The gray-haired boys of summer

Members of the W. E. Ruth Realty softball team have gray hair and many are well into their 60s and 70s, but you would never know that to sit through one of their games.

A batting practice before a recent game at Celebration Park in Federal Way had batter after batter stepping up to the plate and hitting the ball right over the 300-foot fence line. And they made it look easy.

Sixty-five-year old Joe Franco was a Bellevue firefighter for 41 years. Now he is a softball player.

Franco has been playing ball for the last 10 years. The W. E. Ruth Realty team is the best 50-and-over team in the league, he said, and it has the championships to prove it.

It is difficult, however, to get these players to talk about themselves. They spend a lot of time complimenting each other with shouts like “Way to go, buddy” and “Good hit.”

Seventy-seven year old Jim Douglas started playing 10 years ago, as well. Team members affectionately call him the “Crusher,” and it appeared that he has earned that name.

Douglas, who plays third base, said, “Some of us played together in our 20s and 30s, and we still play together.”

Franco said that Rick Littlejohn is the best 60-and-over player in the state. “He runs, throws and hits like a 30-year-old guy,” Franco said.

During the warmup period, Littlejohn cracked two balls over the fence.

“He played semi-pro,” said Franco.

“Oh, we have a lot of good players,” Littlejohn said. “I play over 100 games a year, and it keeps me busy.”

This is John Harris’ 17th year with W. E. Ruth.

“It goes beyond being good,” he said about the team. “Our image off the field is as important as on the field. We try to live a good life and be good sportsmen and good citizens.”

Art Eversole said W. E. Ruth Realty has won the league title for six consecutive years.

Bill Ruth, owner and operator of the real estate firm, “is our sponsor, and he builds the finest teams. We all straighten up when he shows up,” Eversole said.

Sixty-eight year old Eversole said he has played senior ball since 2002.

“I play the outfield. I played some fastpitch as a young man, and this was an opportunity to play in the retirement years. I enjoy the camaraderie and travel and the recognition of winning tournaments,” he said, adding that W. E. Ruth was one of the finest teams in the nation. 

All the players acknowledge that playing softball keeps them engaged and in good physical shape.

Imogene Lawson came to the field to watch her son, Randy “Nate” Lawson, pitch. She lives in Tacoma and said her son has played softball “forever. I’ve seen a lot of games,” she said, adding that Nate was in the Washington State Hall of Fame.

“Older fellas can still play ball,” she said.

These boys of summer show up at every game and come to play. Their win record is impressive, but Littlejohn said they recently lost for the first time in two or three years.

It didn’t seem to bother Littlejohn as he swung the bat and waited for his turn at the plate.

Seventy-seven-year-old Jim Douglas, who teammates call "Crusher," warms up before a recent softball game at Celebration Park in Federal Way. (Joan Cronk/Senior Scene)
Seventy-seven-year-old Jim Douglas, who teammates call “Crusher,” warms up before a recent softball game at Celebration Park in Federal Way. (Joan Cronk/Senior Scene)

“It’s just time to start a new streak” he said.