without the egos. It’s just playing for fun, but it’s competitive. We want to win.”
Some teams are decked out in professional-style jerseys, pants and ballcaps, but others are more casual. Each shows up to the ballpark early to field grounders, pop-ups and take a few warm-up cuts.
Members of the Living Legends often take part in some good-natured ribbing in the dugout. Others had pregame chats Monday about politics and church and their former days of glory.
Unlike some leagues that wear the “beer league” moniker, alcohol is prohibited.
The league is comprised of the Living Legends, Dishman Dodge, The Codgers, Performance Physical Therapy and Illinois Bar and Grill.
“Guys that have had health issues or are on their way to recovery, they’re out here,” Sussman said. “This is all about having fun.”
Illinois Bar and Grill’s Ron Klawitter, a CFO of contract manufacturer KeyTronicEMS, played through a hamstring injury Monday against the Living Legends.
In each of his at-bats, Klawitter hobbled to first after making contact and was given a pinch runner. An All-American linebacker at NCAA Division III Wittenberg (Ohio) University, Klawitter, who still has an athlete’s physique, said that his mind and body aren’t always on the same page.
“It’s great because (the senior league) gives guys like us a chance to keep playing,” Klawitter said. “But it’s like what my wife says: ‘I can tell you guys all used to be pretty good athletes, and you still want to do it, but sometimes you just can’t get it done.’ But we try.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.