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Older guys play a kids' game

Chuck Nelson, 73, was released from the hospital one month ago after a cardiac stenting operation, but that didn't keep him from running the bases at the Rogue Valley Senior Softball Association's second annual Fall Classic Tournament at the U.S. Cellular Community Park Thursday.

When Nelson told his doctor he was thinking about quitting the team because of his health, his doctor said, "No, sir. The drugs I'm giving you and the softball is what's keeping you alive."

Nelson started the first game Thursday morning playing catcher, but spent the next two games in the dugout at his teammates' request so he could rest.

"It's an opportunity for us old guys to play a kid's game," he said.

Nelson said senior softball is the same as the traditional game, just a lot slower with fewer fast, hard balls. He's part of the Roadrunners 70, a team with the Oregon Travel League that competes in major tournaments up and down the West Coast.

The team comprises players age 70 to 75 from Medford, Grants Pass, Bend, Salem and Morro Bay, Calif. Most of them have been playing ball since junior high and high school. The team was outfitted in black baseball caps with roadrunner pins and bright yellow T-shirts featuring their mascot.

"These guys are all transients," joked Jay Quimby, 70, one of Medford Roadrunners 70.

"This guy was standing out on the freeway, and we asked him if he could hit," Quimby said as he pointed to a teammate sitting on the bleachers nearby. "He said, 'Occasionally.' We said, 'You're on.' "

Roadrunners 70 and 44 other teams from Washington, California, Nevada and Oregon are competing in the tournament. There are 16 teams with players 70 years old and older (the oldest is 85) and 29 teams with players 50 to 70 years old, including five women's teams. The 70- and-older division played Thursday and will play today. The 50- to 70-year-old division plays Saturday and Sunday. Games begin at 8 a.m. and end at about 5 p.m.

"This game is for the old and restless," said Quimby as he took a few practice swings before stepping to the plate.

Last year, 31 teams competed in the tournament, the third-largest draw of teams at the U.S. Cellular fields, said Tournament Director Harry Purslow, 69, of Ashland, who has been playing ball since 1988.

The tournament brings more than 1,000 people to the Rogue Valley and an extra boost to many of the local businesses, including Harry & David Country Store, golf courses and restaurants, Purslow said.

"The Ramada (Inn Convention Center) alone has 200 rooms booked," said his wife, Wendy Purslow.

The entry fee for a team is $280, which covers the field facilities, certified umpires and water.

Hal Glover, 68, who plays for the Grants Pass Over the Hill Gang, competed in three games Thursday and will compete in two today. His team has played in 39 games since April. The players are reminded that it's a recreational league, not a competitive one, he said.

"The rules are bent toward noncontact," Glover said.

The tournament follows rules of the Senior Softball USA based in Sacramento, Calif. According to the guidelines, players are required to run past a white line near the bases rather than stepping on the base to avoid contact. When Glover forgot the rule and ran to home plate, the umpire called him out.

Rather than seven innings, the tournament games are limited to one hour.

"The rules were made for older folks to play and not get injured," he said.

Glover said he once was wisely told, "Don't let your 20-year-old body tell your however-old body that you can still do what you once did."

Many of the teams consider this tournament as a warm-up for their final competition at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, during the first week in October.

"It's really quite amazing when you find out how old some of the guys are," Wendy Purslow said.

"They're not as fast as they used to be, but their brains still know what to do."

"It's just something I want to keep playing for as long as I can," Glover said.

Reach intern Teresa Thomas at 776-4464 or at intern1@mailtribune.com.

Over the Hill Gang team members Arnie Calhoun, 69, of Phoenix, and Mel Kerber, 84, of Grants Pass, walk of the field together after a game. - Jim Craven