Constable: 90-year-old ballplayer credits 'new parts,' old teammates
The gravity of the 9/11 date wasn't what stopped Stanley Rauch of Schaumburg from playing 12-inch softball on his birthday. Neither was that open-heart surgery he endured last year when doctors gave him "three stents and a cow's valve." Neither did the fact that he was turning 90 years old. Nope, his birthday game and celebration were canceled by the common enemy of all ballgames -- rain.
In an on-field ceremony four days later, Rauch got a giant birthday card signed by the players in the senior softball circuit who play at Melas Park in Mount Prospect, and a little pregame razzing for being the oldest of 150 players in the league.
"Stan, what was Abner Doubleday really like?"
"Has your glove got Babe Ruth's signature on it?"
"Did you play for a Civil War team?"
The quick-witted Rauch counters with a story about how, during a baseball camp at Wrigley Field in 1947, "I did play catch with Rogers Hornsby," the Chicago Cubs' Hall of Fame second-baseman who won the National League's Most Valuable Player award in 1929. Rauch also notes that he once got to throw out the first pitch at a Cubs' spring training game in Arizona.
"I've done a lot of things," says Rauch, who can spin stories about being a vendor selling pop, peanuts and popcorn at Wrigley Field during the 1945 World Series. "But the best thing is playing 41 years with all the guys I've played with."
Having played on dozens of teams in Senior Softball USA leagues and tournaments. Rauch tells all the "youngsters" in this league for players 50 and older to keep playing until they reach 90, or maybe 95.
"We're still able to stand out here and play," Rauch says. "Not as good as we did, but we play. I don't get as many hits, and mostly singles."
A pitcher for many years, Rauch usually plays catcher these days. "I just can't seem to throw strikes after my surgery," says Rauch, who means his heart surgery, not the surgeries he had in 2001 and 2004 to replace both knees.
"There's no doubt about it. You need new parts every once in a while," says Rauch, who also uses a new carbon-fiber metal bat and wears a modern batting glove on his left hand. But his fielder's glove, a classic Wilson A2000, is almost as old as some of his teammates.
"That's my son-in-law. I taught him everything I know," Rauch says as 68-year-old Bill Clark, who is married to Rauch's daughter, Kathy Marrison, and lives in Wauconda, lines a single into the outfield.
A baseball player as a boy growing up in Cleveland, Rauch moved to Chicago and played semipro baseball for the Chicago Union Printers. He had a tryout with Philadelphia's major league club one spring, but couldn't make the roster as a 145-pound, 5-foot-7 catcher.
Instead Rauch and his wife of 70 years, Arlene, whom he met on a blind date as a teen, raised their children, Randy and Kathy. Rauch owned and operated Ye Olde Village Printery shop in Des Plaines, where he made a friend of customer Don Kessinger, the Cubs' All-Star shortstop in the 1960s and '70s.
While he once played in the highly competitive A division of the senior league, Rauch and his peers now play in the more relaxed C division.
"We can't take the line drives that come off the bats of the younger guys," says teammate Fred Krzysik, 88, of Palatine. "And by younger guys, I mean guys in the 50s and 60s."
Another teammate, Skip Kronberg of Hoffman Estates, will turn 90 next spring. The rules of Senior Softball USA are meant to avoid collisions by eliminating tag plays and having batters run to a first base a few feet away from the one used by fielders.
No one is sure if the league will be able to move inside with the Schaumburg Park District this winter because of the coronavirus restrictions. Player Don Schreiner, 86, of Des Plaines, didn't referee high school football this fall for the first time in 57 years because of coronavirus. But if there is a way to play, Rauch will find it.
"Guys can play softball for a long time," Rauch says. "I guess softball can get in your blood."