Constable: Depression-era boy from Schaumburg still a ballplayer
The modern $200 carbon-fiber metal bat whips through the summer air at this Mount Prospect synthetic-turf field to rocket a 12-inch softball through the hole between third base and shortstop.
"Nice hit, Stan," yells a teammate.
"You're the man, Stan," offers another.
Schaumburg's Stanley Rauch heard those same cheers as a boy growing up in Cleveland during the Depression. In those days, he swung a cracked wood bat held together with carpet tacks to smack a cover-less baseball wrapped with electrical tape across a dirt field.
Details don't matter. Getting a hit always makes a guy feel good. And Rauch, whose business card identifies him as "Softball Player: Have Glove Will Travel," feels good.
"I usually go two-for-four, or maybe three-for-five," Rauch says of his at-bats in these nine-inning senior softball games. He also pitches the entire game. The sun is out and the temperature nears 85, same as Rauch, who turns 85 on Sept. 11.
"I'm the oldest active player and the oldest umpire," Rauch says of his more than three-decade career with senior softball leagues. "When I first started out, I was the youngest."
Working with a Chicago printer as a teen, Rauch made $5 a game playing for the Chicago Union Printers, a semipro baseball team that played in a tournament on the famed Polo Grounds in New York City. Rauch became a catcher the day he discovered that catchers and pitchers made $7 a game. Before that, he had been a regular of sorts at Wrigley Field.
"I worked there selling pop," Rauch says, noting that, at 15, he was too young to join the union, but they let him work as long as he coughed up 50 cents a game.
During a baseball camp sponsored by the Chicago Daily News in 1947, Rauch got to play catch with Cubs Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby. Dreaming of a chance to play in the Big Leagues, Rauch earned a tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies.
"I spent $4 a week on a hotel room," remembers Rauch, who practiced with the team in Florida for three weeks until the Phillies cut the 5-foot-7, 145-pound catcher, who couldn't compete with future All-Star Andy Seminick.
"I wasn't good enough and I was too small," Rauch says.
His life outside of baseball boasted happier results.
"We met on a blind date. A girlfriend of mine knew a fellow he knew," says Arlene, Rauch's wife of more than 65 years. "We used to go roller skating together in Des Plaines when we were kids."
Married on March 25, 1950, Rauch put baseball on a back burner as he settled into his career as a printer, husband and father of a boy, Randy, and a girl, Kathy.
"Once we got married, he didn't play much because we were raising the kids," Arlene says. The family settled in Mount Prospect before moving to Arlington Heights.
Still a ballplayer, Rauch found a way to keep his passion for the game. He'd hurry home from long days at his Ye Olde Village Printery shop in Des Plaines to play a father-son baseball game in the playground at Kensington Elementary School.
"The minute he got home from work, we'd play," remembers Randy Rauch, 54, a former TV meteorologist and now an executive producer and host of Wildside-TV in Florida. "It was almost like we had our own little fantasy world."
Pitching to a chalk strike zone on the school wall, the pair made up rules for what constituted a single, double, triple or home run, took turns batting and even kept box scores in a professional score book.
"We used to buy rubber balls by the dozens," Randy Rauch recalls.
When Stanley Rauch retired in 1979 shortly before his 49h birthday and moved to Arizona, he became the youngest player in senior softball leagues. When he moved back to Mount Prospect in 1982, Rauch promoted senior softball in the suburbs. Playing for teams such as the Schaumburg Cardinals and the Chicago Rostys (started by former congressman Dan Rostenkowski) Rauch would play in summer tournaments throughout the Midwest and then play winters in the Southwest.
"They played most every day (in Arizona), and I'd go to every game," Arlene says. "He seems to be happy playing ball."
Rauch plays softball three days a week indoors in Schaumburg during the winter, outside three days a week in Mount Prospect during the summer. He also umpires senior leagues.
"He's amazing," says Rich Cinquini, 65, of Palatine, an assistant commissioner for the league. "God bless him."
"I always hope and pray he doesn't get hit," Arlene Rauch says. A net set up in front of the pitcher's mound offers some protection from screaming line drives, but it's far from foolproof.
"Every pitcher gets hit. It's a normal thing," Stanley Rauch says after he deflects one hard-hit ball with his 20-year-old, well-worn Wilson A800 mitt. "I bought a new glove, but this one is comfortable."
Teams bat for two innings at a time to limit the time and effort of running off the field after every three outs. But the games can still take 90 minutes or more, and go into extra innings.
"It's still fun," says player Lou Guentz, 80, of Buffalo Grove. "Everybody's trying like hell."
Rauch is an inspiration for Howard Lipschultz, 82, of Buffalo Grove. Lipschultz says he's never missed a season in spite of two heart attacks, two hip replacements, one artificial knee, a double hernia, pancreatitis and a septic infection that just about killed him.
"Thattaway, Mel! Thattaway!," Rauch yells to a teammate who makes a nice play.
"They're like little kids again when they play ball," says Kathy Marrison, Rauch's daughter, who attended plenty of boys' games when her three sons were growing up in Palatine. "They talk about the game before the game, and talk about the game after the game."
There is one big difference between Rauch's ball-playing today and the game he played 75 years ago.
"They played years ago with cracked wood bats and electrical tape," Marrison says. "And now, their bats? Those bats are expensive."