Love of the game: Two friends play on same softball team for 40 years
Stories about men playing in slowpitch softball leagues well into their 60s aren't particularly rare, as it most definitely happens throughout Chicago and its suburbs.
How about two guys playing on the same team together every Sunday during the summer for the past 40 years? That's called crazy by some, but it's a major commitment to something you love to others.
Ryan Soukup of St. Charles and Don Gaedtke of Elgin have played together on the Soukup's Hardware team for four decades as part of a Sunday league in St. Charles and more recently on Thursday nights at Pottawatomie Park and Sundays in Carol Stream.
My softball team played against these guys in their earliest years, so I would be among those who find this both crazy and inspiring.
"My wife was the one who signed me up for the Sunday league in St. Charles when they were just taking a pool of players, and once the team got together, I was made the manager the first year, and I have no clue why," said the 61-year-old Soukup. He went on to sponsor the team through his family's hardware store business and manage it to this day.
The team outlasted the business, as Soukup's Hardware closed its last store in Glen Ellyn four years ago, but the softball squad still carries the Soukup's name because Ryan continues to sponsor the team.
What his wife, Julie, couldn't have known at the time was that Ryan would eventually play every Sunday without fail -- except for one time when he was the best man at his brother's wedding.
"Ryan is obsessed with softball. He really is," Julie said. "He's crazy. We just had our 40th anniversary, and I tell him the only reason he bought our house near Davis School (where the Sunday league played for years) was for me to put up with him and all of the guys for 40 years, but it's been a good time."
For the 60-year-old Gaedtke, it's been a similar type of addiction as he continues to play basketball in addition to the long softball grind.
"It's the camaraderie of the team. That's the most important thing," Gaedtke said.
That has to be important for Gaedtke, who has missed only about four Sundays the entire time. He has pitched for the team all these years, taking on what is a fairly dangerous role in a 12-inch softball game for an older fellow who has slower reflexes.
"I still pitch, and I love to pitch," Gaedtke said. "But I wear a mask now."
The decision to wear a mask was easy for Gaedtke, who took a line drive off his wrist from the bat of a young player a few years ago.
"The kid hit it right up the middle, and it hit me, and I didn't even see the ball," he said. "That made me want to wear a mask. The technology of the bats has gotten better, so they are like golf clubs now."
As these two softball warriors get older, Soukup makes sure it remains a family affair for as long as possible. His sons, Grant at 37 and Nick at 39, are regular players on the team and have been since they were 18.
"My goal now is to play with the grandchildren, and I have an 8-year-old now, so that will be 10 years from now and tough for me to reach," Soukup said. "But when you manage the team, you can put yourself in the lineup whenever you want."
The St. Charles Leisure League folded a few years ago because of a lack of teams, but Soukup has been able to keep his team playing in an Over-30 League in St. Charles and the Sunday league in Carol Stream.
"Over the years, we've lost a few players to family obligations, but if we lose anyone, it's almost always been to golf," he said. "But that's OK; golf is a game you can play forever."
As for softball, Soukup has the perfect mindset that can last decades.
"There are always teams that come in with younger guys, but they have to learn the game," he said. "I tell them you might have just got beat by older guys today, but keep playing, and you will get better. You have to do it for the right reason -- and that's to have fun."
It also doesn't hurt to have a spouse who knows that yet another Mother's Day might include a softball game on the schedule.
"Ryan is a good guy who would do anything for anybody, and that's why I put up with it (softball) all of these years," Julie said.
A timetable for Wok
You're going to have to be patient if you thought Wok 'N Fire would reopen soon after moving in late March from its First Street location in downtown St. Charles to the east side at the former Sweet Tomatoes spot.
Work is taking place inside the building at 2801 E. Main St. Still, the combination of materials being harder to get and the usual surprises of rebuilding a restaurant infrastructure are pretty typical.
That's why the restaurant set a timetable to have its grand opening at the end of this month. But it's open for food delivery now.
Strike up the bands
We're all anxious to see live music, which is good outdoors or indoors.
For those of us in the Tri-Cities area, the best variety of indoor music tends to unfold at the Arcada Theatre.
So the word that Ron Onesti plans to reopen the theater in mid-July under CDC guidelines is good news.
Rescheduling bands and events have to be a real juggling act for Onesti and his staff -- but it's a task he's been waiting for more than a year to take part in again.
With all of the remodeling work that's been done at the theater during the pandemic, including two new restaurants, it's not hard to imagine this treasure in downtown St. Charles will see bright days again before long.
The tattered flag
When walking her dog near Fourth and Main streets in St. Charles, Sally Gange couldn't help but notice the tattered American flag atop the flagpole there, near the Shell gas station.
She contacted the VFW in St. Charles, and the wheels were put in motion with VFW members helping to get that torn flag down and putting a new one up at some point.
Considering downtown St. Charles is adorned with flags along Main Street, it was a good idea for Sally to question why the damaged flag couldn't be removed.
Not that we need to be flag police, but in my walks near the Fox River in St. Charles, I wonder why the Carroll Tower doesn't use its flagpole any longer and whether the large unused pole near the former St. Charles police station could have a flag waving.
Mostly, you still have to look at the flag atop the Hotel Baker as one of the most notable ones in the region.
Life's work at the bank
Local banker extraordinaire Steve Martin of St. Charles retired last week after 51 years working at local banks.
An example of how it sometimes is not easy to communicate these days despite all of the tools to do so, Martin's wife, Cindy, had sent me an email to alert me about a surprise party for Steve at First State Bank.
But she had a typo in my email address, so I never saw it until she realized her boo-boo and resent it a day or so later, noting her mistake. I probably didn't belong at the bank's surprise party anyway, but I appreciate the thought.
He's had a great run, starting at the old State Bank of St. Charles when he was still in high school. For those not aware, that bank was in the structure at 1 E. Main St. that is currently being converted into the upcoming Graceful Ordinary restaurant.
Mostly, I think of Martin and his friend Bob Hoge and their efforts to keep a truly local bank in operation at Valley Community Bank for so long before having to give in to the economic realities of that particular era.
Mostly, here's to hoping Steve and his wife have a great retirement and that we all continue to see him around volunteering for, or participating in, community events.