|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • SOFTBALL

    Optical Illusions still going strong

    Local slow-pitch softball team has been together for 32 seasons
  • A defeat for the Optical Illusions is usually nothing that a good laugh and beer can't cure.
    • email print
      Comment
    • THE OPTICAL ILLUSIONS
      WHO: A collections of local slow-pitch softball players who compete in the Thursday Men's C league. The club was formed in 1983.
      up next: Thursday, 7:15 p.m., Optical Illusions (7-2) vs. Ashla...
      » Read more
      X
      THE OPTICAL ILLUSIONS
      WHO: A collections of local slow-pitch softball players who compete in the Thursday Men's C league. The club was formed in 1983.

      up next: Thursday, 7:15 p.m., Optical Illusions (7-2) vs. Ashland Athletics (5-4), U.S. Cellular Community Park Field 5.
  • A defeat for the Optical Illusions is usually nothing that a good laugh and beer can't cure.
    Fortunately for the local slow-pitch softball team, they don't lose much. The squad is 7-2 in the Medford Parks and Recreation Men's C league standings.
    Winning is optimal, but when you've been together for as long as they have — the team was formed in 1983 — the goal is longevity, founder and captain Gary Jones says.
    "It I quit it's one more thing I can't do anymore," says the 63-year-old Jones. "I just enjoy it so much, being together with the guys and goofing around in the dugout. It helps me mark how fast time is passing. All of a sudden here we are at 32 seasons, and it seems like yesterday we were getting started."
    The tradition begins every April as players new and old gather. Three men — Jones, Kurt Wilkening and Brad Haley — have been there since the beginning. The 18-player roster this year includes participants as young as 22 and as old as 67, with most in their 50s.
    Jones insists on one practice before every season.
    "Gary is really the glue that has held everything together," says Wilkening, an Applegate resident.
    Members of the Optical Illusions have nothing to fear if they can't see well or if they get a speck of dirt in their eye — the squad includes four optometrists (Eric Dukes, Brian Mitchell, Damon Hanson and Wilkening), an ophthalmologist (Paul Schultz) and Jones, an optician. Jones says he and others are always looking for new talent, too.
    "We keep getting some new blood in there, so we're able to be competitive," says Jones, a Medford resident. "Most of the core guys are still here and we're loving it."
    The club has played at the more advanced B level before but has found the C league to be ideal. The Optical Illusions are currently in third place out of 14 teams.
    "We have just played together so long that everybody knows what to expect from everybody else," Wilkening says. "We don't have all the great athletic prowess and giant biceps. It's just a cooperative effort."
    Some new traditions have popped up along the way, like when the men started playing a nine-hole round of golf at Oak Knoll eight years ago. Activities like that keep things loose, says Haley, a 56-year-old Central Point resident.
    "This is the only team I've ever played on where everyone has a good time," says Haley, a shortstop who is in the model railroad mold-making business. "We don't argue about anything. We like to win, but if we lose it doesn't matter that much."
    One of the club's highlights was capturing the Men's B National League title in 1999. Victories have outnumbered the losses since.
    The Optical Illusions' most painful defeat — and the one that Jones says best encapsulates who they are — came on Oct. 21, 2011, when Dr. Richard Ripper died of brain cancer.
    The former optometrist was another one of the squad's originals and a beloved member of the Rogue Valley community. In August of 2011, Jones stood at Ripper's bedside and asked him what he wanted to do.
    "Come out and see a game," Ripper replied.
    The Optical Illusions wished to put him on a gurney and take him to the field, but doctors put the kibosh on that idea. So the men came to Ripper. They crammed in vehicles and sped from U.S. Cellular Community Park to his home in Ashland, where they shared stories over pizza and brews. Before the guys left for an evening contest, they gathered around Ripper and sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Jones took an impromptu team photograph.
    "You want to talk about a tear jerker," he says.
    Before the game, the squad huddled together on the field and chanted Ripper's name.
    "Instead of win one for the Gipper, it was win one for the Ripper," Jones says.
    The Optical Illusions did win, and Jones saved the ball. He brought it and the photograph from the evening before to Ripper, and the two pieces of memorabilia were later displayed at his memorial service.
    Jones has preserved their memories, collecting pictures and video of the Optical Illusions. Time sometimes tells him to slow down, but he and others don't have any intention to.
    "You can't picture yourself not being there," he says.
    Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt
Reader Reaction

      calendar