COLUMBIA — The Over the Hill team had just lost 22-14 to the K.C. 65s, but not a man on the losing side walked off the field with a frown.
It was typical of the day's softball competition Saturday at Cosmopolitan Park where men from Missouri, Illinois and Kansas were participating in the 2009 Missouri State Senior Games.
“I thought we did well. We was playing a younger team. We held our own, pretty much, until the last inning,” Dick Skinner, 78, of Over the Hill said.
Just playing was what mattered most.
“I’ve been playing for five decades, since the 50s,” Herb Nelson, 72, another Over the Hill player, said.
Nelson played Little League, baseball, American Legion, Ban Johnson and semi-pro ball, then fast-pitch softball and then slow-pitch. The game has been so much a part of his life that he played it on his honeymoon.
“The next day, I was over in Lexington playing baseball. On my honeymoon. Ain’t that bad?" Nelson said, laughing. "Then when I got through playing baseball, went on the honeymoon. Ain’t that something? Ain’t too many people let you play on your honeymoon.”
Nelson and his wife, Beverly, were high school sweethearts, have been married 52 years and both of them love the game.
"If he didn’t have softball," Beverly Nelson said, "he wouldn’t know what to do. He’s always played, ever since we’ve dated.”
She played softball, too, up until a few years ago, when she retired. But she still travels to all of Herb Nelson's games to cheer him on, and to give him a few pointers. Beverly said she likes helping him be better. Many of the wives echo her sentiments.
“Sometimes he will ask me, ‘What am I doing wrong?’” said Donna White, referring to her husband, Denny White, 67. “I can tell him what to change. So it’s fun.”
And as much as their husbands love the game, their wives love it, too.
“I love it and I love to watch it,” said Rita Mailen, who with her husband, Ed Mailen, have been playing co-ed softball for 30 years.
Many say support from partners makes playing the game more rewarding. Dick Skinner, 78, said having his ‘sweetie,’ girlfriend Donna Dean, there made all the difference.
“She’s great. She’s my biggest fan,” he said.
While most players on the team have been playing since they were a boy, some didn’t start playing until after they were eligible to apply for their AARP card. Skinner wasn’t any type of athlete before he took up slow-pitch and only started playing after he retired.
“Then he just went crazy and did everything,” Dean said. Besides softball, Skinner skies (water and snow) and bowls.
“I was busy working when I was younger,” Skinner said.
It was only after retirement that Skinner had the time. He plays in three leagues and plays some type of softball seven days a week. According to Skinner, there’s no downside, he just loves softball. He is clear on why he plays so much.
“Because I can. Gives me something to do," he said. "It keeps me healthy and it beats sitting in front of a TV and dying.”
Bill Klinkenberg didn’t start playing again until he was 60.
“I like the hitting. I like the fielding," he said. "I like mingling with the other guys, making friends, meeting new people, getting out and having fun and exercise.”
His wife, Marilyn Klinkenberg, credits the game with keeping her husband young.
The Klinkenbergs met when they were 20, when she was vacationing in Leavenworth, Kan. After two years of long distance romance, they were married. She followed him to Europe after he was drafted and he played there on an Army team. More than 50 years later, she’s still watching him play softball.
Even though they’ll miss the games Sunday, because of a family reunion, the Klinkenbergs didn’t want to miss the chance to play with their friends.
“That’s one of the best things about it, meeting and seeing the people... we may not always play on the same team, but it’s the same people in the league,” Marilyn Klinkenberg said.
The players and their wives travel all over the country.
While they might sometimes get sidelined because of age-related injuries, it doesn’t keep them down for long.
“There are some that had a health problem. They’ll get that corrected, and they’ll be right out there playing ball again. It’s amazing.” Marilyn Klinkenberg said. “We have a pitcher that has two knee replacements and a hip. He’s about 73. But, you know, it’s not going to keep him down.”
It’s this type of attitude that separates them from their peers. Chuck Bua, 71, said playing keeps him fit and can be an advantage.
“No," he said. "We’re not a couch potato with a big belly and a remote button ... I think it keeps you more physically fit. It makes you sharper in reference to your competitive spirit.”
Sunday's games will be held at Cosmopolitan Park on the Rainbow softball fields, starting at 9 a.m. Over the Hill will play at 10:20 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the Red diamond. For a complete schedule, go to smsg.org.