This game has it all:
A one-arm batter who can hit 300 feet (he has two arms, but swings with one), hecklers, an ardent fan base consisting of two wives and seven friends from BARC, a pre-game meal consisting of a box of doughnuts (mostly chocolate) from the bakeshop at Winco, an 84-year-old who looks capable of challenging Yasiel Puig for the right field spot on the Dodgers, and Grayson, a lanky German shepherd, running the bases after the game is over.
These are the Silver Streakers and this is the Tuesday and Friday softball game at North Beardsley Park. “Softball” is a misnomer. There is nothing soft about this 12-inch ball and if it strikes a clump of crabgrass and hits you in the wrong spot, it can leave a bruise or turn a baritone into an alto.
In order to play, you must be over 55, reasonably alive and have a sense of humor.
“We lay off the new guys the first time, said Kent Goble, ex-player, scorekeeper and chief heckler.
“The second time we really give it to them because we want them to feel loved and as if they belong.”
The late podiatrist Frank Benedict started the game 28 years ago. Its 20 to 35 players — mostly veterans — consist of retired city workers, mental health professionals, firefighters, sheriff's deputies, oilfield and construction workers and maintenance men. Some still work but can be cagey about what they do, and teammates may disagree with their description of it as “work.”
Their numbers rise and fall with injuries.
“Everybody has something going on,” said Richard “Tug” Tugwell. “Knee replacements, hurt backs, bypasses — you name it."
Given the demographic, the players are an orthopedist’s delight and a cardiologist’s dream. But the guys don't see it that way; injuries are a badge of honor, indicating that they rise, shine and play.
The game (coed, but not many female takers) accommodates them. If somebody can bat but not run, a runner stationed at home plate runs for him should he make contact. If he can’t bat or run, he can coach or lob constructive advice from the bleachers.
The game has an umpire, currently Frank Shephard, who is subject to the same regard as the players.
“Frank is perfect,” Goble said. “He can’t see and he can’t hear. When Frank makes a call and it goes against you, it’s called getting Franked.”
Awhile back, a second umpire took issue with the players over the interpretation of the infield fly rule.
“He quit for six weeks and we didn’t even notice he was gone for the first four,” Goble said.
The pitching (underhanded) is slow, and even with the array of pitches — knuckleball, forward roll, finger tips, backward roll, curve and an orbit ball — it’s almost impossible not to get good wood (the bats are aluminum or composite) on the ball.
“Impossible,” unless you’re from the newspaper and you take a few swings after the game and whiff three and dribble two.
Strikeouts are met with hoots and remembered the next time the batter comes up. Defense is critical and subject to oohs and boos.
“We have double plays and the occasional triple play," Tug said. “Triple plays, not because the defense is good, but because runners sometimes get confused.”
Players are assigned nicknames because of their special talents.
Darrell “Homerun” Baker, “Falling Down” Duane, Richard “The Jack Rabbit,” and Al “The Human Glacier."
“Al moves so slowly, it requires time-lapse photography to monitor his speed,” Tug said.
Nobody is turned away, which means everybody plays. Mack (Magellon) Walker, a veteran of 23 years, makes the lineups, the first criteria being: Can he run or not.
“I have to hide a few players,” Walker said. “I make them catchers or put them at third base.”
There are the “hiders” and then the players who are held in awe.
Shortstop Randy Griggs is routinely described by his teammates as “spectacular.”
Brothers Tony and Paul Armendariz lock down the outfield tighter than Corcoran State Prison. Ed Rangel is a power-hitting sensation, and then there is 84-year-old Darrell Baker, who still plays on travel teams.
Near the top is JB (Jerry Brooks), the one-armed wonder who comes with a warning label: Don’t go soft when you shake his hand for the first time, JB will crush your hand like sawdust.
JB uses one arm because of a shoulder injury. The shoulder injury was child’s play compared to those he suffered years before after falling 30 feet off a tower, shattering the bones in his feet and landing him in the hospital for 28 days. When JB comes to bat, infielders head for the outfield and outfielders get ready to climb the fence that separates North Beardsley Elementary School from the park.
“JB once hit a ball onto the on-ramp on 1-15 during a game in Mesquite,” Tug said. “He has such a reputation for hitting that he made a T-shirt that read, 'I’m that guy.'”
Other players of note include Jesse Valdez, a four-tool player. Valdez can hit, run, field but his most important skill is that he chalks the lines before the game.
“They’re almost straight,” Valdez said, who took over the job from another player whose nickname might as well have been Zig Zag.
The Streakers have a robust fan club and cheering section consisting of Melanie Nieto and her seven charges from BARC. The players refer to them as their “season ticket-holders” and both the players and fans know one another by name.
The Streakers host barbecues for their season ticket-holders. They also have a Christmas party for the team, visit one another in the hospital and attend funerals when the sad day comes.
The game (seven innings long) is everything but almost no one can remember scores or who won the last game. The focus is fun and humor.
The rule is laugh at people, but not too hard because your time is coming.
Tug comes to bat during the fifth inning and hits a routine fly ball that is caught in right field.
“Tell your readers I crushed the ball but the outfielder made a spectacular catch,” he said.
“One guy had a ball bounce up his shorts and he didn’t know it,” Goble said.
Carlos Estrada was involved in a memorable play that may land in his obit.
“Carlos was the catcher and the batter dribbled the ball in front of the plate,” Goble said. “He spun to throw to third but no one was covering the base, then he tried second but no one was there either and the same at first. He decided to throw it home but forgot he was the catcher.”
A recent game ends and somebody says, “Usually the pretty guys are on the winning side, but not today.”
Not today and maybe not tomorrow. What’s pretty is the sound of an aluminum bat creaming a 12-inch ball, a shuffle, no a sprint, to first base and men not too old to become boys again.