Saturday, June 24, 2000

Senior baseball isn't about your age




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        Eddie Caldwell came up as a second baseman, but he grows old in the outfield. He has been put out to pasture because his wheels are too good to waste.

        Caldwell is 45 years old, fresh off a hamstring pull, but he still runs better than most of his younger teammates on the Cincinnati Suds. The first thing you find out about the Cincinnati's Men's Senior Baseball League is that age is arbitrary. The second thing you learn is that speed is a relative concept.

        When Guy Wilburn creaked into third base Wednesday night at Kings High School, it was through an act of will. But it would have required an act of Congress to persuade Wilburn to try to score when a pitch got past the opposing catcher. This is a man who knows the limits of his 39-year-old legs.

        “Hey, Willie, 10 years ago you'd have been there,” a teammate said to the Suds pitcher.

        “Standing,” Wilburn replied.

Time is relative
        Ten years is a long career for a ballplayer, but some guys just can't let it go at that. Dave Parker's distinguished major-league career spanned 19 seasons, yet he later resurfaced in the MSBL (where Wilburn would plunk him twice in one game). Caldwell's wife told him it was time to quit three years ago when he shredded a rotator cuff diving for a ball. He told her he would hang 'em up as soon as his other shoulder gave out.

        “Lord willing, I'll play till I'm 65,” the Procter & Gamble executive said. “Realistically, I think it's going to be 55.”

        If the senior game sometimes suffers artistically because of the ravages of age, the competition remains keen. The league is composed largely of former college players, many of whom have played professionally, and their games are conducted with high purpose and surprising precision. Consistent with baseball champions at every level, the Suds (13-2) usually prevail because of good pitching.

        There's very little nonsense and absolutely no beer until the game is over and the tarp has been pulled over the pitcher's mound. Signs are given and stolen. Chatter is constant and carefully focused. Hitters come back to the bench muttering to themselves when they've made an out.

        Former Moeller pitcher Matt Woellert, once a prospect in the New York Mets organization, runs the Suds with the businesslike bearing of a man accustomed to playing for keeps. He is in need of a sponsor, in part, because a previous sponsor wasn't satisfied with his playing time.

Serious about baseball
        When Eddie Caldwell answered an ad soliciting over-30 players, he was told to show up at Glen Este High School for a February tryout.

        “Are you guys going to be inside?” Caldwell asked.

        The answer was no. Practice was conducted in the parking lot. The temperature was 13 degrees.

        “I thought, "You guys have got to be crazy,'” Caldwell said. “But they selected me.”

        Shortstop DeWayne Woodall, from Eldorado, Ohio, commutes more than an hour each way “for the love of the game.” Wilburn, a scruffy left-hander with sharp control (Tom Browning II?), spends his days laying concrete.

        “When I hear all the pitchers in the majors crying, I laugh,” he said. “I say, "You come work with me for one day.'”

        Hitting him would be harder. Say this for senior baseball: It's not kid stuff.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.