Schnepf: Former ND resident recalls 70 years in softball
FARGO - Today and Sunday in West Fargo, men 40 years and older will be playing in state slowpitch softball tournaments. Kudos to the gents who probably find it a bit more challenging stretching a single into a double, or chasing down that flyball without crashing into the chain-link fence or dealing with aches and pains well into the next work week.
But none of you – at least not yet anyway – have anything on Cam Rusch. This guy played softball in seven different decades until he finally called it quits at the age of 74 when he started to experience heart problems.
“But just the other day, the doc asked me why I’m not playing again,” said the 76-year-old Rusch, who has at times debated about coming out of softball retirement. “But I don’t think so. But if I wait another three years or so, I could get into an 80-and-over tournament. But I don’t think I will.”
Instead, Rusch will enjoy his retirement with his wife, Mavis, in Arizona. And he will continue to enjoy reminiscing about his
70-plus years of softball – which started in grade school in Sanish, N.D. (now known at New Town) playing games without a glove.
As Rusch grew older, he played slowpitch softball Monday and Wednesday nights, fastpitch softball Tuesday and Thursday nights and baseball Fridays and Sundays in nearby Harvey.
He eventually moved to Fargo, where he spent countless hours playing fastpitch softball at Mickelson Park. He played third base and outfield for Leopard’s Dry Wall, which won a Class B state championship in 1969.
Rusch started playing more slowpitch in the early 1970s. There was a noticeable different between the two games.
“The key to fastpitch is if you didn’t have a good pitcher, you didn’t have anything,” Rusch said. “In slowpitch, the defense has to make the outs because every ball is hit.”
Rusch cherishes the North Dakota Old Pro state championship his Bud Light team won in 1995 – mostly because he got to play with his two sons David and Joel.
That was before he left Fargo for Arizona – where he joined the Arizona Outlaws, a 65-and-over team that won a national championship in Dallas. Rusch pitched all 10 games and batted .700 in that tournament.
“Senior softball is big down in Arizona … it’s just huge,” said Rusch, who figures he played in at least 3,000 fastpitch and slowpitch games from 1958 until 2010.
During the time, it’s not really known if Rusch saw more U.S. presidents come and go or witnessed more changes to the game of softball. For the record, there were 11 different presidents while Rusch played softball.
Rusch saw the slowpitch game go from a mushy yellow dot ball to the harder blue dot ball. He also saw both fastpitch and slowpitch change from using wooden bats to metal bats.
“There have been so many metal bats ruled illegal over the years,” Rusch said. “You couldn’t hold the ball in the ballpark.”
The subject of bats reminded Rusch of the time he took two of his Jackie Robinson wooden baseball bats and shaved them down in a lathe. They had to fit through a metal ring in order to be ruled legal for the fastpitch league he was playing in.
He also used his woodburner to engrave the words “official softball” on the bat. What seemed illegal was legal, according to Rusch.
“Eventually, they just said no more wooden bats,” Rusch said.
So while those 40-year-olds smack the softball with their metal bats this weekend in West Fargo, they have a long ways to go to equal the number of games Rusch played.
“There may be someone out there who has played more decades or more games,” Rusch said. “But they would never have enjoyed the game more than I did.”