Wednesday, July 12, 2006

83 Year Old Man Plays Ball [J. Mark English]

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- No one in the bleachers at the Sioux Falls Canaries game was quite sure what was going on down on the field. They were all quiet, wondering and transfixed on the little old man digging into the batters' box.
The infielders moved up on the grass, giggling, and pitcher looked as uncomfortable as anyone else would have felt.
But to 83-year-old Jim Eriotes, it was serious business.
Eriotes led off Tuesday's game for the Canaries against the St. Joe (Mo.) Blacksnakes and took four big swings -- even fouling a pitch off -- before striking out.
The at-bat made Eriotes the oldest man to ever play professional baseball. It was his only at-bat in the game.
The record didn't mean much to the Chicago native and former minor leaguer.
"I don't give a damn about that stuff," he said, bothered by his failure to reach base. "If I got a couple more at-bats, I'd get a hit. Easy."
He wasn't kidding.
Eriotes said he had hit pitches thrown harder than the 83-mph fastball he whiffed against Blacksnakes starter Jesen Merle.
He has appeared on the "Today" show and said he has hit pitches near 100 mph -- although they were hurled by a pitching machine.
He did admit that stepping into the box with a professional on the mound is a different story.
"He wasn't throwing that hard," he said. "I fouled one off. You can be the best hitter in the world and you might not get a hit if you only get one chance. But it was a great opportunity. It was cool."