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Itch leads to senior softball league
Doug Moe
Wisconsin State Journal

The two of them, boys of summer, met in the first grade. It was at St. Bernard's on Atwood Avenue, more than half a century ago, when the church still had a grade school. They had a softball team, too, and Ray Blum and Bob Ruhland played on it.

They played well enough that, later, Ruhland would land a spot on Rod Peterson's renowned Farm Tavern fast-pitch softball team. Blum, for his part, made a Madison School and Community Recreation (MSCR) league all-star team that played a game at Breese Stevens against fast-pitch legend Eddie Feigner.

For a few years in their early 20s, Blum and Ruhland played together on a team in the MSCR Major League, the top league in the city. Eventually college and the draft broke up the team. Blum drifted away from the game. Ruhland kept a hand in, playing and then umpiring. They stayed close, and never failed to call each other on their birthdays.

"That was harder before cell phones," Blum was saying Friday.

By last spring, it had been 40 years since Blum, 63, had played softball. Ruhland, 62, had hung up his glove maybe a decade ago. But one day last spring Blum looked out his window and saw a softball game in progress at a nearby park.

"For some reason," he said, "I got the itch to play again."

His first instinct, naturally enough, was to call Ruhland. The result of that call - and many more in the months that followed, as well as a road trip or two - is the Greater Madison Senior Softball League.

The league will debut in May and play a 16-game schedule Wednesday mornings at Goodman Park. Smart Motors has agreed to sponsor up to eight teams. They're looking for players and teams - the age bracket is

55 and up - and there's more information at the league's Web site, www.GreaterMadisonSeniorSoftball.com.

"We think we've got a good thing going," Ruhland said.

After that first phone call, Blum started checking around to see if there were any senior leagues in the Madison vicinity.

He regularly vacations in Florida in the winter and knew senior softball was big in that state. St. Petersburg has a league called the Half Century Club - the minimum age is 50 - which could be considered a developmental league for the city's Kids-N-Kubs league, which is for players 75 and older. The Kids-N-Kubs league has been going for eight decades.

The closest senior softball Blum could find to Madison was a 55-and-over league in West Allis. One day last summer, he and Ruhland drove over and watched a game.

"You could see the joy in their faces," Blum said. "We talked to one guy who was 82. He could really play."

"We were impressed," Ruhland said.

Back home, they began contacting members of their MSCR Major League team, asking if they were interested in reassembling after four decades. Virtually to a man, they were.

"They're all excited," Blum said. "We have one guy who is going to drive over every Wednesday from Milwaukee."

A Janesville man who has been playing in the West Allis league is now organizing a team to play in Madison. There's no residency requirement, though the MSCR and the Madison Parks Department are supporting the league. Blum and Ruhland are hoping for a league of four to eight teams.

The league will have rules to promote safety - including no sliding or metal spikes - but it will be competitive, and they're hoping to draw experienced players. It won't be too competitive: the plan is for everybody to go out for lunch every Wednesday after the games.

This week, Blum and Ruhland find themselves together in Florida - Ruhland attending the Daytona 500, Blum vacationing with his wife in Madeira Beach. They're going to connect Tuesday and attend a game of the 75-and-over league in St. Petersburg.

Blum laughed. "Compared to those guys, we're youngsters."


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