Still flingin’ and swingin’
66 and going strong
He remembers the players. He remembers the games. He remembers the scores.
Jerry Gooch has been playing slowpitch softball since 1969. At 66 years of age, he’ll turn 67 in August, he can still be found on the softball diamond two nights a week during the summer season. He has more than 50 years of playing under his belt, long past when players usually walk away from the game. But not Jerry Gooch.
“I love the game and all of my teammates,” said Gooch between innings of a game at Minot’s Sertoma Sports Complex last week. “It’s the camaraderie, summer and everything about the game of softball.”
He started the game like he has so many others, delivering high arcing pitches to the opponents. When a ball is hit he turns to encourage his fielders to make a play. One other player on his team, Larry Eidsness, has been a teammate for 41 years.
“We are the two originals,” said Gooch. “It took us 28 years to win the state tournament. That was in 1997.”
His teams have had success, playing in nine state championship games and winning eight of them. The elder moundsman and coach was on a 40-and-over team that won the state title two years ago. Last year he and his teammates captured the 50-and-over state crown.
“We won the 30-and-over in 1985 at the McQuade. That was the first time we’d ever won a big tournament. It was really exciting,” recalled Gooch.
The McQuade softball tournament, played annually in Bismarck, is billed as the largest in the world.
“Hopefully, this year we can go down and win it. It’s just as hard to win the McQuade as it is the state,” said Gooch. “Three of us will be going to the McQuade for the 43rd time. Myself, Eidsness and Kelby Smith.”
Gooch has many fond memories of the game and the hundreds of teammates he has had throughout the years. He can rattle off the sponsors he has played for since 1969. Six years ago he was named to an age 60-and-over all-star team that played against the Wounded Warriors in Bismarck.
“They kicked our butts,” said Gooch. “This year we’re playing them again.”
The game is scheduled for June 22 and will be broadcast live on cable television. Gooch will be joined by fellow Minoters Tim Burckhard and Kent Fredrickson.
Softball is supposed to be fun. Gooch learned that lesson during his early playing days, turning from what he described as serious softball to a much more friendly style of game.
“Our philosophy is that nobody makes an out on purpose and nobody makes an error on purpose,” stated Gooch with a confirming smile. “We win as a team and lose as a team. After the game we party as a team.”
The post-game activities have toned down through the years. However, recalled Gooch, people still remember those earlier teams when he and his teammates were much younger.
“Sometimes we’d party all night in my younger days,” laughed Gooch. “One time two of us slept on second base so we wouldn’t miss the game the next day.”
Among his many fond memories is a monster comeback win in the championship at the McQuade in 1998.
“It was our fifth year of 40-and-over. We were down 19-5 in the bottom of the fifth with two out and nobody on,” said Gooch. “We scored like 15 runs with two outs and went on to win 27-22 and won the championship.”
Last Thursday Gooch and his aging teammates won both ends of a double-header, 7-5 and 14-13 to move to 9-3 in 40-and-over league play. Not bad for a 66-year-old who still has a love for the game.