Playing catch with Norris Kruse, a 50-year softball veteran

Thursday, November 8, 2012 | 11:02 p.m. CST; updated 11:46 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 8, 2012
Norris Kruse, 77, poses for a photo at a softball field near his home Thursday in Columbia. Kruse plays first base for his softball team during the season from April to October. He has been playing softball for nearly 50 years.

You stand, 30 feet away. | Norris Kruse says nothing. The infield dirt blows in the wind, the leaves rustle in the distance. | He swings his arm back and throws the softball. It pins your glove square to your chest, the thwack of the mitt echoing across the vacant field. You rear back and do the same. He eagerly awaits, white hair waving in the wind, knees slightly bent, glove pinned to his chest. | He’s smiling.

“Man, I really enjoy this,” he says, raising his voice, the wind blowing his words your way. “My older friends, they won’t do this, and my younger friends, they are all working.”

For 15 minutes, you just react.

It doesn’t matter how different you are. He is not a 77-year-old retired P.E. teacher, or a 50-year softball veteran.

You are just two kids, playing catch.

“Let’s go hit,” he says, trotting to the dugout to grab his bat.

You walk toward the mound. He walks toward the plate. You can’t throw a strike. He patiently waits. You find the strike zone. He drills the ball.

“There it is!” he says, watching the ball drop in the left field grass. “That one felt good.”

He’s played in tournaments in Utah, Las Vegas, Kansas, Ohio and Illinois and will be heading to Florida in January. He plays for the Red Weirs, an over-50 softball team in Columbia, and the Antiques, an over-75 softball team in Kansas City. He swings a bat in his basement and throws a ball against a wall during the offseason.

“I love it, and if I quit now, I believe I’d have to find something else,” Kruse said.

You sprint out to the field to fetch the balls. You kneel down and grab one, and prepare to hurl it his way, but as you turn around, you see Kruse running right behind. You pick up the balls together.

“Your turn to hit,” he says.

You walk toward the plate. He walks toward the mound. He throws only strikes. You drill them to left field.

“Nice hit,” he says, as you both pause to see where the ball lands. “If I brought my better bat, that one would have been over the fence.”

With every swing, you feel a rush of excitement. Each hit brings you back to a certain moment, a time when nothing else mattered. As you watch the ball soar, you think about playing baseball with your dad. You think about home run derbies in your backyard, and shagging fly balls with your friends.

“My wife says I feel like I’m 15 when I’m out here,” Kruse says, smiling. “She’s watched me in tournaments, and she said she doesn’t ever see me move like that at home."

You play and talk, switching positions from pitcher to hitter, picking up balls and throwing them back in. After an hour, you head back toward the dugout.

He picks up his bat, and you carry the balls. You slowly leave the field, and walk toward your cars.

Before you drive off, he turns and smiles.

“I’d love to do this again if you would like to.”

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.

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