Love of softball drives seniors
Jim DuCharme of Janesville and Mike Haney of Milton are blood brothers in the boys of summer fraternity.
When spring arrives, DuCharme and Haney hear the robins sing and start rubbing neatsfoot oil into their gloves eager for another softball season.
DuCharme, 67, and Haney, 71, don’t play softball for the novelty of senior men participating in sports. They play softball because they love it, and there is nothing wrong with that.
DuCharme said he started playing softball for the 4-H Club in Prairie du Chen as a 10-year-old.
“I’ve played softball for 57 years,” DuCharme said.
DuCharme grew up playing fastpitch, the game of choice long before the slowpitch rose in popularity.
In the spirit of a true journeyman, DuCharme has played softball in a bunch of places.
“I was originally from Prairie du Chen and played (fastpitch) there,” DuCharme said. “I moved to Platteville and played and Monroe and played, and I played when I was in the Army in Korea.’’
When fastpitch gave way to the more comfortable game of slowpitch, DuCharme made the transition with a smile.
“It’s still ball,” said DuCharme, who played just one year of baseball in high school. “It doesn’t matter if its fastpitch or slowpitch.’’
Haney played baseball and softball from high school through college.
“I played baseball for the State University of New York at Morrisville,” said Haney, who is a native of Syracuse, N.Y.
Haney received a degree in food technology and a job at Libby Foods brought him to Milton in 1960. Haney brought his game with him, too.
“I played fastpitch in Milton, but there was slowpitch in Janesville,” Haney said. “Fastpitch had good pitching, but it was a pretty boring game. Slowpitch took an hour and there was a lot of hitting.’’
Haney said he enjoyed slowpitch in Janesville.
“It was unlimited arc,” Haney said. “It was quite a game in those days and it was played with a 14-inch ball.’’
There are softball players in their 60s and older besides DuCharme and Haney itching to play one more season.
The Greater Madison Senior Softball League for players 55 and over started in 2010 with eight teams, and this year it’s a 12-team league. Ray Blum and Bob Ruhland, childhood friends and softball lovers, started the league.
The league’s mission is to be player friendly. The heart is willing, but the bodies of many older players is not, so the league is not about wins and losses but having fun.
DuCharme and Haney have each played in the league three years, and they enjoy their Wednesday mornings playing softball at Goodman Field.
“Everybody on our team has played just about all their lives,” DuCharme said. “We have the same team as last year, except one guy didn’t come back because of his knees.’’
The teams play with a softer ball that is easier to catch, and if a fielder takes a bad hop to the body the pain is considerably less.
The rules include no sliding, and home plate is set off to the side so there are no collisions.
“We use a ball called a ‘clincher’ which is softer,” DuCharme said. “We use ASA bats which are more restrictive than regular bats.’’
After playing 11 games the first eight weeks of the season, the teams are divided into the top six teams and the next six so the better teams are not always beating up the lesser ones.
“We don’t keep score, but you know what it is,” Haney said. “We play for the friendship.’’
DuCharme and Haney enjoy the friendlies in the unique Madison league, but they still need their competitive fires stoked. Each plays doubleheaders on Mondays in Milwaukee.
DuCharme plays for a 65-and-older team, and Haney is on a 70-and-older team. Both travel to tournaments throughout the country about once a month.
DuCharme and Haney maintain their fitness with daily exercise, which helps their bodies stay in tune and their hearts beating for the game.
“I just love the game,” DuCharme said. “We are so fortunate with our health that we still can play and be out and stay active.’’