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Adult coed softball

Age no issue as Nordstrom steps to plate for eighth decade of ball

Seventy-year-old diamond dandy has been making pitch to play since 1950s
By Ken Waltz | Jun 17, 2020
Courtesy of: Bob Nordstrom Bob Nordstrom.

South Thomaston — It has been said sports is a young man's game. If that is true, someone forgot to tell Bob Nordstrom.

While Nordstrom surely is young at heart, he is 70 years old and will begin his eighth decade of "playing ball" this summer.

Nordstrom may be the oldest active player in the Mid-Coast Coed Softball League and probably, in fact, may be one of the oldest to participate in the decades-old league, which previously was called the Camden Adult Coed Softball League.

The league certainly has attracted a varied group of players from all ages, from the hot shot, physically fit 20-year-olds through those hanging tough in their 60s. But there have been few to continue to play in their 70s, one of whom was the late Tom Ford of Hope who continued to pitch and play at a high level into his 70s.

Ready for action

Nordstrom, a South Thomaston resident, hopes to continue to carve out a role on the Free Press Redwings, a talent-laden group that always is in the mix to challenge for league supremacy. The Redwings have a solid mixture of players in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. Nordstrom will lead the 70-year-old contingent — a group of one.

Nordstrom has been around the bat-and-ball game for awhile. He started playing Little League baseball at age nine in 1959. He will step on the softball diamond this summer at age 70.

It certainly is an amazing milestone of longevity, good health, passion and love of the game.

Nordstrom has played in the coed league and for Redwings for a couple of years. Before that he played in a men's league in Massachusetts, among other diamond stops along the way.

Of course, being older and having dealt with recent coronary issues, Nordstrom also has to be mindful of putting his health at risk by playing ball during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

As Nordstrom wrote to his coach, Reade Brower, in a recent email, "I've always been willing to risk limb, but never thought life would be part of the equation" in continuing to play softball.

The league will take a variety of sanitary precautions in efforts to keep players safe and healthy.

Nordstrom said he has been social distancing, practicing recommended procedures and "hoping for the best" during the pandemic.

"Realizing my age and underlying condition make me vulnerable, I’ll be watching the summer virus reports closely," he said. "I think the league has expectations in place that should help. I personally may distance more than others and pull up a mask when I feel necessary."

But he is not about to let his age — or a pandemic — keep him from enjoying another summer of ball.

"Each year requires a decision as to whether to play or not," he said. "I’ve been lifting weights for months, stretching, walking and recently I’ve started running again after years away from it. If I can protect myself somewhat from line drives and avoid a complete loss of hand-eye coordination I don’t see retirement coming in the near future. I get too much pleasure from the team atmosphere and participating in the game I love."

Of course, Nordstrom will have to be extra careful because he has dealt with other health issues that surfaced when he, of all things, was playing softball.

"During the 2019 season I made a guest appearance for the Killer Bees in Massachusetts," he said. "I pitched two May games and felt I had prepared well as I always do. After hitting a single I advanced one base at a time until finally scoring. Each time I felt an upper chest discomfort that eased quickly. I thought I just needed to improve my aerobic capacity. This went on during Red Wing games in June and July, each time easing quickly. In late July I took a stress test that I quickly failed. An angioplasty procedure and two stents later I’m doing fine. A blockage in a coronary artery was the issue. I’ve always been active, watched my diet and did what I thought were the right things. Heredity was something I didn’t plan on. I’m cleared to exercise, run and do what I love in the summer, play ball."

And play ball is what Nordstrom has done for more than 60 years.

Start in youth ball

He started playing organized baseball at age 9 in 1959 and, except for a few years playing occasionally in informal settings, he has been on a team roster for more than 50 seasons, many of those years playing on two, and occasionally, three teams.

When he started playing organized ball at age nine, there was no tee-ball "and rules that leveled the playing field for kids of different talent levels. I feel live pitching and adherence to baseball rules made for a faster development of basic skills, but I realize this may have affected the fun factor for kids that were slow to develop."

After Little League Nordstrom played in an organized church league for ages 13-16 players.

"The caliber of play was a bit below Babe Ruth League standards, but many players played in this league as well high school and intermediate league," he said. "During my teen years I had a bit of an issue with authority. The structure of high school ball didn’t fit my world view at the time. I was more wise guy than ballplayer. Regrettably, it was certainly my loss."

Nordstrom continued to play baseball and softball on an informal basis until college where he was introduced to modified fast pitch softball, a sport he realized later was invented in his hometown of Worcester, Mass.

"The rules allowed bunting and stealing, as well as using only nine fielders," he said. "The pitching was a bowling motion without a windmill delivery. It was a fast, low-scoring game with the feel of baseball on the smaller diamond."

After playing in the Worcester Modified-Fast Pitch League for 13 years, he played slow pitch on a team in the Bose Softball Association, a 10-team company league. His team, the Killer Bee Swarm, won 14 championships during the league’s 32-year history. He was a middle infielder and later the pitcher on teams that won 12 titles.

"Softball, like most sports, is a great equalizer," Nordstrom said. "I’ve been fortunate to play on inner-city teams, as well as town teams in rural New Hampshire where Sunday doubleheaders were a family must-see event. The age range of players, the work backgrounds, politics, and such, never being a factor. A gathering of people bonded by the love of the game. I’ve always been competitive — and continue to be, I’m told. Softball is a great release for that."

On the Redwings, which certainly has its share of older players — along with youngsters in their prime — Nordstrom is the wise old diamond master.

"The Free Press Red Wings have a wonderful mix of talent and personal make-up that creates a great team atmosphere," he said. "I’ve been welcomed by young and old, male and female, for the past two years. The players are supportive of each other and willing to share playing time. The fact that each person takes their role seriously, yet can enjoy the game whether on the field or in the dugout, is a plus."

Nordstrom said he enjoys all aspects of the game, from batting to fielding to running the bases.

"Having a long history of playing I feel each of these aspects of softball have been my favorite as I aged in the game," he said. "When I was younger batting and running were a strength, although a great defensive play continues to be a blast. As a pitcher of many years I get great satisfaction in getting excellent hitters to make an easy out. Pitching slow pitch doesn’t give you many weapons to attack a hitter, so these infrequent moments are special."

Other cool activities

Nordstrom, whose wife is Rhonda (he also had two daughters and three grandchildren), has lived in Worcester and Hadley Mass, as well as Nashua and Marlow, N.H. and Bloomington, Ind.

His career included being a corporate industrial engineering manager for the Bose Corporation in Framingham, Mass. as well as a former regional land use planner in New Hampshire.

Nordstrom's hobbies and passions have included being a silversmith, genealogist, former classic rhythm and blues radio show host, three years at WRFR, Motown Northeast and Current music podcast on Podomatic.com (Motown Northeast).

He graduated from Burncoat Senior High School in Worcester, Mass., University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. (degree in geography), Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. (masters in geography coursework) and Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. (masters in management).

Nordstrom has been involved in a variety of sports and moving activities. In his early 20s he focused on fencing and soccer, while taking a hiatus from baseball/softball. He learned fencing (foil style) at a fencing club in Worcester where he would compete against Division II and III collegiate fencers, as he provided them with additional practice opponents.

"My instructor was a former German Olympian," he said. "I loved the speed and balance required to excel at fencing."

Nordstrom also played several years for an amateur soccer team in Worcester that played in a league that continued the local tradition of squads made up of local ethic groups. Teams from the Greek, Italian, Irish and Swedish communities competed along with other neighborhood teams, he said.

"I played for the same team my father played for and coached in the 30s and 40s after coming here from Sweden, the Scandinavian Athletic Club," he said.

Nordstrom also continues to cross-country ski, an activity that has been a constant since his youth. He continues to ski each winter when conditions allow.

"I did a lot of backcountry skiing in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, skiing in small groups into hard-to-reach mountain and forest areas," he said. "During my 30s and into my later 40s I competed in 5- to 15-kilometer classic style ski races. Fun competition and a great workout."

Typical for his personality, even as the years pass, Nordstrom continues to look for a "great workout" and any chance to "play ball." Age be damned.

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